Research on a New Honeybee Parasite
The FIGHT THE MITE Initiative!
Tropilaelaps mites are destroying Apis mellifera colonies in Asia and spreading to other countries. Knowledge is power, so I'm turning to you, to help fund study of this parasite before it arrives in the West.
We need to know everything possible about these devastating parasites eating honey bees around the world! I can get everyone to agree that they’re a huge problem, the most destructive honey bee parasite that we know of, but I’m having a tough time getting everyone to agree that we need to start studying them right now before they arrive in the West. We were pretty confident a decade ago that we had nothing to worry about here; Tropilaelaps mites couldn’t establish themselves in the US because they couldn’t survive in climates with long, cold winters. We were shocked by the revelation that they’d adapted to overwinter, sustaining large populations in the coldest reaches of China and Korea. They’re not here yet but they’re spreading the same way that Varroa did in 1977, just ten years before they were found in North America.
When Varroa got here, we knew so little about it. Most of the scientific literature was written in Russian and Chinese and we had to scramble to figure it out while it was spreading across the country. It’s a major reason why we’re just learning the fundamentals of how Varroa feed and how exactly they kill bees more than 30 years into this infestation. We had to rely on research we couldn’t read or reproduce. My goal is to avoid having that happen a second time. I’d like to head to Chiang Mai, Thailand to figure out fundamental details of how this parasite functions and how best we can protect our bees from it!
In my study, I’d like to determine:
· Full detail of the interactions of the foundress mite, offspring, and host brood under the cell capping to determine if there is a weak link in their lifecycle?
· “What are they eating when they feed on bees?” so we can determine their nutritional needs and exactly how they damage honey bees.
· “How can we rear Tropilaelaps in the lab without honey bees to better facilitate research?”
· “What aspects of their anatomy/physiology can we best target to control them?" to determine what chemical or non-chemical control methods will be most effective?”
· “What impact does it have on a colony for Tropilaelaps and Varroa to be present together?" as would likely be the case if Tropilaelaps established itself in western countries with temperate climates.
· “Are there other species of Tropilaelaps threatening Apis mellifera as well?"
Just a few months ago, I was all squared away planning my trip to Thailand to study this parasite and then I got word that funding had dried up. Years of cuts to the research budget meant that there just wasn’t enough to go around. International travel isn’t cheap but I’m not willing to give up on this project. It needs to happen and a number of beekeepers have already started raising money to ensure it does. They told me if I didn’t start a GoFundMe page in the next week they’d start one for me so here it is. I’ve already been awarded a grant that will cover the cost of some consumable supplies that I’ll need in Thailand. I’ll just need $25,382 to cover the remaining costs. Here’s a breakdown of the costs:
Lodging (6,000 baht per month):
$193 per month x 9 months = $1,737
Lab Electricity/Rental Fee (10,000 baht):
$320.12 per month x 9 months = $2,080
Round Trip Flights:
$2,518 x 3 roundtrip flights during project = $7,554
Purchase of Thai Honey Bee Colonies:
$114.31 x 40 Colonies = $4,572
Specialized Micro-Imaging Equipment: = $7,116
Zeiss Stereo Scope
Optical Clarity Brood Cells
International Shipping Costs:
$1,161 x 2 shipments (there and back) = $2,323
I was able to work out a deal where my current position would continue supporting most of my salary as a researcher abroad so the only costs are those detailed above. I thought that amount was a deal breaker before beekeeping clubs raised 11% of it in under a week! Those funds (and some others) were donated separately from this page to avoid the GoFundMe fees so some donations are not currently reflected in the total shown above. If you'd like to donate that way you can make a check out to Samuel Ramsey and send that check to:
Attn: Samuel Ramsey
10300 BALTIMORE AVENUE
BLDG. 306, RM. 315, BARC-EAST
Beltsville, MD 20705
I really think we can make this happen! We can get a jump on this parasite before it has a chance to take a bite out of our bees!
If you want to know more about Tropilaelaps mites, you can read this paper Dr. Chantawannakul (our Thai research partner) and I wrote together.
The cliffnotes version is:
-Tropilaelaps have replaced Varroa destructor as the most dominant and destructive parasite in Asia
-Tropilaelaps cause colonies to collapse more quickly than Varroa in part because their populations grow much faster
-Researchers believe Tropilaelaps feed on hemolymph because we thought Varroa fed on hemolymph. My research has shown that Varroa actually feed on the bee’s fat body (a vital organ much like the liver in humans). We need to determine if Tropilaelaps are doing the same or eating something entirely different.
-No pesticides are currently labeled for Tropilaelaps control
-Tropilaelaps avoid the phase when they are most vulnerable to chemical control (the "phoretic phase") instead, spending most of their time under the cell capping where most pesticides don’t penetrate.
-Tropilaelaps have been found in the Middle East and have already spread to Northern and Eastern Asia from their native range in Southeast Asia. Reports of Tropilaelaps in Tasmania and Africa are unconfirmed and likely are a result of mistaken identification. More research on the geographic/host range of this parasite is necessary.