Members of the state Department of Agriculture Plant Industry Division joined forces with division members on Kaua‘i yesterday to begin the hunt for honeybee mites that scientists say can threaten the state’s $1.1 million industry.
Anahola beekeeper and community leader Jimmy Torio was to accompany Darcy Oishi and Teresa Manzano, an entomologist and investigator, respectively, with the DLNR division on O‘ahu on a one-day tour of commercial bee sites from Koke‘e to Lihu‘e.
The intent was to take samples that would be tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The mites, if left unchecked, could spell the end for commercial beekeepers on Kaua‘i. Bees play a key role in pollinating flowering plants. Scientists have said one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is done by bees.
“We are doing a survey of bees to look for bee parasites and diseases,” Oishi said yesterday. “We are going to spread (the survey area) to get an accurate view of what is going on. Hopefully, we don’t have the mites.”
Four sites will be tested for mites, Torio said.
Craig Kaneshige and Eric Garcia, staffers with the DOA Plant Industry Division on Kaua‘i, accompanied Torio, Oishi, Manzano and Sage Lane, a Kapa‘a Middle School student and beekeeper, during the survey.
The two Kaua‘i agency officials and Lane will be trained on the survey techniques, and will conduct the next survey of bee hives from Lihu‘e to the North Shore, Torio said.
The survey visit comes more than a week after an O‘ahu beekeeper found mites on bees in three abandoned hives in Manoa on April 6.
Oishi said mites also have been found in Makiki and Tantalus on O‘ahu, and efforts are being made to ascertain whether the mites have settled in other O‘ahu communities, Oishi said.
Chemical sprays can be used to eradicate affected beehives, but it would be difficult to eradicate all tainted bees because not all would be in a hive during spraying, Oishi said.
“It is difficult to kill all the mites because the bees leave the hives to forage, and will carry mites,” he said.
Bees will become more susceptible to other diseases and parasites if the mites are allowed to increase in numbers and spread, Oishi said.
The mites might have reached Hawai‘i through infested cargo vessels or through shipments of bees, researchers speculate. Until recent times, Hawai‘i has remained free of all major mites and beetles, he said
The damage they inflict could “impact international agreements Hawai‘i has with foreign countries where the queens are sold,” Oishi said.
Bee pollen and beeswax are products from honey bees, and the selling of queen bees is a major commodity for Hawai‘i, Oishi said.
The team planned to start its survey yesterday at a beeyard in Koke‘e because of the area’s isolation and heavy vegetation, he said. “(The bees) don’t have to go far to find nectar and pollen,” Torio said.
Torio said if the site is clean, it could be used to rear new queen bees for sale in the future.
Oishi said he is not sure when he will be back to Kaua‘i for the next survey, but says resources can be sent to Kaua‘i for the project.
The mite, which is reddish brown and is the size of a pinhead, feeds on the blood of honey bee adults, larvae and pupae.
People who have come across the mites can contact Torio at 651-4581 or at email@example.com
More information on the mite can be gotten from www.ars.usda.gov.