New technology helps fight varroa as beekeeper monitors bees’ health from far


Beekeeper Max Cane lives hundreds of kilometres from where his bees are pollinating an almond orchard in north-west Victoria, but he is still able to keep an eye on their health thanks to innovative technology.

Joel Kuperholz has been involved in two tech projects that are designed to help the bee industry.

The first was the Purple Hive Project, which used cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor the bees as they came and went from the hive.

“So, we’re taking multiple photos from multiple angles of every single bee going in and out, looking at every single one for the Varroa destructor or Varroa jacobsoni on its way, and that’s the biosecurity system,” he said.

Artificial intelligence is able to recognise varroa mite.(Supplied)

Mr Kuperholz’s company Vimana Tech has also developed a system that uses smart Internet-connected sensors that are placed inside beehives.

It has the stamp of approval from Max Cane’s brother, Ian, a retired beekeeper.

“Via the app, we can see the bee activity per hive,” he said.

“We can tell the temperature in that hive, and we can look to see if the queen is in the hive or not.”

Max Cane, Ian Cane and Joel Kuperholz are wearing hi vis vests and standing among some bee hives.
Ararat’s Max Cane (left) recently installed Vimana Tech’s devices in his beehives.(Supplied)

Ian said it would change how beekeepers managed and operated their beehives remotely.

“It’s great peace of mind to know exactly what’s happening in each beehive. And, and I don’t have to go through 150 beehives in a truckload. Now I can go to specific hives where I know there might be a problem,” he said.

Five men involved in the Purple Hive Project stand around one of their beehives which is bright purple in colour.
The Purple Hive project uses cameras and artificial intelligence to scan bees entering and exiting the hive to see if they are carrying varroa mite.(Supplied)

Currently, to check for varroa mite, beekeepers collect a sample of 300 bees and either perform a sugar shake or alcohol wash.

It is also possible to uncap drone or brood cells to look for the parasite but it is all time-consuming work that’s done by hand.

Mr Kuperholz said the Purple Hive Project captured 20 photos of each bee going in and out of the hive and combined this with artificial intelligence.

If something is detected, an alert is sent to the beekeeper.

A special fork is used to pry open cells on a beehive frame. The pupae are caught on the tines
A beekeeper checks the pupae that were hidden under capping for signs of varroa mite.(ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Jennifer Douglas)

While millions of dollars are being spent trying to eradicate varroa mite from New South Wales, Mr Kuperholz said governments had not helped fund new technology.

“We’re not flashy. We ultimately are under-resourced,” he said.

“We are really focused on trying to do something good.”

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