In search of ‘nice bees’

PUHI — When the Varroa Mite makes its appearance on Kauai, we want to be prepared, said Dr. Georgeanne Purvinis of the Kauai Community College Technology Department.

“In 2007, when the Varroa Mite appeared on Oahu, it cleaned out 65 percent of Oahu hives,” Purvinis said Wednesday, while preparing for the second round of queen bee insemination at the college’s apiary lab. “Eventually, it will get to Kauai.”

Kauai Community College received a grant for a queen bee rearing and stock improvements (of Kauai bees), and Wednesday’s attempt at inseminating queen bees is a part of the project which Purvinis hopes will result in “nice bees.”

“We’re using selective breeding for nice bees,” Purvinis said. “We look for traits like nice producers and good hygienic behaviors. Once we have these desired traits in queen bees, we can rear queens to distribute to Kauai beekeepers.”

Dr. Francis Takahashi of the KCC apiary program said there are bees that can sense larvae in the hive who are afflicted with the disease being carried by the Varroa Mite. This is one description of a bee with good hygienic behavior.

“Once a larva has been detected, the other bees ‘clean’ the hive by isolating the affected larvae,” Takahashi said. “If the Varroa Mite gets here, we cannot import any queen bees because it is illegal to import bees. We could import semen, but that presents the possibility of introducing viruses which are not here at the moment.”

Takahashi said a benefit which showed itself during the larvae rearing was being able to supply larvae to people involved with the endangered bird population.

Using a microscope equipped with photographic capability, Purvinis said doing the insemination is like surgery, including putting the queen out by using carbon dioxide, positioning, and injecting the semen collected from drones.

“This is surgery,” she said. “Now I know how a doctor in residency feels. This is our second round. Our first round? We did four queens — one flew away by accident, another died, and the remaining two were placed in hives, but didn’t make it. We’re hoping for better results on this round.”

Purvinis said while she doesn’t have concrete data, there have been reports from home gardeners who have noticed less pollinators around.

“Eventually, we hope to supply good queen bees to our island’s beekeepers,” she said. “There are big operations like Kona Queens who export queen bees. We can’t be that big, but we can have bees that are more prepared if the Varroa Mite does make it here.”

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