26 Apr 2012

Varroa mite spread 'inevitable'

2:00 pm on 26 April 2012

The head of the National Beekeepers' Association says the discovery of the varroa bee mite in a hive near Invercargill needs to be put in context.

The parasite, which destroys bee colonies, was discovered in the North Island almost 12 years ago and was first detected in South Island hives in 2004.

Association president Barry Foster says it was inevitable that varroa would turn up one day in the most southern part of New Zealand, and it's actually remarkable that it's taken so long.

"It could have got to Southland within months or a year if there had been no controls put on the spread of varroa."

Mr Foster said the aim of the controls was to slow down the spread of the parasite. "Twelve years is not a bad sort of result," he said.

Te Anau-based commercial beekeeper John Stevenson said the news dashes hopes that his hives would stay free of the parasite for another couple of years.

He suspects varroa will in the Te Anau area by next autumn and is concerned at the cost and time involved in treating it.

Gap in research

Meanwhile, Plant and Food Research bee scientist Mark Goodwin says there's been limited research about the effect of the deadly mite on pastoral farming.

Dr Goodwin says while its devastation across unprotected bee colonies is well documented, little is known about the wider affects of clover pollination.

He said research would be well worth doing because so much of New Zealand's agriculture depends on clover.

Dr Goodwin says horticulture crops are less affected because they usually have managed beehives, which can be treated for varroa by way of a mitecide strip.

He doesn't think wild bees will become extinct but says their numbers will be dramatically reduced.