Cardboard traps bee pest

Small hive beetles scurry in sugar, under the eye of NSW DPI scientist Dr Garry Levot, in the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute insectary.

Small hive beetles scurry in sugar, under the eye of NSW DPI scientist Dr Garry Levot, in the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute insectary.

A preference for hiding inside fluted cardboard could be the undoing of a beetle with the potential to do great harm to Australia’s honey bee industry.

The South African Small Hive Beetle, Aethina tumida, arrived in Australia just four years ago - but in that time it has spread from an initial infestation at Richmond up and down the eastern seaboard.

The beetle has caused enormous concern in the United States, though in Australia its spread may be slowing due to its preference for warm temperatures in the mid-20s and humidity above 50 per cent.

NSW Department of Primary Industries researcher, Dr Garry Levot, says the beetle is similar in size to a ladybird beetle (although dark brown in colour) and is a scavenger of hives.

'The Small Hive Beetle will eat just about anything in a hive: the brood or young larvae or stored pollen which it uses as a source of protein and its faeces can spoil the honey in infested hives,' he said.

Already the beetle has spread along the length of the eastern seaboard, however, its impact is uneven. Many bee keepers have had few problems but others have lost hives.

Dr Levot has been searching for a way to kill the beetle without harming bees and without risking insecticide contamination of honey.

His answer is a sheet of corefluted cardboard, about 18 centimetres wide and 15cm long, placed inside a container on the hive floor.

'The beetle will seek out a hiding spot where it is protected and the cardboard provides a perfect shelter,' he said.

'It will do anything to get away from the bees.'

Dr Levot has run preliminary trials in which the cardboard was treated with a commonly used insecticide, and then wrapped in thick, impervious adhesive-backed aluminium foil.

The technique was successful in reducing beetle numbers by 87 to 93 per cent compared to untreated hives, however, in a couple of hives, the structure was shown to be insufficiently robust to protect all the bees.

'Occasionally bees got into the cardboard and the hive was subsequently killed,' Dr Levot said.

'It proved that we needed a stronger housing to exclude the bees.

'We have since designed a rigid plastic cover which is now being manufactured.'

Dr Levot hopes to conduct field trials of the new plastic encased fluted cardboard next spring, following preliminary safety trials.

In 2003, NSW produced 14 640 tonnes of honey worth $22.2 million. This was 44pc of all honey produced in Australia.

The research was funded by NSW DPI and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’s Honeybee research and development program, which invests in R&D on behalf of the honeybee industry and the Australian Government.

Contact: Garry Levot, Camden, 02 4640 6376 or garry.levot@dpi.nsw.gov.au.

- JOANNE FINLAY