On September 11 2014, the of the presence of Small hive beetle (SHB) Aethina tumida was confirmed in South West Italy. Samples of SHB were taken from a bait trap belonging to the University of Gioia Tauro.
The honey bee pest may already have been transported with packages of bees to other countries across the EU. And could well reach Ireland’s shores if precautions are not taken. SHB is of grave concern to Irish beekeepers and would signicantly increase honey bee mortality, damage the Irish beekeeping industry and affect the production of honey.
SHB could enter Ireland via imports of honey bees or bumble bees – either in colony packages or queen cages. Another serious pest – the varroa mite – entered Ireland back in the 1990’s via honey bee imports. The varroa mite drastically reduced the number of colonies when it first arrived. This situation could be replicated with the arrival of the SHB.
At this point in time, there is not enough knowledge among Irish beekeepers with regard to SHB. And as an emergency measure, beekeepers need to be informed as to what it looks like and what precautions to take if it is found. Above all Irish beekeepers need to be vigilant.
Under Article 36 of the EU Treaty, member states are entitled to enact measures that restrict free trade (including the import and export of honeybees) in order to protect animal health. DAFM excercised this entitlement back in the 1990s and it significantly delayed the arrival of varroa. The same measure could well keep us free of this pest.
Endemic in Sub Saharan Africa, SHB has spread to USA, Canada and Australia – and now Europe. It can cause major damage to comb, stored honey and pollen. If a beetle infestation is sufficiently heavy, they may cause bees to abandon their hive. Beetle larvae may tunnel through combs of honey, feeding and defecating, causing discoloration and fermentation of the honey.
The Native Irish Honey Bee Society insist that there is a need to implement immediate measures to prevent its arrival into Ireland. Due to the magnitude of losses associated with a potential arrival of the SHB, the NIHBS is calling for an immediate ban on imports of honey bees on animal health protection grounds.
More information and an advisory leaflet on SHB can be found here