(HONEYBEE SCIENCE) A new strain of honeybee has learned to groom other bees in the hive to keep varroa mites, the mites which kill entire colonies of honeybees, out of the nest. But will this ‘groomer bee’ be enough to help save the honeybees? — Global Animal

Tree Hugger, Jaymi Heimbuch

A British beekeeper has been working on creating a new strain of honeybee resistant to the varroa mite, a prime suspect in colony collapse disorder (CCD), and it looks like he’s hit a high note after 18 years of careful observation and selective breeding. Ron Hoskins found that bees in one of his hives figured out what a great idea mutual grooming can be — they learned to clean the mites off one another. Hoping that this learned behavior is hereditary, he spread the genes of bees from this colony to his other hives. It worked. Now, combating CCD could be linked in no small part to how quickly the new strain of bee spreads across the country.

Daily Mail reports that the British Beekeepers Association is excited about the work Hoskins has done, and the hope is the drones from his “grooming” bees will mate with wandering female queens to spread the heartier genes across Britain. It could take quite a long time, and a lot of generations of bees before the behavior becomes normal, but if it’s a way to combat the mites that wipe out entire colonies, then it’s quite an exciting evolution to witness.

Hoskins, who is from Swindon, has named the new strain the “Swindon Honeybee” and all his colonies consist of this new breed. And the behavior might be the only thing that can save honeybees from the verroa mite:

Martin Smith, president of the British Beekeepers’ Association, said: “The varroa mite is probably the single most important factor that has caused the reduction in bee numbers worldwide. It has now become resistant to chemicals we have used in the past so we are being forced to look into other methods.”

The evolution of natural behaviors is certainly a good method to fall back on, with a little nudge from beekeepers. It might not be a silver bullet for CCD — the cause of which is still under hot debate — but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have bees taking care of mite infestations on their own.