Last week at Volcano Island Honey Co., Dr. Steven Martin of the University of Sheffield (UK) visited our farm for the second time to collect samples for his research on insect viruses. We took advantage of Dr. Martin’s visit to learn more about the latest in bee health worldwide – a subject that affects us all, since many of our favorite food crops rely on bees for pollination (including avocados, lemons, apples and broccoli). As one of the world’s foremost scientists studying honeybee viruses, we thought you might be interested in hearing what Dr. Martin had to say – especially as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has recently received much media attention.
CCD is characterized by a sudden departure of worker bees from a hive still rich in resources and brood. The title of a recent New York Times article, “Scientists and soldiers solve a bee mystery,” was somewhat misleading, as the CCD quandary remains largely unresolved. One recently published study and the basis for the NYT article suggested that CCD might be linked to the combined presence of fungus and virus in the hive. Yet, many scholars are exploring other possible culprits – such as yet unknown viruses, GMOs, and pesticides applied to crops consumed by bees. Of particular concern to some beekeepers, neonicotinoids, or nicotine-based insecticides, are known to be harmful to bees and have already been partially banned in France.
Luckily for us, CCD has not reached Hawaii. Nonetheless, other bee diseases are threatening our hives, as well as many others around the state. These include the Varroa mite, responsible for spreading the viruses Dr. Martin studies. According to Dr. Martin the mites themselves are less harmful than the viruses they carry. The viruses enter the brood and adult bees at the mites puncture wound/feeding site on the bees body; these viruses proliferate exponentially and reduce the bees’ lifespan by about two thirds. On Dr. Martin’s first visit to Volcano Island Honey a year ago Varroa had not yet infested our colonies; on this return visit he intends to compare the virus levels present in newly varroa-infested colonies with the levels he found in those same colonies before they were infested with varroa.
Over the past few decades, Varroa has managed to spread across the world at an alarming rate: the first mite was found on the east coast of the U.S. in 1979 and reached Hawai’i in 2007 (the Big Island in 2008). As we understood from Dr. Martin, this epidemic is related to humans moving infested mite-resistant Asian bees into regions where non-resistant European honeybees lived, allowing the mite to crossover and infest the European honeybees. In this way, human meddling with nature has probably contributed to an environmental problem, threatening not only bees, but beekeepers and honey lovers – as well as some 30% of our entire food supply.
We are now working with Dr. Martin and researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to fight the Varroa mite so that our bees can continue to live long healthy lives and create the very special honey we love sharing with you. Dr. Martin’s fascinating visit also renewed our commitment to holistic, organic honey production – as pure and natural as possible, for your health and that of our planet.