HONOLULU – A honey bee mite has been discovered at a bee farm in Manoa, Oahu, after abandoned hives from Makiki Heights were relocated to the property last week. Varroa mites were detected on bees in three of the abandoned hives on April 6 by the beekeeper and reported to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA). Samples of the mites have been sent to a mite specialist at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory on the mainland for confirmatory identification.
The varroa mite is considered one of the most serious honey bee pests and occurs almost worldwide. Hawaii had been one of the few places where the mite was not known to occur. It is not known at this time how the mites were introduced to Oahu. So far, surveys conducted on hives in the Tantalus, UH-Manoa and Makiki area have detected varying degrees of infestation of the mite. Surveys on commercial hives on the Big Island, where several of the state’s queen bee raising operations are located, have not detected the Varroa mite.
“This bee mite poses a major threat to Hawaii’s bee industry and to feral bee populations,” said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, Chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. “Teams of HDOA staff have been working rapidly to determine the extent of the infestation and to establish containment and control plans.”
HDOA Plant Industry staff from three branches, including entomologists, plant quarantine inspectors, plant pest control specialists and pesticides specialists, have mobilized statewide and are working closely with the local bee industry and USDA officials.
“We are enlisting the help of all beekeepers, commercial and backyard hobbyists, to help us in assessing the extent of this infestation,” said Lyle Wong, administrator of HDOA’s Plant Industry Division. “HDOA officials will be visiting bee hives to conduct surveys and the cooperation of beekeepers is very crucial in possibly stopping the spread of the varroa mite.”
Entomologists and pest control specialists will survey all islands for the mites as soon as possible. The Plant Quarantine Branch is preparing a quarantine order preventing the interisland movement of bees and beekeeping equipment. In the meantime, beekeepers are being asked not to move bees interisland.
Beekeepers who suspect that bees in their hives have the varroa mite are asked to contact HDOA as soon as possible at 973-9530 (Oahu) or the state’s toll-free hotline at 643-PEST (7378).
The varroa mite is reddish brown in color with an oval and flattened shape. It is about the size of a pin head and can be detected with the unaided eye. Varroa mites have piercing and sucking mouthparts and feed on the blood of honey bee adults, larvae and pupae. The mites weaken adult bees and cause emerging bees to be deformed. Varroa mites are spread from hive to hive through bee contact.
The varroa mite’s natural host is the Asian honey bee, a species that is not extremely affected by the mite. The mite spread through Europe via Russia. In 1987, the varroa mite was discovered in North American bee colonies in Wisconsin and Florida. By 1988, the mite was detected in 12 U.S. states and has since spread throughout the continental U.S. In 2000, the mite was discovered in New Zealand.
Close-up view of a varroa mite.
Photo by: Walter Nagamine, entomologist, HDOA