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News

Colony killers: the big threat to bees from small hive beetles 14 Nov 2014

Small hive beetles are rapidly emerging as a major pest to Australia’s beekeeping industries, costing Queensland alone a minimum of $2.7 million annually from hive losses and ruined honey.

Since arriving in Sydney in 2002, small hive beetles have spread north to Mareeba and south to Melbourne, causing extensive damage to hives in areas with a warm humid climate. In some cases they may lead to a total collapse of bee colonies.

A new research project has been funded to develop a synthetic lure aimed at keeping these destructive pests away from hives and providing another management tool for commercial and hobbyist beekeepers.

James Kershaw from the Honey Bee and Pollination R&D Program said research into small hive beetles was integral to the industry’s sustainability and the expected results will complement pest traps already installed within hives.

“Once an infestation occurs, small hive beetles can turn honey into a disgusting fermented slime. Beekeepers can’t sell the honey, the queen will cease to lay eggs, and the bees will simply leave the hive,” Mr Kershaw said.

“With small hive beetle on the move at this time of year, it’s vital that beekeepers use good management practices and look after hive hygiene to help to minimise new infestations and control any that are found.”

To date, minimal research has been conducted in Australia to establish what triggers this pest to attack hives, which provide the perfect breeding environment for the beetles’ reproductive strategy.

“We know that fermented honey is a by-product of small hive beetle infestations, and it’s thought that the smell of the affected honey, combined with pheromones released by the beetles, attracts even larger infestations.

“The aim of the three year study into small hive beetle-attracting hive odours and fermented hive products is to find something that smells more attractive and can be used to lure the pests into an external trap rather than them infesting feral or managed bee hives,” Mr Kershaw said.

The Honey Bee and Pollination R&D Program is funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Horticultural Australia Limited (HAL) and the Australian Government, while funding for the project is also being provided by the Wheen Bee Foundation and the Queensland Beekeepers’ Association. The research team from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is being led by Dr Diana Leemon.

For more information about small hive beetle and its management, go to www.beeaware.org.au/small-hive-beetle