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Honeybee Colony Parasites Threaten Food Supply Around New York State

OLD BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Honeybee colonies are under attack on Long Island and around New York state.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported, most bee colonies in the state are now infested with a new plague of parasitic mites – and it is threatening our fragile food supply.

Parker Trager, 11, was picking blueberries Monday, after studying the curious and tragic die-off of the pollinating honeybee.

"I try to maintain a healthy diet, kind of. That's what I love about the beauty of a farm." Parker said. "I know that bees pollinate and stuff to create like a well-organized ecosystem."

Across the country and New York state, bee colonies continue to be under attack. The Varroa mite might be responsible or $500 million in local agricultural losses this ear.

One third of the world's food supply is dependent on bees.

"I'm not just talking about strawberries and peaches and apples – I'm talking zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant," said Caroline Fanning of Restoration Farm Long Island. "We need our bees."

Restoration Farm Long Island in Old Bethpage is home to three of Long Island's 100 bee colonies. They fan out to produce honey and pollinate crops.

This summer, Cornell University research scientist teams are searching for a cure to the massive die off. CBS2 spoke to the leader of the operation in Ithaca via Facetime.

"The Varroa mite is a parasite that's kind of similar to a tick, and it actually latches onto honeybees and it sucks the blood and feeds on the fat stores of honeybees," said Emma Mullen of the Cornell University Beekeeper Tech Team.

Ninety percent of the New York state honeybee colonies surveyed are already infested. The Long Island Beekeepers Club names disease, loss of habitat, and pesticides as possible causes.

"Long Island homeowners are saying. 'I'm not going to spray,' because that could be playing a big role in diminishing their immune system so that when the Varroa mite comes in, they're already operating, you know, with one hand tied behind their back," Fanning said.

"We're actually working with these beekeepers to figure out what solutions we can come up with," said Mullen.

But there is no magic bullet. Infestation is so widespread that for now beekeepers are focusing on just managing the parasitic mites until scientists develop a cure.

Experts said when one bee colony gets sick and dies, other nearby colonies are attacking to steal their hone, which is causing the mites to spread further.

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