Bee Pests – talk by Nigel Semmence RBI

Nigel began by telling us he is in fact no longer our Regional Bee Inspector: he has recently been promoted to “Contingency Planning and Science Officer”. A new RBI will be appointed soon, and Nigel is the point of contact in the meantime. The Bee inspectors are now part of the Animal and Plant health Agency (APHA) as Fera has been privatised. There is hope that the National Bee Unit will escape the planned cuts to DEFRA.
The two pests Nigel dealt with were small hive beetle, and the Asian hornet. Neither has yet reached the UK but we need to be vigilant: it will probably a beekeeper who first spots their arrival. Each year 12,000 queen bees are imported from the Continent. Arrivals on the south coast are monitored and sentinel apiaries (including WDBKA’s apiary) have been set up in each region. Small hive beetle, unlike other, harmless hive beetles, breeds within the colony. It begs for food and bees feed it, but they also bother it, biting its legs, so it creeps to the edges of a hive.

Small hive beetle

Small hive beetle

The larvae eat everything — honey, brood and pollen — and the hive smells of fermented honey. The beetle is native to subsaharan Africa, where bee colonies escape its worst effects by constantly swarming and changing their home. This they cannot do in our climate. When ready to pupate, the larvae leave the hive and bury themselves in the soil for a month. Here they can be killed by spraying pyrethroid chemicals around the hives, or by watering the ground with nematodes which eat them.
The beetle reached southern Italy in 2014 probably via illegal bee imports, or swarms on a container. It is now compulsory to register hives there. Fourteen apiaries were found to contain SHB in the area this year. The source of re-infection could be feral bees, or bumblebees. People using bumblebees for pollination are supposed to destroy them at the end of the season but often do not.

Asian hornet poses a far greater problem for beekeepers. This large wasp is a bee specialist, with yellow feet and a very dark body. It builds huge, spherical nests high in tries. The fertilised queens emerge in February or March to start off their colonies. The hornets’ typical behaviour is to hover in front of a hive, facing outwards, and pick off bees returning, laden with nectar and pollen. They then fly up to a tree, pull off the wings, legs and other unwanted parts, and feed the rest of the bee to their young.

Asian Hornet

Asian Hornet

In France, where the Asian hornet is now well established, there is less than a 50% chance of a hive overwintering. Traps similar to wasp traps are used, and nests are destroyed.
Nigel concluded this sobering summary by saying we beekeepers must accept that coping with diseases and pests is part of bee husbandry. And it is essential that we all register on BeeBase, giving the number of colonies we have. A perk of this is that we can then access eLearning, a useful and entertaining resource.
Despite the gloomy subject of this talk, it was so entertainingly presented that we all enjoyed the evening. We also had a chance to see pickled examples of SHB and Asian hornet.

Report kindly by Caroline Dilke

Images Courtesy of The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright


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