THUNDER BAY – Honeybees in this region might have a big problem with a small parasite.
The city was once one of the only places in North America that didn’t have the parasitic mite Varroa Destructor, which targets bees and has been destroying the insect’s population worldwide.
Local beekeepers were proud of this accomplishment, but concerns were raised to Ontario’s Agricultural Minister Ted McMeekin when he visited in July to set up quarantines for bees in order to further protect them from mites.
There’s about 500 colonies in the Thunder Bay area and beekeepers were able to keep the infestation out for more than two decades. But reports came in Saturday that the colony-destroying mite has made its way into the city.
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Thunder Bay Beekeepers Association President Barry Tabor said he has no idea how the mite infestation came here, and he added that he’s extremely concerned about this news.
“Unfortunately you’ll never get it out of the hives,” Tabor said. “We’re trying to find out how far it has spread. Right now it looks like it’s a small area, however, we need more testing to see if it has spread.
“This is a battle that if we all band together we can hopefully win. If we do, that’s precedence setting because it’s never been done before.”
The mite, which is smaller than the tip of a matchstick, was first reported in Canada in 1989 and soon spread across the country by 2002. According to the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists 2009 report, beekeepers across the country lost 33.9 per cent of their bee colonies.
There are chemicals available to help deal with the mites, but they can build immunity to it.
“The mites are very persistent,” he said. “The industry has been working for 25 years to find a solution but they don’t feel like it’s going to happen. They’re breeding the bees to cohabitate with these mites.”
He’s not sure how his bees will do if they are infected. They have been bred to withstand the infestation but only time will tell if they are able to survive the winter.
Tabor stressed that it’s important that beekeepers register so they know how many colonies are in the area.
Dawn Luomala started beekeeping only a year ago because she wanted more flowers on her property. She said she was sad to hear the mite had made its way to Thunder Bay.
“The area was Varroa free for forever,” Luomala said. “Now that we know that the Varroa are here, we have to take every effort not only to extract them completely but then control. The bees are very vulnerable. It puts them at risk for other diseases. The more we can control the more we can do for them.”
Ministry of Agriculture spokesman Paul Kozak told Thunder Bay Television that so far they have detected mites at eight locations out of 100 across the city. He said there's no quarantine order and they're still trying to figure out the distribution of the mites, and will work with the beekeepers to determine their options.