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Chances are, you haven't seen honeybees in your flower garden for quite some time. Bumblebees and carpenter bees, perhaps, but not honeybees. Parasitic mites have dramatically reduced the honeybee population in this country, wreaking havoc on commercial bee farms and threatening farmers who rely on bees to pollinate their crops.
Researchers with the U. S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Md., report they may be able to stem the decline in the honeybee population with a gel containing formic acid. Writing in the Sept. 20 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the researchers report that the gel kills 70 - 85 percent of varroa mites, which literally suck the life from bees by feeding on their body fluids, and 100 percent of tracheal mites, which live in bees' tracheae and interfere with breathing. The peer-reviewed journal is published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. The article was initially published on the journal's web site on Aug. 21.
Produced naturally by some ants as a defense against predators, formic acid can be dangerous in large quantities if handled improperly. And it must be reapplied frequently to be effective against bee mites, according to the article's lead author, Jan Kochansky, Ph.D., of the USDA's Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville.
"Formic acid has been used in other countries for years to control parasitic mites of honeybees," says Kochansky. But until now, he says, large-scale use has been impractical.