29 Jun 2010

Genetically selected varroa-fighting bees on the way

2:01 pm on 29 June 2010

New Zealand bee-keepers may have access next year to bees that have been genetically selected for their ability to combat the varroa mite in hives.

It's one of several research projects underway to find alternatives to chemical treatments for controlling the parasite that's wiped out feral bee colonies and infested hives in all except the south of the South Island.

Plant and Food bee scientist Michelle Taylor says they've identified a strain of honey bee that can reduce varroa populations in hives by interfering with their breeding.

The bee opens the cell and pulls put honey-bee pupa, exposing the female varroa which then leaves the cell and has to find another in which to reproduce, losing several days of her reproduction process.

Ms Taylor says it will be technically challenging for beekeepers to use this method of varroa management.

Workshops will be held in December to teach beekeepers how to breed the genetically-selected bees and maintain them.

The aim is to have them available by autumn next year.

Meanwhile, trials are continuing on organic options for controlling varroa.

The New Zealand bee industry has seen the first signs of the mite's resistance to the synthetic chemicals most bee-keepers are using to manage the pest.

Ms Taylor says the organic products are less effective than synthetic ones, but are a good back-up to have.