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A Bee’s Life

Community Contributed

By Glenn I. Teves, UH Extension Agent

The life of a bee is not easy, and has changed dramatically through the activities of man. Pollution, pesticides, changes in farming systems, and the movement of invasive species across continents have combined to make life difficult for bees. The accidental introduction of two very serious bee pests, the Varroa mite and the Small Hive Beetle have weakened both wild bees and cultivated hives in Hawaii.

Stresses bought on by these pests have also predisposed bees to serious viruses, while certain pesticides have added to demise. This one, two, three and sometimes four-punch is wiping out bees in certain parts of the state, and also the world. On Oahu and Hawaii Island, wild populations of bees have been decimated to the point where some farmers are forced to hand pollinate their crops.

These busy creatures continue to endure, but less so without the helping hand of man. On Molokai, bees have been adversely impacted by the introduction of the Small Hive Beetle, but so far have escaped the Varroa mite since it hasn’t been found on Molokai.

Molokai has a colorful history of bee keeping. In the early 1930s, a disease called Foul Brood started killing off bees on all islands except Lanai and Ni`ihau.  By 1937, it was causing havoc on Molokai. By the 1950s, research conducted on Molokai to create strains of bees resistant to Foul Brood were successful, and researchers from the University of California were able to impart resistance to German, Italian, and other bee strains. These super bees were then introduced to the neighbor islands in order to increase bee’s resistance to Foul Brood. Many of the bees in Hawaii can trace their genealogical roots to Molokai.

Today, bee keeping has evolved through a combination of new and basic strategies to keep bees thriving by paying more attention to their needs. One is to make sure they have ready access to water so they don’t have to travel miles for a drink of water.  Two is to feed them during periods when nectar and pollen sources are in short supply.

Food sources can include sugar water or even giving them back some of their honey.
The third is the creation of insectaries or lines of mixed flowers, herbs, and even flowering weeds favored by bees as pollen and nectar sources to maintain them during high stress periods when honey sources are in short supply. Most farming systems employed on Molokai don’t allow for a steady source of food for bees, and are likened to feast followed by famine. This condition can impose undo stress on bees, and are compounded by extreme weather events. Local weeds such as ilima and uhaloa serve as wild sources of food, and their growth should be encouraged.

The fourth strategy is to frequently inspect what’s going on inside the hive. There are ways to minimize impacts of the Small Hive Beetle by the use special traps. This beetle will disguise itself as a bee and move almost undetected in the hive, working from the inside to destroy bees and spoil the honey. Only through the steady hand of man will bees again thrive on Molokai.

The proof is in the honey! Congratulations to new apiarist Marshall Joy of Ho`olehua, who won three blue ribbons at the recent State Natural Honey competition last month. Only through learned and diligent bee keepers, and excellent mentors, will we have a chance of creating a sustainable bee industry on Molokai. For more information on bee keeping, please go to the UH Bee Project at uhbeeproject.com.


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