Greymouth Bug Spread Sparks Concern: Beekeeper

Published date08 March 2023
Publication titleWest Coast Farming Times, The
Former Apiculture New Zealand board member Ricki Leahy said recent reports of moth-like, passion vine hopper insects smothering Greymouth plants was something southern beekeepers needed to take seriously and "actually get some samples of their honey tested"

The introduced passion vine hoppers fed 0on sap from native tutu (Coriaria arborea) plants and secreted honeydew containing the plant toxin tutin, which bees could collect and transfer to honey.

The main risk period was from January to April, and typically was only of concern for honey in the North Island and the top of the South Island.

Honey produced below a latitude of 42 degrees south, below about Westport on the West Coast and Cape Campbell on the east coast of the South Island, was considered "low risk", because the insects could not survive southern frosts.

This, however, had been "quite an exceptional summer" on the West Coast.

Nevertheless, Mr Leahy, of Murchison, said he had been beekeeping for about 50 years "and in all that time, we've never found tutin in our honey".

"Just because there's lots of the vine hoppers flying around it mightn't mean that there are any further problems, but it is very interesting," he said.

"I've thought with climate change there could be a migration of all those types of insects.

"Times are changing, we have to be aware of it."

The Medical Journal of New Zealand has detailed an incident in 2008 when a rural hospital in Waikato had three people from a six-person family arrive at their emergency department with sudden onset of vomiting and headache after eating tutin-tainted honeycomb.

The journal explained that because none of New Zealand's native bees made honey, New Zealanders did not eat New Zealandmade honey until after the introduction of the honeybee (Apis mellifera) in Northland in 1839.

Then, it was not until the late 1880s, that vomiting, headache and delirium was reported after eating honey made in New Zealand.


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