Bees are the altruistic little workers one might think: some steal. And this thievery could be contributing to the disappearance of honey bees in the U.S. and around the world, according to research reported Monday.
Bees are taking home more than honey when they steal from their weaker neighbors, they may be carrying American foulbrood (AFB) disease says the research article in the scientific journal Environmental Microbiology.
AFB is the most damaging bacterial disease of honey bee larvae, causing the death of colonies all over the world. However, little is known about how this killer moves to find its prey.
In the first study of its kind, scientists have analyzed data from nearly 20 years of control efforts to show that AFB occurs in clusters. The clusters appear to be impacted by the behavioral practices of bees and humans.
Honey bees display a very common behavior of robbing honey from neighboring hives. This is far more likely to occur when the robber is from a stronger hive, robbing a weaker hive. A hive with AFB is likely to be weak, having lost a large proportion of its young to the disease. This makes it all the more likely that a bee returning from a crime spree will bring back a nasty stowaway and form disease clusters.
There is some good news though, because the results also confirm that in many cases, management measures, such as destroying affected colonies, are on the whole successful and the disease can be eradicated within a locality. This has likely contributed to a general decline in disease incidence over the study period.