America's Honeybees
Facing Another New Threat

By Curt Anderson
AP Farm Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Already decimated by an invasion of mites, America's honeybees are now faced with a new threat: a South African beetle with a taste for honey that can drive bees out of their hives.
The honeybee is a critical pollinator of 90 crops and numerous flowers and is responsible in one way or another for an estimated one-third of the food Americans eat.
Bees are only now recovering from the attack of mites, which experts say killed more than 95 percent of the wild colonies in America and put commercial operations at risk, requiring expensive chemical treatments as prevention.
Now officials in Florida have discovered hives infested with the South African small hive beetle, the first time the pest has ever appeared in this country. The initial report came June 5 from St. Lucie County, Fla., and has since spread to nearby Indian River, Brevard, Polk and Lake counties.
State and federal agriculture officials were meeting Tuesday in Florida to figure out whether to attempt to eradicate the beetles or begin a quarantine to prevent them from spreading elsewhere.
"If you have a strong bee colony, and they're healthy, they would probably keep these critters under control," said Anita Collins, a research geneticist at the Agriculture Department's Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. "If you've got a weaker colony, then these beetles can sort of get out of hand."
The beetles, which may have come to America in soil from South Africa, like to eat honey and pollen and lay eggs in the honeycomb cells. They defecate in the honey, making it unpalatable to bee and human alike and making the hive untenable; their hard, shiny black shells guard against the bees' stingers.
"Honeybees will abscond if the colony is wet, if they suffer too much heat, if odor is a problem. This is just another reason," said Roger A. Morse, a retired Cornell University professor of apiculture and bee researcher. "If the colony is too weak to abscond, it would just die out."
Florida is a winter home to millions of commercial bees, which are shipped to 25 states during growing season to pollinate crops such as apples, blueberries, zucchini, alfalfa, cantaloupes and cucumbers.
If the beetles have been getting into hives in Florida for any length of time, Morse said, they "could be in many, many states."
The beetles can be controlled by pesticides, because they leave their host bee colony and burrow into the ground to pupate. In addition, beekeepers can guard against infestation by fumigating extra honeycombs before placing them into the hives.
"This beetle should be more of a nuisance than a serious pest," Morse said. "Beekeepers are going to have to be vigilant."

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