Assessment of Honeybee Health Status in Antigua (2005)
Tomas Mozer[1]
March 2005 - Sponsered by FAVACA[2], IICA[3] AND ABC[4]

Background
IICA transmitted a proposal to FAVACA from the Antigua Beekeepers Cooperative (ABC) for assistance in the inspection/certification of honeybee hives to determine the health of the honeybee population in Antigua and Barbuda. The request was for support for:

  • The inspection of a suitable percentage or number of the hives in Antigua and Barbuda;
  • Reporting on their health status; and
  • Determining quality of the products for market.

The apicultural consultant travelled to Antigua on March 19-27,2005 and assisted ABC field officer Mr. A. Jacobs in surveying colonies across the island. Their findings were presented and discussed with 10 members/others at a meeting of the cooperative. Strategies for sustainable beekeeping were suggested as well as recommendations made for maintaining uncontaminated products for the "organic" market. Follow-up should include further training in honeybee pests/diseases for future early detection/mitigation.

Findings
In February 2005 ABC members monitoring the seaport for exotic introductions found varroa mites (Varroa destructor )[5] in a colony inhabiting a swarm trap and a nearby feral colony occupying a cliff cavity. The finds have been unofficially confirmed and the preliminary survey conducted at this time detected infestations spread across the northern half of Antigua from St. Johns. Mite prevalence at present appears to be at low levels, suggesting a relatively recent introduction still in process of establishing island-wide. As such, the devastation to honey bee populations has not yet materialized although some signs of parasitic mite syndrome are appearing (bald brood/atypical brood cell capping)[6]. Mite infestation will inevitably lead to dramatic reduction in honey yields and significant decreases in crop pollination as 50% or more of colonies, hived and wild, collapse under Caribbean conditions[7].

Denmark et al. (2000) state that "the varroa mite is one of the most serious pests known for [European and Europeanized honey bees] Apis mellifera [spp.], principally because it is an introduced and therefore exotic organism on this honeybee. It feeds on the hemolymph of the developing honey bee larva, pupa, and the adult bee. Heavily infested colonies usually have large numbers of unsealed brood cells. Dead or dying newly emerged bees with malformed wings, legs, abdomens, and thoraxes may be present at the entrance of affected colonies. If left unchecked, mites can cause loss of most affected colonies. It is reported in Europe that weak colonies are subject to being robbed by stronger colonies of may die within three to four years from the lack of worker bees to manage the brood and gather nectar. In Florida, infested colonies have died within seven months, probably due to the ideal weather conditions for mite development. Because varroa mites usually cause the death of a colony of Apis mellifera, it has been suggested that the development of this particular host/parasite relationship is still incomplete. The original host, [the Asian honey bee]
Apis cerana, supports populations of mites without collapsing and Apis mellifera scutellata (the African or Africanized honey bee) seems to have some resistance to varroa mite." (Denmark et al. (2000) citing Ritter 1981)[8].

However, experience both regionally[9] and overseas[10] appears to indicate that after several years of natural adaptation/selection bee populations rebound and mite-tolerant survivor stocks result. Perhaps for historical reasons[11], the feral small dark honey bees prevalent in the Caribbean[12] seem to be more resistant than commercial stocks often used in industrialized beekeeping and thus capable of sustaining an artisanal apiculture[13]

Recommendations
Integrated pest management strategies should be employed to mitigate the effects of Varroa on the bees, beekeeping and beekeepers[14]. Non-chemical approaches such as bio-technical controls (including screen-bottoms, sugar-dusting, drone brood-trapping) and using tolerant/resistant local strains are necessary for sustainability. Maintaining non-contaminated product status as well will enable niche marketing in the value-added "organic" sector[15]. In order to assist the further development of apiculture in the context of Caribbean integration, specialized regional training in honeybee disorders is crucial and could coincide with beekeeping congresses[16] (next scheduled for Nov.2005 in Trinidad & Tobago) and/or IICA/FAVACA-sponsored workshops conducted in the islands and/or the mainland to maximize exposure/applicability to a broad range of potential pathologies and sanitation measures/methods.

References

  1. P.O.BOX 4144, ST.AUGUSTINE FL/USA 32085 TEL/FAX:(904)829-2911 E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  2. Mr. W.Guzman for Florida International Volunteer Corps www.favaca.org
  3. Ms. J. Laudat  for Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture
  4. Mr. A. Langlais for ANTIGUA-BARBUDA BEEKEEPERS CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY LTD (1993); P.O. Box 3070 St. John's, Antigua
  5. Global Invasive Species Database http://www.issg.org/database/species/ecology.asp?si=478&fr=1&sts=
  6. "Honey Bee Parasites, Pests, Predators & Diseases" http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/pest&disease/slide32.htm
  7. "Varroa mite on honeybees in Barbados", unpublished paper by Ian H. Gibbs(Entomologist, Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, Barbados) & Tomas Mozer, 2004.
  8. (cited in reference above)Denmark, H.A., Sanford, M.T. and Fasulo, T.R. (2000) Varroa jacobsoni Oudemans Arachnida: Acari: Varroidae). Publication number EENY-37 - University of Florida, .http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IN164
  9. "Beekeeping in Grenada and the impact of a parasitic honeybee mite" by L. M. Robinson, pp.22-24 in http://www.sgu.edu/windref/windref.nsf/0e0cfbb1c969767985256b8400623e4e/$FILE/Annual Report 1998.pdf
  10. "Mite Tolerance In Honey Bees" By: Malcolm T. Sanford in BeeCulture (October 10, 2004) at http://www.beeculture.com/storycms/index.cfm?cat=Story&recordID=411
  11. "SPECULATIONS ON SURVIVOR HONEY BEE FERAL POPULATIONS IN FLORIDA,USA", by Tomas Mozer http://www.beesource.com/news/article/floridaferalsurvivor.htm
  12. "Observations on feral honey bees in Florida, USA" by Tomas Mozer - http://www.beesource.com/news/article/floridaferal.htm
  13. "Apiculture in St Lucia", EXECUTIVE SUMMARY by Dennis van Engelsdorp - http://www.partners.net/what_we_do/agriculture_and_environment/farmer_to_farmer/trip_reports/vanEngelsdorp_stlucia_03.doc
  14. Beekeeping/Apiculture - http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/beekeeping.html
  15. "The Marketing of Organic Honey" by Martin Hilmi - http://www.beekeeping.com/new/books/martin.htm
  16. "Caribbean Beekeeping Congress 2002" - http://www.beesfordevelopment.org/xfiles/bfdjdec02.pdf