News Release – NR09-02 – January 7, 2009

Posted on Jan 7, 2009 in 2009 News Releases, News-Releases

HONOLULU – Residents in the Hilo-area are being advised not to eat honey gathered from feral hives during the next three weeks, due to the use of an insecticide that will be used to eradicate the varroa mites (Varroa destructor) on honey bees during this period.

Hawai`i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today that it is declaring a “crisis exemption” that would allow the department to use approximately 200 baiting stations containing very low concentrations of an insecticide, fipronil, to eradicate honey bees carrying varroa mites within a five-mile radius of Hilo Harbor.  (Click here for map)  HDOA staff will be collecting and destroying feral hives that they are able to locate.  As an extra precaution, residents in the eradication zone are being advised not to eat any honey collected from wild hives. 

This emergency action is being taken after other methods of eradication involving manual destruction of feral hives and baiting have not been successful in stopping the spread of varroa mites on Hawai`i Island. In recent weeks, collections of bees with varroa mites have been increasing within the area which can be attributed to undetected feral hives.

“The EPA Crisis Exemption is critical if we have any hope of eradicating varroa mites from Hawai`i Island,” said Lyle Wong, Administrator for HDOA’s Plant Industry Division.  “None of the other methods we have researched and attempted have been successful in ridding the island of this pest.”

HDOA has been working with EPA for several months regarding the use of fipronil, a widely used insecticide that has been registered for use in many crop and non-crop applications in the U.S. since 1996.    EPA has provided recommendations to HDOA on the monitoring of the bait stations and measures that would minimize impact to non-target organisms. HDOA has also consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assure that endangered or threatened species are not affected.

The crisis exemption is valid for 15 days.  If more time is needed, the HDOA must apply for a quarantine exemption.  Under the exemption, HDOA will be recording the location of each bait station by global positioning system (GPS) and each bait stations will be monitored at least every 24 hours.

HDOA has also been working closely with beekeepers on Hawai`i Island regarding this course of action.  HDOA, in collaboration with the University of Hawai`i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), has also been researching the effectiveness of other eradication methods and insecticides; however, fipronil is most effective for this use.

Varroa mites were first detected in Hawaii by a beekeeper in Manoa on O`ahu in April 2007.

Since varroa mites were first detected on Hawai`i Island on August 20, 2008, HDOA has collected and tested about 373,000 bees from the Hilo area and detected 29 incidents of varroa mites, totaling 310 individual mites. HDOA had set about 170 swarm traps to capture feral bees, more than 150 bait stations and treated more than 200 feral hives.  Staff also surveyed 48 hives that are managed by beekeepers on the island.  The island’s queen bee industry is a major source of disease-free and pest-free queen bees to markets worldwide.

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.

If residents have questions, they may call HDOA’s Hilo Office at 974-4140 or the Honolulu office at

More information on varroa mites is available on the department’s website at: and