We all know how important it is to wash out hands frequently to avoid sharing germs and spreading illnesses. But who would have guessed that bees might be at risk from germ sharing as they fly from flower to flower?
Much to the dismay of bee researchers, eleven species of wild bees have been found to be infected with viruses that are known to cause disease in domestic honeybees, according to an article in Science News Web Edition for December 24, 2010. The viruses have never before been found in the wild pollinators, and it is thought that they were transmitted by exposure to infected pollen picked up from flowers that had been visited by both wild and domestic bees.
While no one yet knows the reason for the colony-collapse disorder that is wiping out domestic honeybees at an alarming rate, it is thought that viruses such as the Israeli acute parasitic virus play a role in the epidemic. The spread of viruses to wild bees was demonstrated when researchers found this virus in wild bees near infected apiaries in Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois, but discovered no virus in wild bee populations near disease-free apiaries.
According to Sarina Jepsen of the invertebrate conservation group The Xerces Society, these viruses may pose a major threat to wild bumblebees. Native pollinator species like the wild bumblebee are in decline in the U.S. and viral disease may be at least part of the reason.