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Using Beetle Biology to Protect Beehives

By Sharon Durham
November 1, 2007

A new way to lessen damage from small hive beetles in honey bee colonies has been developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Gainesville, Fla. Small hive beetles (Aethina tumida) began appearing in U.S. hives during the past 15 to 20 years and now infest bee colonies throughout the East.

Peter Teal, leader of the Chemistry Research Unit at the ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Gainesville, and his colleagues have developed an apparatus and attractant to help beekeepers protect their honey bees. A paper on this research recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Small hive beetles release a yeast that's highly alluring to fellow beetles. When the yeast grows on pollen in the hive, it attracts more beetles and sets off a cascading effect. When the population of beetles explodes, the disturbed bees leave the hive, according to Teal. This leaves beekeepers without honey or their bee colonies.

To exploit the small hive beetle's biology, Teal installed traps baited with the yeast below test hives belonging to cooperating beekeepers. The traps were separated from hives by sliding doors drilled with conical holes that allowed the beetles to enter the traps, but not to exit.

The researchers believe these traps will solve the problem for small-scale beekeepers, which make up 60 percent of the industry. These small-scale bee keepers tend their hives daily and can clean their traps frequently. For large-scale beekeepers who maintain up to several thousand hives, Teal's team hopes to develop a new trap requiring less management.

If perfected, this trap could be a boon to the bee industry in Florida, which is a common overwintering destination for commercial bee colonies. A patent for the trap was filed in March 2005. Teal hopes to apply the same principle to reduce populations of Varroa mites, another significant pest in honey bee hives.

Read more about the research in the November/December 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.