Coughs and Sneezes

A short note about a big subject, the honeybee, pests and disease.

It seems that we’ve all started to understand that in simple terms what we think of as germs have evolved over time to become resistant to the medicines we developed to combat them. We also have the idea however unscientific that exposure to low levels of infection helps us to develop a natural immunity and resist a more serious strain. And “survival of the fittest” is a widely accepted concept in nature. The weak strains are weeded out by the stronger animals succeeding in breeding and the weaker animals failing to breed, falling victim to predators more easily, etc.

There seems to be a reluctance to allow this principle to apply to bees. Perhaps in part that is because we acknowledge (or if we are in denial, refuse to acknowledge) that many of the pests and diseases facing bees have been spread and intensified by our interference, by our import of non-native strains, by our methods of farming them for their honey crop, and our mass movement of them by the millions in order to pollinate our fruit crops.

However there are those who believe that we must encourage the bees to develop their own natural resistance to these pests and diseases wherever we can.

BUT in order to do this we must reduce our interference. This means resisting the desire to treat something common like Varroa Mite at its first appearance, some argue that maybe we should encourage the bees to tackle this parasite themselves. Maybe we should optimise the conditions that allow the bees to be as strong as possible and therefore as naturally resistant as possible. Maybe if the colony cannot develop the strength to resist the parasite we should allow it to die out. Survival of the fittest. The argument goes, if we support these weak bees artificially then the bees which breed from this colony will be arguably weaker and the new colony they create as a consequence is a weaker colony even more prone to failure and subject to parasites and diseases.

Of course if losing a colony’s honey crop is more important to you then you will medicate against these problems and harvest the honey and make the money you need to stay in business. And it’s hard not to argue against this logic, unless you are not reliant on the money, then the principal is easy to put ahead of the practical.

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