Destructive bee parasite found in Hawaii

The Varroa mite, not much larger than the point of a sharpened pencil, is seen behind the eye of this honey bee. AP photo

HONOLULU — A tiny mite that began infesting mainland
honeybee populations in the 1980s showed up in Honolulu hives for
the first time this month and has now been confirmed in bee
colonies across Oahu.

The infestation by varroa mites has led the state to ask
beekeepers to restrict transport of bees around the islands. There
are concerns it could threaten the Big Island's thriving queen bee
export industry, which has so far tested free of the mites.

The parasites have been blamed for destroying more than half of
some mainland beekeepers' hives and wiping out most wild honeybees
there. That destruction preceded the more recent appearance of a
mystery bee killer on the mainland that has destroyed tens of
thousands of honeybee colonies in at least 21 states. Known as
colony collapse disorder, the problem has not shown up in Hawaii.

``This is going to be for us a nightmare,'' Michael Kliks said
of the mites. He's head of the Hawaii Beekeepers' Association and
owner of Manoa Honey Co. ``When I saw that mite I knew exactly what
it was. I knew exactly what it meant and I fell to my knees and
almost began to weep because it's inexpressible what that sea
change is for us in Hawaii.''

Kliks discovered the mites April 6 on a pupa contained in an
abandoned hive he recovered from the Makiki section of Honolulu and
immediately notified state agriculture officials. Since then, it's
been confirmed in several other locations.

It is too late to hope to eradicate or even contain the
infestation, Kliks said.

``The only thing we can try and do is keep the levels of
infestation in our managed colonies below what's called the
threshold level ... so that we can still produce honey,'' he said,
but added that will require regular and heavy application of
permitted pesticides.

That may mean the end of certified organic honey production on
the island.

The appearance of the mites could also hurt island crops that
depend on wild bees for pollination, such as coffee, macadamia nuts
and pumpkins, Kliks said.

Originally from Asia, varroa mites were first discovered in
Wisconsin and Florida in 1987. By the next year, the mites were
found in 12 states and have since spread throughout the continental

The pinhead-sized insects, which are spread through contact
between bees, feed off the blood of honeybee adults, larvae and

Bees cannot legally be imported into Hawaii, and officials do
not know how the mites made it to the state.

Beekeepers are being asked not to move their bees between
islands or even within the same island. Once authorities have
confirmed where the mites have spread, they can then work on a
possible quarantine for bees throughout the state, said Janelle
Saneishi, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.

``But you know a bee flies. So that's the wild card,'' she said.