Vampire mites mean fewer bees for honey producers, and possibly less fruit for all Islanders.
photo courtesy Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture
In April, a pinhead-size mite that’s already attacked honeybee populations around the world was discovered in several abandoned Makiki beehives. The finding wasn’t just bad news for Hawaii’s honey industry. Island crops that depend on pollination—from avocados to watermelons—are also at risk.
Originally from Asia, the Varroa destructor mite feeds on the blood of honeybee adults, larvae and pupae. Its Dracula-like moves can reduce bee populations by weakening adult victims and causing deformities in emerging bees. The statewide value of pollination-dependent crops is estimated at more than $126 million, according to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA). If Hawaii’s bees were wiped out, as much as half of that production could be lost.
“Honey is a valuable item, but that’s manini compared to the value of agriculture,” says Dr. Michael Kliks, president of the Hawaii Beekeepers Association, who discovered the mites on Oahu. “We can get honey from somewhere else, but you can’t pollinate these crops in some other way.”
photo: Olivier Koning
Some Oahu beekeepers have already lost a good portion of their bee colonies, while others are managing their infestation, says Dr. Neil Reimer, HDOA’s plant pest control manager. Surveys of commercial beehives and wild swarms on Oahu revealed that the mite is so widely distributed, it’s likely been on the island for more than a year.
Neighbor Islands, however, have remained mite-free. To keep the mite from spreading to other islands, an emergency quarantine took effect in August, prohibiting the movement of alive or dead bees and equipment off Oahu. HDOA has set up bee-free buffer zones and swarm traps around some Oahu ports. HDOA is also working with beekeepers to finalize a longer-term plan, including possible compensation for hives that are destroyed.
But Kliks says these measures aren’t enough. “There should be mandatory requirements under emergency rules which says that everyone with infested colonies be required to turn them in,” he says. “And if they don’t, then those people should face a fine or penalty just like they would if they were raising snakes or another illegal animal.”