Globally, the Varroa Destructor – a small mite that attaches itself and feeds on the body of a honeybee – is causing damage to bee colonies severely and quickly, according to a study published by the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.
The study finds that researchers have detected the mite on every continent except Australia. Currently still in development, the Purple Hive Project seeks to protect the continent’s bee hives from the rapid spread of the mite.
According to a report submitted to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the reliance on wild honeybees in agriculture for pollination is leading to major under-development of managed bee hives. The report says that this under-development has left Australian bees extremely vulnerable.
“The presence of the Varroa mite [would] not only impact Australian honey production, but also the many Australian food crops which rely heavily on honeybees for pollination,” Ian Cane, beekeeper and Purple Hive Project advisor, tells Food Tank.
Adam McNamara, executive general manager of Bega Cheese explains that the project will use artificial hives built by technology company Vimana Tech. Incorporated into each hive is Artificial-Intelligence (AI) technology, which scans incoming bees for the Varroa Destructor.
If a mite is detected, the AI will alert the beekeeper, giving them a chance to stop the spread of the mite before it causes harm to the hive. This technology aims to make it easier for beekeepers to monitor hives who currently use a costly, and time consuming process, McNamara says.
McNamara hopes that the project will also remind people about the importance of honeybees in Australia. “Without prioritizing the health of our honeybees and the ecosystems that rely on them for their wellbeing, honeybees, as well as Australian food security is under threat,” McNamara tells Food Tank.
While the technology being developed is currently focused on the Varroa mite, McNamara believes it has the potential to support beekeepers with many other challenges in the industry. “It’s our long-term vision that the Purple Hive Project will create a mesh network of hives located across Australia.”
Photo courtesy of the Purple Hive Project