Beekeeping On Guam – How It All Started

From time to time, we would like to share a guest blog written by a participant in our survey. This month we are showcasing Christopher Rosario. He is a researcher at the University of Guam and the president of the Guam Beekeepers Association. He explains what the survey means to him and how it led to an increased interest of beekeeping on the island.

In 2013, I got a call from my former entomology professor, Dr. Ross Miller, asking if I was interested in conducting a health survey of honey bees on Guam for the APHIS National Honey Bee Survey. At the time, I was working at a veterinary clinic, aspiring to be a veterinary doctor. Prior to this call, I had no idea if honey bees even existed on Guam. After sitting down with Dr. Miller, I found myself excited about doing research again. I was hired as a part time research associate and immediately started to seek out honey bee colonies. I remember reading the objectives of the workplan and saw that I needed to sample eight colonies in 24 apiaries within one year. Only one problem with this: there weren’t even a handful of apiaries on Guam. In fact, there were only three apiaries and the largest apiary had about 16 colonies. Where was I going to sample the rest of my 21 apiaries on Guam? During this time, only three beekeepers were known to keep honey bees for honey production. Fast forward to 2022, only nine years later, Guam has over 100 beekeepers raising bees not just for honey, but also for queen breeding and providing pollination services for farmers. How did this happen?

Photo 1: Christopher Rosario, Guam researcher, removing a swarm from a home. Photo credit: Dennis Larsen – RAW671 Honey

It was the summer of 2014 when I placed newspaper ads and requests on radio shows asking the public for help to find bee colonies to sample for the survey. Immediately, I started receiving numerous calls from the public. The funny part about this was that they weren’t calling me to survey the bees, they wanted the bees removed from their property. I had no previous experience doing this and it was not until I met my first beekeeping mentor, Jason Crandall, that I learned how. He was a beekeeping hobbyist, but more importantly he knew how to remove honey bee colonies from people’s properties without destroying them. So when I received a bee removal call, I would refer people to him and he’d have me tag along to get the bee colonies out, whether it was in a tree, on a concrete wall, or a tin home. He soon ran out of equipment and I started making bee boxes out of old cabinets I was no longer using.

Photo 2: Christopher Rosario inspecting a frame of brood. Photo credit: Melissa Gabriel – Guam Beekeepers Association member

After a few months of keeping bees, I made my very first honey harvest. Since then, I have fallen in love with beekeeping. Nonetheless, I still had an objective that I needed to meet. I still needed to sample 24 different colonies for the 2nd year of the APHIS National Honey Bee Survey. This time, I received calls from people who were interested in keeping bees. I found that there were people that wanted bees out of their property, and others who wanted bees on their property. I realized I can just take bees out of properties where they were unwanted, and place them on other properties where they were wanted. This harmony helped me set up future apiaries to continue with the survey. There is little doubt that apiculture developed rapidly due to this survey.

Photo 3: Christopher Rosario at an outreach event on Guam with an observation hive. So many people now interested in beekeeping! Photo credit: Olympia Terral – Guam Beekeepers Association secretary

Today, I am the president of the Guam Beekeepers Association (GBA) consisting of over 50 members. GBA was established in 2015 to educate the community about the importance of bees. This created enormous socioeconomic activities surrounding beekeeping because it is so easy to raise them on Guam. There are several significant advantages of managing bees on Guam. The best beekeeping practices here are very different due to Guam’s geography. Typically, in the temperate region of the US, there is a winter season that is marked by low temperatures and a lack of floral resources. Additionally, honey bee colonies become broodless during the winter months. The advantage of beekeeping on Guam is that it lacks a winter period because of its geographic location near the equator. This gives honey bee colonies a year-round nectar flow and brood production. Brood production for 365 days allows established feral colonies to overpopulate, creating swarms and more bee colonies. Feral colonies have steadily increased throughout the years, helped by the low number of typhoons during this time period. With feral colonies forming year-round and available for capture, they have allowed many opportunities for people to start beekeeping and expansion of apiaries for existing beekeepers. 

Without the APHIS National Honey Bee Survey, we would not have discovered Varroa mites in 2014. From 2014 to 2017, only five honey bee colonies have tested positive for Varroa mites. All colonies that tested positive for Varroa mites were immediately eradicated. As a result, Guam samples submitted to APHIS NHBS have come back clean of Varroa since 2018. Interestingly enough, through the Bee Informed Partnership Sentinel Apiary Program, we found that the neighboring islands north of Guam are infested with Varroa mites. Several bee colonies on the Marianas Islands exceed the national average Varroa mite load. Despite their infestation, colonies still continue to thrive there with no colony mortality losses.

If you are interested in submitting a guest blog detailing the effects of this survey within your state or presenting your state results, please contact us and we’d be happy to post and share with the other readers the impact and results of this survey.