Threats To The Bee World: The Tropilaelaps Mite

In the fourth industrial revolution, world digitalization has expedited trade globalization. Recently, giant digital platforms such as Alibaba have engaged in international e-commerce, which has accelerated and gigantically increased cross-border shipments of bulk goods worldwide to serve international customer needs. In many cases, shipments can be even made before the customers place their orders by using big data to predict consumer behavior.

These changes in the modern world and the industrial revolution have made societal and environmental changes. Climate change has been of great concern to international scientific and political debates in recent decades. Climate also can be regarded as a public good, as shared atmosphere, and scientists have found that the temperature is increasing over time. Due to the importation of the European honey bee from the west to the east, species distribution of most honey bees overlaps in southeast Asia. This allows interspecies transmission of pests and parasites, from native hosts to a newly adapted host, the European honey bee, and promptly spreads to other parts of the world by human translocation.

With these two main factors — technical developments in transportation efficacy and climate change — the risk of transmission of honey bee parasites has dramatically increased, and that risk may invade to new habitats outside their original host range. One of the previous classic examples is the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) that originated from the Asian cavity-nesting honey bee (Apis cerena), but which has spilled over to the European honey bee and is now spreading worldwide. The Tropilaelapsmite (Tropilaelaps mercedesae) originally parasitizes giant honeybees and recently has jumped to the European honey bees kept by local beekeepers in southeast Asia. Colony collapse in some region of South East Asia is caused by Tropilaelaps mites. The mites have recently spread to South Korea and some parts of China, in sub-tropical regions.

From our research, we found that the Tropilaelaps mites were able to reproduce more quickly than the other wide-spreading Varroa mites, which cause the most serious problem for beekeepers worldwide. This can contribute to the dominance of Tropilalaelaps over Varroa population in beehives. In addition, apart from the mite itself that causes the colony to collapse, the Tropilaelaps mites cause wing deformity, reduced weight, and longevity in the infested honey bee.  Therefore, this is likely to be problematic for the European honey bee in areas where importation is not strictly controlled.

Adding to this, the majority of the biological data of this mite, such as its life history, mating behavior, population dynamics, and pathology, are still lacking, and beekeepers, especially in the West, are inexperienced in treating colonies infested with this mite. Many available treatments are only developed for the widespread Varroa mites and still cannot completely eradicate the problem. The import of bees is restricted in many countries around the world to prevent the introduction of Tropilaelaps, causing great damage to beekeeping in south-east Asia and some parts of East Asia.

These findings are described in the article entitled Tropilaelaps mite: An emerging threat to European honey bee, recently published in the journal Current Opinion in Insect Science. This work was conducted by Panuwan ChantawannakulSamuel RamseyDennis vanEngelsdorp, and Patcharin Phokasem from Chiang Mai University, and Kitiphong Khongphinitbunjong from Mae Fah Luang University.