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USDA Scientists Join Beetle Battle to Protect Florida's Bees

By Jill Lee
July 7, 1998

The small hive beetle, a pest with a sweet tooth for honey, was found in the United States for the first time in June in Florida. Scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service are traveling to the Sunshine State to plan surveys to determine the extent of the infestation.

An alert beekeeper in Florida detected the first infested hives in St. Lucie County, Fla., on June 5. Florida state entomologists confirmed the identified beetle as Aethina tumida Murray. To date, infested hives have been found in the following counties: St. Lucie, Indian River, Brevard, Polk and Lake.

Until now, the insect had been found only in South Africa. There, the beetle is considered a native species and healthy hives easily resist the pest, so it's not an economic problem. But, even in South Africa, less populous hives are susceptible, according to South African beekeepers consulted by ARS scientists.

Small hive beetle adults are about 5 millimeters long and shiny black. Larvae are white and maggot-like. Honey bees can generally remove the beetle larvae, but the adult has a hard shell so bees have trouble stinging it or removing it from the colony.

The insects don't attack bees, but eat and contaminate honey, ultimately causing bees to flee the hive.

The adult beetles lay their eggs in hive cells. That's why the ARS researchers advise beekeepers to postpone placing extra combs on hives until their bees are ready to use them.

ARS bee researchers from Beltsville, Md., and Weslaco, Tex., will be in Florida this week to assist Florida officials in planning research on the beetle's biology and U.S. bees' vulnerability. Today, they're scheduled to be at the Florida Beekeeper's Technical Council in Gainesville, Fla., to brief beekeepers about the problem.

Scientific contacts: Jeff Pettis, USDA-ARS, Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Md. Phone: (301) 504-7299, fax 504-8736,
Bill Wilson, Weslaco Bee Laboratory, 956-969-5005
Lawrence Cutts, Florida Apiary Inspector, 352-372-3505

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