LOCAL beekeepers are being urged to remain vigilant for the Small Hive Beetle this summer.
The pest is known to destroy hives, rendering them unusable for commercial and hobbyist beekeepers.
Small Hive Beetle is a small brown-black beetle that originated from sub-Saharan Africa.
The larvae of the beetle cause the most damage to hives.
Apiarist David Severino, who runs nearly 300 hives, said that the beekeepers need to be aware of the dangers of the beetle.
“Small hive beetle we believe it came into Australia into Sydney on a container from South Africa around the time of the Sydney Olympics,” David said.
“It spread throughout the warm humid areas, such as northern New South Wales and up along the coast into Queensland. About five or six years ago we started finding it along the coastline, and I found it in masses down here on Phillip Island and in the South Gippsland region.
“They tend to attach the weaker hives, and the bees can’t control it, and eventually the bees will leave the hive. It’s not the beetle; it’s the larvae. The beetle itself is not an issue. Once they lay their eggs into the honey, and the larvae eat through the honeycomb, and as they do that they’re urinating, they just turn it into the slime and we can’t do anything with it.
“The bees can’t control it, they lose their honey, and then the bees abscond or just die out. It’s a massive problem.”
Like a lot of beekeepers, David is migratory, and works throughout Victoria as well as locally on Phillip Island.
He said he believes the recent weather pattern has had an impact on the prevalence of the beetle.
“I think it’s due to the weather pattern; we’ve had rainfall, and it’s been more humid in central Victoria,” David said.
“It’s still around this area, but not in plague proportions like it was the year before, which I think is because there hasn’t been any honey.”
Work is being done across the country to try and address the issue.
A Queensland-based research team led by Dr Diana Leemon and Dr Andrew Hayes is currently developing a synthetic lure to deploy in a trap to capture the beetle, as part of a project funded by the Honey Bee and Pollination Program.
“To date, lab studies have identified compounds present in natural substances that are highly attractive to Small Hive Beetle,” Dr Leemon said.
“These compounds have been blended together into a lure to attract beetles towards a trap instead of a beehive, and field testing of the lure has started this month in various locations near active bee hives around Queensland.
“Trapping of Small Hive Beetle with a natural attractant is currently being carried out to gather information on the movement and behaviour of Small Hive Beetle, and this information will help determine the best time and place to deploy traps with the synthetic lure.
Closer to home, David has his own way of managing the pest.
“You can set beetle traps, which drown the beetles in oil. I control it by putting a piece of Chux cloth under the lid, and because it’s all just fibres they get stuck, and you can remove them that way,” David said.
“My personal view is that beekeepers have adjusted to it, so we now try to control it ourselves. It doesn’t mean that the beetles are dying out, it means we’re better controlling it.
“When I’m removing wild swarms of bees from houses, I’m always finding Small Hive Beetle.”
With up to 60 hobbyist beekeepers on Phillip Island, it is important for all concerned to make sure that hives are properly cared for, and that beekeepers are registered.
Beekeepers in affected areas – including Phillip Island and the Bass Coast region – are encouraged to closely monitor any signs of changes to their hives, and to contact the state agricultural department for advice if the beetle is detected.
For more information, visit www.beeaware.org.au or visit www.agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/honey-bees for instructions on how to register your hives.