Fifteen years ago, in 1998, a colony of bees was imported illegally into this country. Imports of honeybees were banned at the time because we were trying to keep the Varroa mite out of the country. This was, and is, a parasitic mite which attacks the honeybee in two ways. First by latching onto it and sucking its blood, then by vectoring a number of viruses that further weaken the host. What was notable about that 1998 colony is that it was the one that introduced the mite to Ireland.
Since then, it has spread throughout the country. Within a few years it had completely eradicated wild honeybees. And while treatments were developed to limit the mite’s destructive power in managed colonies, these treatments aren’t always effective. If, as happened last year, hives are already weakened by bad weather in the spring, they are doubly vulnerable to the predations of the mite.
Though honeybee importation is now legal, beekeepers report that illegal imports continue. Aoife Nic Giolla Coda, a bee breeder and PRO of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society says that illegal bee imports have become a more significant problem now, than they were back when that Varroa-contaminated colony arrived in 1998. “It’s really exploded in the last two years,” she says.
The worry now is that further imports might introduce a Varroa mite resistant to the treatments that have, so far, limited its destructive power.