Modern Beekeeping Challenges in Hawai‘i

Posted on November 2, 2011 in Beekeeping | Short Link

In its pure form, beekeeping is a joyful activity that can be peaceful and rewarding for beekeepers. Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as it used to be because of the confluence of diseases now threatening bee populations worldwide.

Hawaii‘’s geographic remoteness kept it isolated from the spread of new diseases for a long time. But in just the past few years, several new pathogens have arrived, with serious consequences for bees and beekeepers around the State.

In this picture, you can see several Varroa mites - 1/4-inch round, pink mites - attached to bees' backs.

The three main pests affecting Hawai‘i Island include: 1) Varroa mite, 2) Small Hive Beetle, and 3) Nosema cerenae, a parasitic fungus. These pathogens are not related by cause and effect, but their impact does seem to ‘pile up’ — such that their combined effect is more serious (and complicated) than each one individually.

Arguably the most dangerous of these pests is the Varroa mite, an ‘ecto-parasite’ that feeds on the blood of adult and developing bees (like a tick). While Varroa likes to feed on both worker (female) and drone (male) bees, it prefers the drones because of their larger size — allowing the mite to reproduce more quickly.

Like other pests, Varroa can spread quickly throughout a beehive because of honeybees’ social nature. Bees interact constantly: passing honey, nectar, and pollen back and forth, cleaning each other and honeycomb cells, and feeding brood (babies) and the queen.  Controlling bee diseases, therefore, requires a deep understanding of bee behavior and colony life.

Varroa’s debilitating effect is not only in its ability to shorten bees’ lifespan, but also its potential to serve as a vector for viruses. Certain viruses have always existed in bees’ guts at a baseline level, but when those viruses get injected into the bees hemolymph (blood) by the mite, they multiply rapidly and kill the host bee. Since we cannot treat the viruses directly, many beekeepers have turned to focus on controlling Varroa.

Since Varroa reached Hawaii in 2009, island beekeepers have scrambled to save their bees. In this three-part blog series, we report on VIHC’s experience with Varroa, which began in 2007 with a grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).

Organic Varroa Management & Beekeeper Education in Hawai‘i project sponsored by:

wsare_logo_lowThis project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.


  • Keven says:

    The info on this blog is useful.

  • admin says:

    Thanks! Glad it was helpful.

  • jim roby says:

    Yes I agree,you are the only one who works with bees and gives a clear answer as to the current problems.I’m in Mt.View for the past 6 yrs,and it used to be that I would see honey bees visiting the Lehua blossoms on my property,not this year.
    I’m very saddened,and miss seeing the bees. My brother claims the mites have been around for as long as the bees and that the only common denominator in hive collapse is pesticides. Do you have thoughts on this subject? Also I used to get years ago local Lehua raw honey at KTA,it was totally blond and non liquid,you had to spoon it out of the container. The honey on the shelves all look like they has been micro filtered,which I told removes the pollen. I miss the honey we used to get. Thanks for the info on your site.

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