On November 17, 2009, Dr. Stephen J. Martin of University of Sheffield in Western Bank, Sheffield, UK visited Volcano Island Honey Company. Dr. Martin is internationally recognized for his research on the biology and population dynamics of social insects (hornets and honeybees) and their pests, parasites and pathogens.
The Varroa Mite is spreading rapidly on the Big Island, and beekeepers are scrambling to learn how to manage and control the destructive pest.
Researchers know that colonies heavily infested with varroa mites have high levels of viruses including Chronic Paralysis virus, Acute Bee Paralysis virus, Kashmir bee virus and Deformed Wing Virus- but no one has studied the virus levels in specific colonies before the mite arrived and then after the mite infestation. Volcano Island Honey Company does not currently have varroa mites in our hives, therefore Dr. Martin is studying our colonies to get baseline virus levels before and after a varroa mite infestation.
Of course, we are hoping we never have a mite infestation, but the scientists say, “We’ve heard that hope before,” and then they emphatically repeat “You will get the mites.”
Dr. Martin took samples of live bees and eggs from the brood nests of twenty of our colonies. He explained that a normal healthy colony has defenses against viruses that infect the bees through normal transmission channels, like the entering through the digestive system; but when the Varroa mite parasitically feeds on the bee pupa or adult bees it injects the virus into the pupa’s or adult’s bodily fluids from which the bee host has no defense.
Currently, the Varroa mite is spreading across the Big Island faster than anyone had predicted. And we are hoping against hope, and scientific evidence to the contrary, that this blight will pass us over.
Posted by Candice Choy and Andrea Dean