STAR-BULLETIN FILE / FEBRUARY
Beekeeper Michael Kliks, owner of Manoa Honey Co., showed his bee hives in Manoa.
Discovery of bee mite on Oahu could close honey businesses
Beekeepers in the state are keeping a vigilant eye on their hives, watching nervously for signs of varroa mites which surfaced in the state recently.
If stricken, some may lose their bees, and their businesses altogether.
What are they?
The varroa mite is reddish brown, with an oval and flattened shape, and about the size of a pinhead. Varroa mites have piercing and sucking mouthparts and feed on the blood of honeybee adults, larvae and pupae, weakening adult bees and deforming emerging bees. Native to Asia, they were first discovered in Europe in 1977 in the mainland United States in 1987. They have since expanded throughout the world. They are spread from hive to hive through bee contact.
Source: Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service
Varroa mites in your beehive? Contact the department of agriculture as soon as possible at 973-9530 (Oahu) or toll-free at 643-PEST.
The varroa mites, one of the most harmful pests to smite the honeybee population globally, were detected in an abandoned beehive in Manoa last week. Until then, Hawaii's isolated geography and a mid-1980s quarantine gave the isles claim to being one of the few mite-free places in the world and thus, a source of some of the most pristine organic honey.
The state Department of Agriculture is asking beekeepers not to move any colonies. Meanwhile, a team is surveying colonies throughout the state.
No estimate of the cost to local honey businesses was yet available, though the industry was already struggling. The state's honey production last year was down about five percent compared to 2005.
Michael Kliks, owner of the Manoa Honey Co. and president of the Hawaii Beekeepers Association, discovered the mites on Friday, April 6, after transporting abandoned hives from Makiki to his own apiary in Manoa.
"That was my mistake," said Kliks. "As I pulled out the first frame of brood, I accidentally crushed several drone pupae... . I looked down and the mites were running out."
Kliks immediately called the state Department of Agriculture, but the experienced beekeeper and entomologist knew the mites were varroa before the state confirmed it for him.
Thus far, the mites have been detected in three of the abandoned hives, as well as at hives in the Tantalus, University of Hawaii at Manoa and Makiki area.
Samples have been sent to specialists at a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Maryland.
Janelle Saneishi, spokes-woman for the agriculture department, said no mites, so far, have spread to Maunawili.
"No other beekeepers other than Michael Kliks have reported mites in their colonies," she said. "We're still surveying and will continue until we cover most of the areas."
State staff from three branches of the agriculture department, including entomologists, plant quarantine inspectors and plant pest control specialists have mobilized statewide.
But Kliks said the National Guard should be mobilized, and that a comprehensive survey should be completed as soon as possible, followed by the eradication of infested hives.
"I'm barely able to keep up," he said. "The Department of Agriculture is swamped and stumped. They're like a deer in the headlights... . If we fail to eradicate, we're back to square one... . We can basically kiss any kind of organic honey production here in the state good-bye because we'll have to use chemicals."
A handful of Big Island beekeepers specializing in exporting queen bees have thus far had a competitive edge because they're free of the mites.
Garnett Puett of Captain Cook Honey Co., one of the largest honey producers on the Big Island, said he's worried, but hopeful.
"I'm very worried about it, but hopefully the state's taken care of it and they're working diligently to contain it," said Puett. "I'm hoping it was just in that valley."
Department of Agriculture staff have tested his bees, he said, and found them to be clean of the mites.
"It's a disaster for Oahu," said Puett.