Super-bee no quick fix: expert

16:00, Sep 27 2010

Claims by an English beekeeper he has bred a super-bee resistant to the varroa mite will not provide a quick fix for Wakatipu hives infected by the bug that has killed billions of bees worldwide, a bee expert says.

The parasite gained a foothold in the Wakatipu when infected hives bought through Trade Me were brought into the area. The discovery was made by biosecurity experts this year.

British beekeeper Ron Hoskins announced in late August he had bred a bee that grooms other bees to remove the blood-sucking varroa mite that spreads viruses and disease.

Federated Farmers bee expert John Hartnell yesterday said if the bee was varroa resistant it would take a long time to benefit the New Zealand bee population.

"It would take about 50 years to buildup breeding stock to meet requirements in the UK, let alone New Zealand," he said.

Breeding bee stock took so long because it involved breeding from one queen bee, and her offspring, Mr Hartnell said.

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"The UK claim is a lovely thought, but basically there's no short-term fix because of the time it takes and the numbers involved."

Asure Quality apicultural officer Tony Roper yesterday said varroa could be treated in beehives, but would cause a massive decline of wild bee numbers in the Wakatipu.

"High country farms could face real pollination issues, and white clover, which is a high country staple could face a huge decline because feral bees could be wiped out," he said.

However, Mosgiel beekeeper and New Zealand Beekeepers Association president Frans Lass was making slow progress towards breeding a varroa resistant bee.

"I'm not going to go on TV or anything claiming to have bred a bee that's resistant, but we're making very slow, incremental progress," he said.

"Our bees still need treatment against varroa, but they are able to slow the buildup of mites significantly."

Varroa was still not as widespread in the South Island as it was in the North Island, and he sent bees that showed signs of slowing varroa's spread to Hamilton to gauge their performance, Mr Lass said.

There was some scepticism within the beekeeping industry over whether the English claim of breeding a varroa resistant bee was as good as it sounded, Mr Lass said.

The Southland Times