Mites menace state’s bees

Amid last week’s discovery of honey bee mites in Hawai‘i that sent a shudder through the state’s $1.1 million industry, Kaua‘i beekeepers are being asked to report any sightings to protect commercial operations here.

Keeping secret any sightings could sound the death knell for Kaua‘i’s beekeepers, Anahola beekeeper and community leader Jimmy Torio said Friday.

“What cancer is to humans, the mite is to bees,” he said. “No cure. It is all about prevention. We need to know from everybody, because this is not about business, this is about survival.”

He said people who suspect the presence of mites should contact either himself; the state Department of Agriculture; Erik Coppersmith, a Koke‘e beekeeper; or Dr. Michael Kliks, president of the Hawaii Beekeepers Association on O‘ahu.

Torio said he will help set up a statewide team that will collect bees for testing.

“We need to hear from hunters and trail hikers with respect to the wild bees … to take samples,” Torio said.

People who come across the mites can contact Torio at 651-4581 or at jktorio@hawaiilink.net

While Kaua‘i‘s honey industry comprises only 8 percent of the state’s total, the future of the island’s three known commercial honey companies could suffer if the mites take hold and their numbers spread, Torio said.

The three honey producers are Kauai Island Honey and Garden Island Honey, both owned by Torio, and a third company owned by Kaua‘i resident Oliver Shagnasty.

The companies and their counterparts have survived because they have created a special niche, Torio said.

“Hawai‘i is known worldwide for its organic and naturally produced Hawaiian honey, and that has been our niche for a long time,” he said. “That is the reason we have been able to sustain ourselves.”

The good fortune could come to an end for Kaua‘i beekeepers if the mite is found and nothing is done, Torio said.

“It would take only one mite to piggyback on a honeybee to land in a beekeeper’s yard and become a cancer-spreading force,” Torio said.

If a mite is found in a beekeeper’s yard, “we would have to kill all the bees to prevent the spread of the mite,” Torio said.

A beekeeper found the mites on bees in three abandoned hives in Manoa on O‘ahu on April 6, according to news accounts.

Teams of DOA staffers have been established to determine the extent of the infestation and to develop methods to contain the spread of the mites.

Up until the discovery, Hawai‘i was one of the few places where the mite had not been detected.

The mites can reach Hawai‘i through infested cargo vessels or through shipments of bees, researchers speculate.

The mite, which is reddish brown and is the size of a pinhead, feeds on the blood of honey bee adults, larvae and pupae. It has a five-mile flying radius.

To learn more, and to see what the mite looks like, go

online to www.ars.usda.gov.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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