But does this research give any clues to the causes of the mysterious disappearance of entire bee colonies over this winter, which has affected up to 70 per cent of colonies in some regions of North America and is now also reported throughout Europe? Entomologists believe that the small hive beetle cannot be the main cause of the problem seen in North America and Europe, as the parasite doesn't occur in Europe at all. Possible causes that have been mooted for the mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD) range from biological (mites) to the inadvertantly man-made (mobile phones, pesticides, GM crops), and even to allegations of poor practice among bee keepers or compensation fraud.
Bernard Vaissiere, who studies the ecology of bees at the French research centre INRA in Avignon, told Chemistry World: 'I do not think that there is a link between the greater susceptibility of the European honeybee to the small hive beetle and colony collapse disorder. CDD seems related to lower immune
Deadly beetles intercept bee's warnings
The small hive beetle invadesÂ colonies of the EuropeanÂ honeybee (Apis mellifera) but not of the African strain. Researchers in the US have now found that the bee's very own chemical alarm signal plays an important role in the beetle's success.
Peter Teal and colleaguesÂ at the University of Florida used analytical techniques, including GC-MS, to study the chemical messengers (pheromones) that bees send out when they are under stress. The researchers were surprised to find that the parasitic beetle can detect at least one of the bee's alarm pheromones, isopentyl acetate (IPA), with a much better sensitivity than the bee itself. Thus, the beetles can rely on the bee's chemical signals to localise bee hives, and to congregate in large numbers on bee hives that are already in trouble.