Beekeepers in Invercargill and Dunedin have been stung with reports that the deadly bee-killing varroa mite has been found in the region.
Two mites were found on bees in University of Otago’s research hives on Monday night and the parasite had also been discovered in a hive owned by a hobbyist beekeeper in Invercargill.
The parasite, which kills unprotected bee colonies, has spread inexorably down through the country, since it was first identified in the North Island in 2000.
Federated Farmers Bee Group Chairman, John Hartnell says it was inevitable the varroa mite would eventually turn up in the south.
“They’ve tried all sorts of things; we’ve had a programme of delaying the spread by putting it into lockdown areas…all sorts of things that we’ve tried to manage it to the best our abilities.
“But the reality is now that it’s doing its own thing and all we can do is manage it from a bee colony perspective.”
John Hartnell says the varroa is a global problem and if man doesn’t act fast, bees will be wiped out completely.
“When you take into context, before Varroa came we had one feral or wild hive for every managed hive in New Zealand. So at that stage we probably had about 300,000 managed colonies; so in all reality about 600,000 beehives operating in the whole country.
“With the Varroa mite coming in, it’s basically devastated all those wild and feral hives. So we’ve lost close to 50% of our pollination force that was traditionally there in the past. Now we’re totally reliant on man to treat the managed hives to make sure they remain alive.”
The deadly mite has hit commercial beekeepers hard, the cost of treating a varroa infected hive ranges from $20 to $40 per hive.
For commercial beekeepers, farming up to 1000 hives, the extra costs and increase in labour means beekeepers have to significantly cut the number of their hives.
John Hartnell says the varroa mite won’t just hurt beekeepers, it has the possibility of a devastating economic impact on the rest of the country.
“Well it is already because the cost of pollination for example of kiwifruit, apples, all the pip fruit…all those sorts of things, carrots, onions… all those sorts of things for exports; all of that has had to pay a high price of pollination then it there was prior to the varroa mite becoming established.”
The only part of New Zealand which can now claim to be free of the parasite is the Chatham Islands.