Wet summer could deliver multi-million dollar bee hive loss

The larvae of small hive beetle burrow through combs and cappings, and consume honey bee eggs, pollen and honey

Apiarists are on high alert following a surge in small hive beetle populations due to dry spring conditions and a wet, humid end to summer.

First detected in Australia in 2002, small hive beetle (SHB) is now the largest and leading apiary pest in warm, moist locations of eastern Australia. The pest feeds on bee larvae and turns honey into fermented slime, essentially wiping out whole hives.

A Queensland-based research team led by Dr Diana Leemon has completed a three-year research project as part of the AgriFutures™ Honey Bee and Pollination Program, investigating the development of an external attractant trap for SHB in an attempt to reduce numbers affecting hives.

“Over the research period the project team collated the most comprehensive Australian ecological data on SHB to date,” Dr Leemon said.

“Seasonal data on the weekly and fortnightly changes in numbers of the pest trapped in the field and in hives suggest an increase in population numbers is primarily influenced by warm temperatures during rainfall.

“At one particular trial site where these conditions were present, our research team caught more than 5,000 SHB in one apiary in just one year.

“Recent weather conditions in Queensland and New South Wales mean bee hives in these locations are under significant threat and beekeepers must be vigilant.”

Dr Leemon said a conservative estimate of hive losses from surveys of registered beekeepers in Queensland due to SHB peaked at $11 million in just one wet, humid season.

“Taking that into account, the further effect on pollination services to crops and horticulture can only be guessed at,” she said.

“The impact of SHB is no doubt of significance to the regions it affects.”

The research project demonstrated that commercially available lantern traps with a simple yeast based attractant can be positioned strategically from spring to autumn to intercept and trap SHB flying towards an apiary.

An educational video on how to prepare and deploy lantern traps is available on the AgriFutures Australia YouTube channel.

The project has recommended further investigation to explore the most efficient means of trapping large numbers of beetles outside of the hive.

Reproduced from an Agrifutures Australia news article.