Ontario beekeepers report ‘heartbreaking’ colony losses due to Varroa mites

Hobby beekeeper Ramin Abdollahi remembers opening a hive this spring, only to find a pile of dead bees at the bottom.

“It’s very, very heartbreaking,” said Abdollahi, who lives in Kitchener and keeps his hives on a farm near Shakespeare, Ont.

Heartbreaking – but not unusual this season.

Beekeepers across the province are reporting significant losses of up to 90% of their colonies, according to the Ontario Beekeepers Association.

The problem is so big that the president of the association, Bernie Wiehle, fears that it will affect not only honey producers, but also fruit producers. Some beekeepers provide pollination services to orchards in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, he said.

“We’re really concerned that we don’t have enough bees,” said Wiehle, who is also a commercial beekeeper near Rodney, Ont.

Although many factors can affect bee health, a tiny parasite called varroa is thought to be responsible for the bulk of bee deaths this year.

The beginning of spring, a recipe for trouble

The mites feed on bees’ blood and protein stores and can spread viruses among bees and weaken their immune responses, according to Paul Kelly, director of research and apiary at the Center for Bee Research at the University of Guelph.

Spring came early last year, Kelly said, which was good for bees — but also good for varroa mites, which were able to start breeding early.

“The earlier the spring, the more reproductive cycles these mites can go through,” Kelly said.

“It’s like exponential growth.”

Dennis Schmidt raises bees in Waterloo, Ontario and is president of the Wellington County Beekeepers’ Association. (Use under Creative Commons)

Dennis Schmidt, who typically keeps between 20 and 30 colonies in a Waterloo apiary, said all but one have been wiped out this year.

Schmidt wasn’t totally shocked – there weren’t many signs of life coming from the hives over the winter – but the losses were still devastating, he said.

“I’ve heard stories of beekeepers crying when they finally open their hives and find that their livestock have perished during the winter,” said Schmidt, who is also president of the County Beekeepers Association. wellingtons.

Kelly hopes further research on varroa mites and bees will provide solutions to bring the problem under control. The center is also testing the use of essential oils and organic acids to kill mites without harming bees, he said.

Packed bees in short supply

Abdollahi opened a hive this spring, only to find a pile of dead bees at the bottom. (Submitted by Ramin Abdollahi)

As for beekeepers like Schmidt and Abdollahi, they now hope to start regenerating their own colonies. For some, that may be easier said than done, Wiehle said, because there is a huge demand for packed bees this year and an insufficient supply.

“They’re just not available and they’re outrageously expensive – the price has probably doubled.”

Wiehle hopes to meet Lisa Thompson, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, to discuss financial assistance for commercial beekeepers hard hit by varroa.

In response to a request from CBC, a spokesperson for Thompson said the minister’s office is working to schedule a meeting soon.