Honeybees are disappearing at an alarming rate — and a bloodthirsty parasite is at least partially to blame.
Varroa destructor — otherwise known as the vampire mite — feeds on bees by drinking their blood. Its bite spreads infection and leaves unlucky pollinators the worse for wear. After an encounter with the destructor, honeybees are more likely to succumb to illness and disease, and eventually death.
"[It's] a modern honeybee plague," Jeff Pettis, a researcher at the Agriculture Department's Bee Research Laboratory said Tuesday at a hearing convened by the House Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture.
The mite made its way to the U.S. in the late 1980s and has been a honeybee scourge ever since. It's native to Asia, where honeybees have evolved to repel the mite with counterattacks of their own, but American honeybees have so far been unable to adapt.
As a result, bees are dying off in droves. American beekeepers wave goodbye to roughly one-third of the bee populations they keep watch over each winter. Seasonal honeybee deaths are commonplace, but the rate at which they've risen is steep. A few decades ago, beekeepers saw losses of 10 to 15 percent of the total honeybee population each season. Between roughly 1990 and the present day, deaths have doubled. Scientists have been unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the decline, but they believe the bite of the vampire mite is a leading cause.