Attack of the vampire bee mites

Montana State Roundup

Published July 1, 2005  | July 2005 issue

A crablike parasite has killed 30 percent to 40 percent of Montana's bees, reducing honey production and the income of beekeepers who truck bees to other states to pollinate almonds, apples and other crops.

Sometimes called vampire mites, Varroa jacobsoni began ravaging state apiaries last fall, feeding on the blood of adult and juvenile bees. In some areas, 80 percent of the bees in a colony were killed-a severe blow to Montana beekeepers trying to compete with cheaper imported honey. A few beekeepers have gone out of business. About 200 beekeepers, including 86 commercial apiaries, work in Montana's $9 million honey industry, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The resulting bee shortage has also stung the pollination trade, hurting both itinerant beekeepers and West Coast growers, who depend on bees to jump-start their crops.

Pesticides have largely controlled the mites since they first turned up in this country in 1987, but recently Varroa has developed resistance to chemical attack.

Phil Davies