Warrior bees take on varroa mites
Thu, 26 Jul 2012 6:14p.m.
By Samantha Hayes
In the past year varroa mites have infected every beehive in New Zealand, causing many to die.
Beekeepers have fought the parasite with chemical strips which the mite has developed a resistance to, and as they ran out of options Crown researchers worked on a solution.
Today they announced a genetically superior bee was being brought to market, capable of kicking the varroa mite out of its hive.
More than 400 beekeepers swarmed on Hamilton with one question - how to combat the varroa mite which plagues every hive in the country.
“Hopefully they've got some answers for us today because it's here to stay," says Tauranga beekeeper Grant Gilmer.
Crown scientists have bred super-hygienic warrior bees, which combat varroa in the hive.
"What this bee does is identify the varroa which are reproducing in the cells and it goes in and stops the reproduction, so what that means is that colonies are able to get to the end of the season without dying,” says Plant and Food lead varroa researcher Michelle Taylor.
Varroa mites are a global problem, found everywhere except Australia.
"The problem is honey bees cannot survive in NZ without us using chemicals to keep them alive and varroa has developed a resistance to two of the three chemicals we've got now," says bee expert Mark Goodwin.
The scientists say the genetically superior bees are the industry's only option.
A Nelson beekeeper has taken on the challenge of artificially inseminating queen bees to sell to the industry. After just two months in the hive the queen’s offspring will dominate with the genetic ability to fight the varroa mite. But bee keepers are still skeptical.
"There is no magic bullet, no one else in the world has found the magic bullet for varroa and we will be as a country the same," says National Beekeepers’ Association president Barry Foster.
Mr Foster says the varroa resistant bees will only work with other chemical treatments.
The researchers agree, but say less chemicals will be needed with its stock.
"If it's working then it's a life-saver for beekeeping in NZ," says Opotiki beekeeper Matthew Benseman.
The queens will be available from November for $400 - in a market where they can sell for anywhere between $30 to $1,500.
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