This morning, I read this research article. And then, I had an epiphany...
First, it was well researched, as well as very informative on honey bee reproduction and the impact nutrition has on it, yet written in an easy to understand style. I recommend that all beekeepers read it at the very least for that. But when I read further, I realized there is another way to look at some of the arguments in the treatment debate that so bitterly divides the beekeeping community. I would almost dub it the "treated drone bomb" effect, in a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the "mite bomb" theory that was pushed around for a while (I have noticed a sharp decrease of that terminology over the last couple of years, which gives me hope that it is on its way out), except that would be just as silly.
The short version of this new way to look at the miticides beekeepers use to treat against varroa mites is that treating negatively affects drones mating quality, which in turns negatively affects queen fertility, which has a negative impact on colony health - whether that colony is treated or not.
So, in effect, even if you don't treat your hives, if others in the area where your queens mate do treat (in the US, that would be mostly everywhere there are beekeepers), there is a significant risk it will negatively affect the health of your own colonies, their productivity and their longevity.
What made me come to this conclusion? Well, actually, it is not my own conclusion.... let me explain: when reading this research article, the research painted an interesting picture, one that should make us think twice about treatments, one that we should keep in mind when deciding to treat or not.
Below are some excerpts that I think illustrate the problem quite well, although it is important to read the whole research article to grasp how the researchers came to these conclusions. The commentary below represents my personal opinion and interpretation of those conclusions. Maybe you will disagree, but I recommend that, no matter what, you at least read on and decide for yourself!
several studies have shown that the presence of miticides in brood-rearing comb negatively affects queen fertility by causing lower sperm viability in queen spermathecae, lower queen reproductive quality, and higher rates of supersedure ...
<miticides> in the queen-rearing wax significantly reduce a queen’s egg-laying rate and her attractiveness to retinue workers.
Miticide contamination of comb is also a serious problem for drone development, as it has been shown to reduce drone production, sperm production, and sperm viability...
Miticides tend to cause lower body weight and sperm count as well as smaller wing size.
drones experiencing a reduction in sperm viability or sperm count from a variety of factors may contribute a disproportionately high percentage of unviable sperm cells to a queen’s spermathecal stores....
Queen replacement by workers (supersedure) often occurs when brood production falters, which may happen if she is inseminated with an insufficient amount of semen, or with poor quality sperm.
Drones whose reproductive competitiveness is affected by extrinsic factors during development or adulthood may contribute dead or suboptimal sperm to a queen, which can have severe negative consequences not only for the queen herself, but for her colony’s overall productivity and survival
In conclusion, even though insecticides widely used in the foraging environment can negatively impact drone reproductive quality, perhaps a more pressing threat is the presence of beekeeper-applied miticides used to control Varroa mites, which are still ubiquitous in a variety of hive products including wax, honey, and pollen....
With those specific point in mind, I recommend that, when treating their own colonies, beekeepers Bee Mindful of the far-reaching negative effects those treatments have on other colonies in the area, and on the survival rates of the honey bee population as a whole.
As far as I am concerned, I am curious: it would be interesting to research if that negative impact is more than compensated by the positive effects miticides tout, at least significantly enough that it is really worth it to the beekeepers and the colonies themselves. Just trying to see the forest behind the tree here....
The decision to treat or not to treat remains a personal one. And I respect that. But, personally, this research only confirms what my instinct and common sense was already telling me: I will let my bees learn to fend for themselves as naturally as possible in the artificial context that beekeeping is, because
I don't believe the temporary positive effects of mite population elimination through miticide treatment compensate enough for the long term damage inflicted to the colony by stressing it in other ways, negatively affecting queen and drone fertility and longevity and causing more queen events - all the while costing time and money.
I prefer to keep and promote only local survivor stock that has proven it is able to manage mite populations on their own so that I am not breeding stronger mites and miticide dependent bees
At the risk of anthropomorphizing, I believe that miticides are somewhat similar to chemotherapy for humans: it sometimes helps for a while but does not solve the problem, and sometimes it does nothing except poison the colony, making it sick and miserable. The main difference is that, with miticides, you can never really completely get rid of the mites, and it is hard to regress them from that dependence, so you are therefore stuck on the treatment bandwagon.
Finally, colonies treated with miticides appear to die in the same proportions as those which are not, so I fail to see the point altogether anyway.
To each its own!