HONOLULU (AP) - By weight, Hawaii's honeybees may be the state's most valuable export as farmers struggle to replenish bee populations suffering from colony collapse.
The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that honeybee queen exports are now significant enough to rival Hawaii's more well-known products like macadamia nuts and Kona coffee.
State beekeeping specialist Danielle Downey says each queen honeybee weighs about 170 milligrams and sells for $17 to $25.
She said Hawaii is one of the top producers of queens worldwide.
Though data are limited, each year the state is estimated to sell 400,000 queen bees to the Mainland, Canada and beyond.
Publicity over the mysterious colony collapse disorder, where bees were dying off by the millions, has helped stoke business.
"People used to just say, 'keep those bees out of here.' And now I have people calling up saying, 'I would like to have bees on the property,' " Gus Rouse, owner of Kona Queen Hawaii Inc., the state's largest queen bee exporter, said.
While business is booming, it has still not received a lot of attention. That's because the queens are in such high demand that advertising has not been needed to build business.
Bees are used to pollinate many cash crops, including most fruits, nuts and other plants.
Queen honeybees lay all of the eggs in a hive, and are bought by farmers to buttress bee populations.
Beekeeper Michael Krones, owner of Hawaiian Queen Co. in Captain Cook on Hawaii island, said he can raise 30,000 to 40,000 queens in a good year.
Other bigger producers can raise hundreds of thousands.
"We take advantage of the weather conditions and the fact that Hawaii has a very good postal system," Krones said.