WAS 2016

Notes From The Hawaii Meeting

By: Malcolm Sanford

The 2016 version of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) met in Hawaii October 12 through 15 in the Ala Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach, atop the extinct volcano, now known as the island of Oahu. 

At least 2500 miles from any mainland, the location was as intriguing as was the event itself, a truly international gathering of scientists and beekeepers from around the Pacific rim. The theme, “new insights into old questions,” provided a backdrop bringing speakers from across the globe to the Hawaiian archipelago, which stretches northwest across the Pacific all the way to Midway Atoll. A brand new island is ready to break surface to the southeast of the Big Island (Hawaii) becoming the latest addition to these fabled lands, somewhere into the next tens of thousands of years. It is possible, however, that Loihi will not breach the surface as it traverses one of the world’s best known “hot spots” and will remain a seamount for its entire existence. Time will tell.

Some History

It is difficult not to wax on about these islands, which collectively are the U.S.’s 50th state, the only one in Oceania, and steeped in aboriginal culture. The history of beekeeping of the State is just as fascinating in its details as provided by Scott Nikaido of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, reporting on information published by Kevin M. Roddy and Lorna Arita-Tsutsumi at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo:

“At the first meeting of the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society in August 1851 on the island of O’ahu, a committee was appointed to bring the first honey bees into Hawai’i. Henry A. Pierce, partner of Charles Brewer, shipped a ‘fine hive’ from Boston to Honolulu in 1852 on the good ship R.B. Forbes (Krauss 1978). Unfortunately, as the ship passed through the tropics on its way to Cape Horn, the increase in temperature melted the honeycomb and killed the honey bees. Another colony was ordered from New Zealand at about the same time, but was never shipped due to an apparent misunderstanding (McClellan 1940). A second attempt to ship bees from the U.S. Mainland was made in 1853, again from Boston. Two hives, one packed in ice, were shipped to O’ahu. The hives arrived in poor condition, and were later auctioned to C.R. Bishop, husband of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, for thirteen dollars (Krauss 1978). The bees survived for a short time, then died out. The society then made a public offer of ten dollars to “the person who shall introduce the first honey bee into the islands.

“On 21 October 1857, three hives of German dark bees Apis mellifera mellifera were shipped to Honolulu by William Buck of San Jose, California (Eckert 1951, Krauss 1978) on the American bark Fanny Major (Spoehr 1992). The trip took 18 days and the colonies survived the journey in good condition. They were purchased by the Society for one hundred dollars each. The hives were placed under the care of Dr. William Hillebrand in Nu’uanu Valley. There they thrived, and successfully established themselves such that by the following year, the three original hives had increased to nine colonies by swarming (Nieman 1942). Other species of honey bees were soon brought to the Islands. Italian bees Apis mellifera liguistica were purchased in Los Angeles, shipped to San Francisco, and then brought to the Islands on the steamer Lehua in 1880 by Sam G. Wilder (Chamber of Commerce, 1941).”

Since introduction, honey bees, like many of the introduced species on the islands, led a carefree life, as did beekeepers. The industry grew rapidly, in the 1970s becoming a mecca for queen production. However, the risks of introduced organisms were always there, thus: “The Territory instituted a ban on the importing of packaged bees beginning on 17 September 1908. As of 1 December 1909, no serious bee diseases of any kind had been reported. The presence of bacillary diseases (Bacillus larvae) in California and elsewhere ‘makes the quarantining of bees and honey entering the Islands a necessary measure for the protection of the industry’ (Fullaway 1909). The ban remains in effect today.”

Unfortunately, it couldn’t last. Varroa was detected in 2008 and the small hive beetle (SHB) in 2009. As on the mainland, these organisms caused great problems with a 65 percent loss on Oahu and thousands of colonies lost on the Big Island, named Hawaii. Some four islands remain Varroa free, while SHB is found on all. The minutes of the Hawaii Beekeepers Association for February 25, 2008, 6:00 P.M. reveal the urgent issues of the time: “Items of interest for open discussion included: Varroa containment: area-wide campaign?; extermination of ALL bees on O`ahu: the SuperFerry’s role in spreading Varroa; Varroa’s impact on managed and feral colonies, diversified Ag, food security and self-sufficiency; The problem of “Rogue Beekeepers” and Varroa control; “death” of Apiary Act of 2008 (SB2586); Status of SB2586: COOL and definition of honey as a commodity under HRS Chapter 147; threats to valuable organic, pure honey’s reputation; residues of Varroa miticides and seed corn pesticides in honey; Farmers Markets a continued success for the HBA and members with branded honey products.”

So far, the 1908 law has not been repealed. The 2008 attempt to develop a new one (SB2586) looks dead. Several comments were published concerning this effort at the time, which appeared to concentrate on eradicating honey bees from the island of Oahu.  The following comment about this legislation was published by Gus Rouse, then owner of Kona Queen, who has subsequently retired:

“As the largest beekeeper in the state of Hawaii I don’t think SB2586 is what we need at this time. The beekeepers who do not want the DOA to know where their hives are located now are not going to register them if we have a law. The Varroa mite will eventually kill most of these hives anyway.

“I strongly feel the state needs to put it’s resources into moving forward with THE PLAN already in place.  This is the Plan to attack the wild bee population and then follow up with exterminating the domestic hives in a coordinated effort. I already have the hives ready to replace the ones lost for those who need pollination.

“There remains a $5-7 million dollar rural industry in Kona that leads the world in queen and organic honey production. Introduction of the Varroa mite to this island would be devastating to both. This does not include the pollination benefits to coffee, mac nuts, and many other agricultural crops.

“The Varroa mite has made it’s way to nearly every corner of the globe. Hawaii has an opportunity to take action or ignore the issue. We hear Hawaii wants to support and protect agriculture and this would be a good time to demonstrate just that.”

Moving On . . .

The state beekeepers association published its last newsletter in 2005 and by some accounts is in disarray. The Big Island Association  appears somewhat more up to date in its activities. In April 2011, participating in that year’s WAS conference, Larry Connor of Wicwas Press  wrote an article for American Bee Journal relating his visit to Big Island Queens, one of three major producers on Hawaii.  There was no mention in his article concerning the legislation.

According to Mr. Nakaido, as of 2011 there has been a resurgence in interest in beekeeping via bee clubs and social media, but no registration regulations could mean lots of potential problems. There is no package queen industry in Hawaii; all islands have queen producers. At that time, however, a state apiary program was established.

The current beekeeping regulation situation was reported by Lauren Rusert, Hawaii Apiary Program Section Chief:

“Our program was officially established in 2011. We are here to provide services to the bees and the beekeeping industries in Hawai`i. Honey bees are not native to Hawai`i, but they have been here for over 150 years, providing a variety of excellent honey and, most importantly, pollination for many plants. Local agriculture depends heavily on honey bee pollination. Beekeeping industries in Hawai`i include honey production and queen bee rearing for export.” 

Thus, this program appears to be mostly a service organization to beekeepers, farmers and the general public, rather than a regulatory effort.  Beekeeper registration in the State is voluntary only. All this could change in the future, however, as more and more attention is paid to the health of the honey bee and the state’s beekeepers.

Demographics and Research

Ms. Rusert provided updated statics on the beekeeping industry: The number of beekeepers by island is 130 (Hawaii), 37 (Kauai), 44 (Maui), 38 (Oahu), seven (Molokai) and four (Lanai). Before mites, the average honey production was 93 pounds/hive and the State was 2nd in the nation in honey production with a value of $3.5 million. Bee pollination was valued at $212.8 million. Because the climate allows for year around bee production, there are three large and several smaller outfits producing 75 percent of Canadian queens and 25 percent of the U.S. mainland supply, valued at $10 million, equal to papaya and banana production in the State.

Varroa control is a mix of the usual compounds including Apivar®, Mite Away Quick Strips MAQs®, Apistan®, Hopguard®, formic and oxalic acids. Screened bottom boards, drone trapping are also on the menu. Unfortunately, the tropical weather conditions mean chemical materials are difficult to use and may quickly lose efficacy. Beetle control measures include Brawny-Dine-A-Max® towels, diatomaceous earth and various mechanical traps. Mating nuclei are at high risk; full sun and strong colonies are considered the best prevention.

Ms. Rusert provided an interesting discussion on the American foulbrood epidemic on the Molokai Ranch in 1938. The disease wiped out 2400 colonies at the time. All but 246 were burned. The following is the conclusion of the Molokai incident from the history referenced above: “From 1938-1948, commercial honey production on Moloka’i virtually ceased. In 1948, the Ranch tried to revitalize the industry and hired apiarist Allen Luce. When Mr. Luce assumed control, only 86 colonies existed, of which 13 were infected with Foulbrood (Eckert 1951). As of 1953, this disease was successfully eradicated, as no feral swarms were found to have it. Encouraged by their victory, University of California, Davis researchers continued to study the disease, and purposely infected several colonies at the Moloka’i Ranch with the disease to study resistance-building. As a result, bees demonstrated a greater resistance to Foulbrood, which was due to several factors. Subsequently, steps were taken to reproduce these strains and cross breed in an attempt to increase overall resistance in all races (Eckert 1950, 1951).”

The genetics of Hawiian bees include the usual suspects: German, Italian, Carniolan. Many hybrids are likely, but so far no Africanized honey bees have been found. Several mitochondrial DNA mitotypes have been found, including African and Ethopian, some five lineages total.

Lessons learned concerning Varroa resistance on the mainland and elsewhere have resulted in Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH), mentioned in Dr. Connor’s article referenced above, being introduced since 2009. Several field trials are ongoing with about 228 colonies in a test yard. Mite samples are taken at six-week intervals and open mating is being employed. The VSH breeding is expected to continue with a single-drone insemination (SDI)  component in the future. The team of researchers includes local producers, Arista Bee Foundation, ex-apiary inspector Danielle Downey (now employed by Project Apis m (PAM), Hawaii Department of Agriculture and the Baton Rouge bee laboratory.

Dr. Helen Spafford at the University of Hawaii is from Australia and well versed in biosecurity issues. She reported that the State may get 20 species of new insects each year due to human movement coupled with high amounts of environmental disturbance. Other possible introduced organisms include viruses, fungi, microbes and of course, plants. New in the environment are the coconut rhinoceros beetle and coffee berry borer.  So-called “rapid ohia death” is also on the list. This is a “perfect storm” for the State that continues Dr. Spafford concluded, mostly because biosecurity in general is low, especially when compared to places like Chile and the Galapagos Islands. One beekeeper characterized the beekeeping environment as the “wild west.” Dr. Spafford says that biosecurity is simply not a priority for law makers and politicians at the moment, and there is limited federal assistance. Fortunately, there is more recognition of the issue and so beekeepers, farmers and others may begin to see what can only be called a “sea change” in this area in the future.

The Honey Bee Project

The University of Hawaii is increasingly a player in honey bee research on the island through The Honeybee Project: “We are interested in developing practical treatment options for local beekeepers and establishing a sound research program that focuses on maintenance and improvement of the Hawaiian honey bees. Reducing the likelihood that the mite will invade other islands, and restricting the big island invasion is also a high priority, and we are investigating procedures for preventing feral bees from being inadvertently transported among islands on ship containers and other vessels. The goal of this website is to keep beekeepers and farmers informed of the bee-Varroa issues in the islands and to facilitate the transfer of information from the University to the public.”

Several folks associated  with this project addressed the WAS conference. One emphasis was viruses. Both Dr. Stephen Martin and Ph.D. candidate Laura Brettell of the University of Salford in the United Kingdom provided their observations on the viral situation in the islands and elsewhere. Dr. Martin related an interesting history of the thinking about viruses. It could be that many of the issues affecting honey bees and reported on in the past, such as Isle of Wight and/or so-called disappearing disease might have been viral in nature, but these were not even in the discussion at that time. Viruses are also not mentioned as a major source in a more recent disease called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), but that is likely to change as this so-called “missing link” is slowly becoming more recognized. As late as 1996, according to Dr. Martin only 18 viruses were known. There are many more with numerous variants, some benign. His initial predictions about viruses affecting honey bees were basically ignored by the scientific establishment for quite a period. However, observations that some honey bee populations with high Varroa counts did not necessarily collapse, unless the viruses were present, and technology to identify these organisms has finally given Dr. Martin’s ideas some credence that they are indeed hugely important in honey bee health. He and Ms. Brettell continue to look at them via something called quantitative polymerase chain reaction  (q-PCR)  as noted in a summary of a recent paper:

“Martin et al. (p. 1304) exploited this unique situation to study the mechanisms behind the emergence. Honey bee populations have long been established on the isolated Hawaiian Islands but only recently have some islands become infested with the Varroa mite. This mite has selected for a single viral pathogen-deformed wing virus among the honey bee population, with the appearance of a single dominant virus strain, which has now spread worldwide. Thus, a normally benign viral pathogen has become one of the most widely distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet.”

The paper’s abstract says:

“Emerging diseases are among the greatest threats to honey bees. Unfortunately, where and when an emerging disease will appear are almost impossible to predict. The arrival of the parasitic Varroa mite into the Hawaiian honey bee population allowed us to investigate changes in the prevalence, load, and strain diversity of honey bee viruses. The mite increased the prevalence of a single viral species, deformed wing virus (DWV), from ~10 to 100% within honey bee populations, which was accompanied by a millionfold increase in viral titer and a massive reduction in DWV diversity, leading to the predominance of a single DWV strain. Therefore, the global spread of Varroa has selected DWV variants that have emerged to allow it to become one of the most widely distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet.”

More On Virus and Types Of Mites

Ms. Brettell discussed at some length her study of the honey bees of Fernando de Noronha island off the coast of Brazil. It has long been known that this population of European honey bees has tolerated Varroa mites without much damage. Her conclusion is that both low honey bee population and mite reproductive levels have yet to allow viruses to take hold. She called the situation on the island “a ticking time bomb.” This is similar to present conditions on both Maui and Oahu. This information could turn traditional ideas about Varroa control on their head. Those looking at mite control might be able turn their attention to Viral effects instead. If this is so, perhaps an inoculation, something akin to a flu shot  in humans, might have a similar effect for honey bees.  A question from Treavor Weatherhead of Australia concerning the mite haplotype on the island was not answered adequately. It is known that the first mites coming to South America were of the Japanese variation; the Korean haplotype is much more destructive and was introduced later. It is not clear whether a mite haplotype analysis was conducted by Ms. Brettell.  So far there are 18 total with two above being most predominant in the five-species Varroa mite complex. She will be looking further into the situation.

Jessika Santamaria, University of Hawaii, Manoa is studying something called “viral spillover.” Many of the variant viruses associated with spread of deformed wing virus (DWV) in honey bees have now been found in bumblebees. There is also evidence that these and perhaps other viruses could be spread via pollen to other insects in the islands and elsewhere. Investigations in this area continue.

Other Research

Dr. E.M. Villalobos, currently in charge of both research and outreach efforts of the University of Hawaii Honeybee Project, is looking closely at wintering bees in Hawaii. This is complex issue, given the geography of the island, which has a variety of microclimates, mixed timing of both dry and wet seasons and basically no temperate winter. There simply are no patterns beekeepers can look at to guide them in making management decisions, making it difficult to develop any standardized apicultural calendar. It is more problematic given that both honey and queen production can demand different conditions and situations. Dr. Villalobos soldiers on and has training in this given her experiences in Costa Rica. In addition, she is looking at honey bee diets on the archipelago.

Dr. James Wilkes of Appalachian State University discussed his ideas behind development of a computer application called Hive Tracks.  The idea is that computer technology can assist beekeepers in making sense of the vast amount of potential information they get when visiting hives. It seeks to find a “big data” gap that exists and is based on something called and an “Intelligent Management System.” Hooking up a number of beekeepers is the best way to innovate collectively concluded Mr. Wilkes, who is partnering with Project Apis m, the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) and other organizations. Look for a commercial beekeeper edition of Hive Tracks to come out soon.

Dr. Patricia Couvillon University of Hawaii, comparative psychologist and neurobiologist, gave a discussion of her findings using the honey bee. She concluded that “the honey bee is not a little robot.” The insect has some cognitive abilities equivalent if not superior to the sea slug, octopus and several crustaceans. It is the best equipped invertebrate for brain study. Research in the proboscis extension reflex (PER) and studies by Von Frisch on dances show that these insects are similar to vertebrates, such as conditioned reflexes shown in Pavlov’s dogs and other mammals. Pushing the envelope Dr. Couvillon claims that honey bees show abstract learning, something often confined only to humans. Several of her papers are found at Research Gate.

Other Countries

WAS featured a rather large contingent of Latin Americans. Professor Enrique Luciano Bedascarrasbure described a network designed to foster research, extension and innovation. He is a researcher at the National Institute of Technology in Argentina (INTA) and Apiculture Professor at the Universidad Nacional del Centro. The network called Redlac is a new platform aiming to foster apiculture as a development tool in Latin America and the Caribbean (FONTAGRO -IICA- BID) and the project FONTAGRO-AVINA which aims to foster development in the Gran Chaco region. The REDLAC effort had a stand in the exhibits area showing some of its attributes.

Dr. Natalia Bulacio Cagnolo, with degrees in biodiversity and biological sciences is a researcher in the Argentine National Apicultural Program (ProApi) cooperating with several groups, including the National Bee Heath Commission (CONASA), the European COLOSS initiative, and REDLAC. She administers the Argentine government’s program regulating production and sale of Varroacides. Argentina is quite diverse in beekeeping efforts, having northern tropical and more southern temperate conditions. The former consists of small-scale rural beekeepers while the latter is much more industrialized. Like Hawaii, these differences call for beekeeper and regulatory flexibility.

Dr. Ana Cubero from Costa Rica is also affiliated with REDLAC. She is in charge of the national beekeeping program and professor at The Technical University of Costa Rica. Her discussion of chemical control methods for Varroa and conservation of the “organic” status of the nation’s honey was well received.

Licenciado Marianyela Ramirez Montero, also of Costa Rica, looked at both formic acid and thymol Varroa treatments of Africanized honey bees in that country. Her conclusions were that thymol does not penetrate the brood cappings and formic acid does, making it a superior mite killer.

In Hawaii, formic acid appears to be used with considerable success among large-scale queen breeders, confirming this as the treatment of choice at the moment. It is not known, however, if resistance to this treatment will build up over time, but the chances seem much less than for other chemicals currently in use.

NSA-Apis Bees

Another parallel with Latin America is Hawaii’s growing awareness of the importance of native non-Apis bees. Among researchers in this arena are Dr. Jonathan Koch looking at pollinators on the summit of the active volcano Mauna Loa (Hawaii); Dr. Karl Magnacca, Oahu Army Natural Resource Program, who has described 13 species of native bees; Dr. William Haines Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, developing rearing facilities for native insects; and Dr. Jason Graham, attempting to rear and release endangered, endemic yellow-faced bees, the first insects of this nature to make the federal endangered species list. Many of these efforts are confounded by pressure from other introduced insects, especially ants.

Dr. Ingrid Aguilar from CINAT, National University of Costa Rica described efforts to support meliponiculture in the country. She frequently travels providing support to those interested in this activity.

Alejandro Reyes Gonzalez of the Autonomous University of Mexico is researching the rich fauna of family meliponidae in Northwest Mexico. He is both a beekeeper and a commercial pollinator of avocados. A big challenge in the culture of stingless bees is to ensure their survival as the major way they are cultivated is by collecting nests in the wild. Meliponiculture is not even on the radar for Hawaii presently. None of these insects have been found there.

The WAS conference was topped off by presentations of Professor Emeritus Dr. Eric Mussen, University of California, Davis on pesticides and honey bees and an enthusiastic discussion by Beth Conrey, President of the Colorado Beekeepers Association, who did a Ted talk some time ago concerning honey bees. She provided a remarkable discussion of her current and future efforts to promote honey. The title of her talk says it all: “There is Money in Honey.” Look for WAS to convene again next year in Davis, California.

Malcolm Sanford is the retired Apiary Extension Specialist for the state of Florida and frequent contributor and publisher of Apis Information Resource News.