Hawaiian Honeybees Threatened by Bloodsucking Parasite

A state rapid response team is in Hilo to try to contain a bee mite parasite.

The parasite is posing a threat to the island's $4 million commercial honeybee industry and the island's agriculture, officials said.

The parasite is a reddish-brown, crab-looking varroa mite.

The mites are found worldwide and feed on the blood of honeybees, weakening the adults and deforming the young until the hive collapses.

The team plans to destroy all wild beehives within five miles of Hilo Bay.

Agriculture Department staff will hand out sticky traps with miticides to help beekeepers kill the mites.

Four parasites were found last week in Hilo, which was the first detection outside of Oahu.

When the varroa mite was found on Oahu in April 2007, owner of Manoa Honey Co. Michael Kliks lost about two-thirds of his bee colonies.

The state set up swarm traps around state ports to detect mites and killed bees to prevent the parasite from being spread to other islands, said the Agriculture Department in a news release.

Kliks, who is also the president of the Hawaii Beekeepers Association, said the state should have killed all the bees on Oahu so the mites wouldn't spread.

Lyle Wong, administrator of the state's plant industry division, defended the state's efforts and said there's no legal pesticide that could kill all the bees.

"I was just terribly distressed and angry that the state Department of Agriculture didn't take our advice," Kliks said. "If nothing else, that will buy you time. This is an irreversible process. Now we'll have varroa mites here forever."

Big Island is one of the largest producers of organic honey in the U.S. with 14,000 beehives and the largest exporter of queen bees.