A group of international researchers has linked a parasitic mite to the probable death of millions of honey bee colonies worldwide.
The research involved the varroa mite and the deformed wing virus it carries, according to a news release.
The project, conducted in Hawaii, involved researchers from the University of Sheffield, England; Marine Biological Association, Plymouth, England; Food and Environment Research Agency, London, England; and University of Hawaii, Manoa.
The results were published in the journal Science.
Researchers found that varroa mite caused deformed wing virus to increase its frequency among honey bee colonies from 10 percent to 100 percent.
At the same time, there was a million-fold increase in the number of virus particles and a reduction in virus diversity.
The result was a single, but highly virulent, strain of deformed wing virus.
As few as 2,000 mites could cause a colony of 30,000 honey bees to die, according to the release.
Deformed wing virus is transmitted naturally among bees through feeding and sex.
But the mites change the virus, making it more deadly.
The mite and new virulent strain already are causing problems for beekeepers in Hawaii.
And the researchers say they believe it is a glimpse of what may happen elsewhere in the world where varroa mite are present.