Bumblebees threatened by honeybee diseases?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

This bee has deformed wing virus. It’s doubtful the nubs where his wings should be will allow him to fly.

All across the globe, honeybee populations are shrinking faster than the ice caps in the North Pole. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what’s causing the decline, but they know a huge part of it has to do with deadly diseases. According to a new study, these illnesses are spilling over into bumblebees, and it can have serious consequences for the bugs and humans alike.

When bees are infected with what are known as varroa mites, the tiny organisms suck on their blood and cause significant damage. In the process, the mites may deliver what is known as the deformed wing virus (DWV), which gives rise to misshaped wings in developing pupae (babies) that die shortly after infection. A second common disease among honeybees is caused by a fungus known as Nosema ceranae, which dramatically shortens a bee’s life.

These diseases are typically found in regular honeybees, but according to the new study, they’re popping up in bumblebee populations. Researchers discovered that approximately 11% of bumblebees suffer from DWV and 7% had the fungal infection. It seems part of the problem is chemical pesticides are affecting the insects’ immune system, making it harder for them to fight the deadly diseases.

Though scientists sampled areas in the UK, they’re sure these patterns reflect a global trend, and one that should be addressed immediately. Bees pollinate many of our food crops and without them, we should see dramatic decreases in food supplies.

Featured image courtesy of P7r7 on Wikipedia. Image of deformed bee courtesy of Shawn Caza on Wikipedia.