Bee hives stung by killer pest

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The world’s deadliest honey bee pest has hit the Wakatipu. 

Destructive parasites called varroa mites have been found in two Frankton hives – the first time they’ve been discovered south of Timaru. 

Experts say the pests will kill all wild bees in the area and put most hobbyist beekeepers out of business.
The outbreak will also cost commercial operators thousands of dollars to treat and play havoc with cropping farmers and fruit growers. 

“It’s a tragedy that’s happened,” Government bee officer Tony Roper says. “I thought Queenstown would be free from varroa for many, many years,” 

Roper – who won’t identify the local beekeeper – says the offending hives, which had been treated for the pest, were brought down from Canterbury last spring. 

Upper Clutha beekeeper Peter Ward, who owns about 200 of the Wakatipu’s 500 commercial hives, calls it “a huge tragedy”. 

He only learnt about the outbreak two weeks ago. 

But Ward says since last spring he and other commercial beekeepers had moved hives through Queenstown – and, inadvertently, the varroa pest – over a radius of 200 to 300km. 

“The horse has well and truly bolted,” he says. 

There are about 10,000 hives in Central Otago and Ward reckons beekeepers will have to spend about $40 a year per hive for treatments. 

Most of the Wakatipu’s 20 or so amateur beekeepers will be affected, he predicts – though commercial operators would still make honey. 

Ward also says wild hives, found mostly in willow and poplar trees, will be wiped out completely.
Local beekeeper Alan Wilson says: “It is bad news.” 

Bee officer Roper adds: “There’ll probably be a shortage of bees in Queenstown so it’s quite serious for your farmers – two-thirds of the food you eat is either directly or indirectly dependent on honey bees for pollination.”