A new study shows that colonies of imported bumblebees in England may be carrying dangerous parasites.
According to biologist William Hughes of the University of Sussex, one of the authors of the recent study, 77 percent of these imported colonies were found to be carrying five different parasites. While none of the parasites can infect humans, they could have devastating effects on Britain’s native bumblebee population, which is in decline with two species of English bumblebee already extinct.
British farmers and gardeners import around 50,000 colonies of these commercially bred bumblebees annually. The bees are bred in Central Europe and cost about £100 per hive. The bees are particularly useful for pollinating crops such as tomatoes and strawberries, which have no other method of pollination.
More than a million colonies of these infected bees are exported globally each year from farms in Eastern and Central European countries like Slovakia. On this scale, the parasites these bees carry could have a serious impact on global bee populations, and subsequently, on global agriculture as well.
License requirements declare the bees must be disease free to be exported, but evidence shows that is not the case. Hughes and his team are looking to officials for more stringent import regulations. It is also important that factories that raise commercial bees make an effort to eradicate disease within their colonies before exporting.