Small hive beetle are seen in a hive among bees. Aethina tumida is native to South Africa, where it is regarded as a minor pest of African strains of honey bees. However, in the United States, where the beetle was first discovered in 1988, it has become a significant pest of non-Africanized strains of honey bees. Larvae of the small hive beetle are most damaging to honey bees. They tunnel through combs, eating honey and pollen and killing bee brood, ruining the combs.

Small Hive Beetle found in B.C. triggers inspection plan

Beekeepers in British Columbia have just joined a less-than-illustrious club, the Small Hive Beetle club, with the discovery of a single adult in a honey bee colony in Abbotsford.
The discovery, made August 24 and confirmed on August 27, is the first recorded instance of the sub-Saharan beetle in the province. I’ve written a story for The Vancouver Sun. 
While it may not seem like much, that one little beetle is triggering an extraordinary response from the provincial apiculture division. Next week Paul van Westendorp, the chief bee inspector, will begin checking every single hive within a five kilometre radius of the infected hive. After that, his crew will fan out and inspect hives along the border west towards White Rock.
The discovery comes as Ontario undergoes a serious outbreak of small hive beetle in the Niagara region. Between Aug. 16-19 SHB was found in six apiaries in Niagara area. It brings to nine the number of discoveries made this year. Significantly, five of the yards belong to two commercial beekeepers who run more than 1,000 hives each.

Small Hive Beetle, adult. Photo courtesy of the B.C. Apiculture division.

Small Hive Beetle, adult. Photo courtesy of the B.C. Apiculture division.

The infestations in Ontario have caused the nation’s provincial apiculturists to consider setting up quarantine zones in an effort to limit the potential spread of the pest. They have been concerned that some large commercial beekeepers with aims to build trans-provincial migratory pollination operations similar to what is done in the U.S. may speed up the spread of SHB across Canada. This spring Alberta quarrantined more than 700 hives that had returned from pollination in New Brunswick, after having passed through Ontario. The hives, belonging to an Alberta beekeeper, had wintered in B.C. and were being moved back from New Brunswick for pollination in hybrid canola.

Out of an abundance of caution the Alberta bee inspector would not let the hives move within his province until they had been found to be SHB-free. (They passed.) But now, with more findings in Ontario of viable beetle colonies, there are efforts to try and stop the spread of the pest.

One suggestion has been to close the border between Ontario and Manitoba in the hopes of preventing the westward spread. I’m told that next week a national meeting of provincial apiculturists, along with members of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, will be held to discuss options.

Small Hive Beetle larvae. Photo courtesy of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Apiculture division

Small Hive Beetle larvae. Photo courtesy of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Apiculture division

Van Westendorp believes the beetle found in the Abbotsford apiary flew across the US-Canada border and was not brought to B.C. by migratory beekeepers. He has been doing passive monitoring along the border with sentinel hives for a few years and says so far this is the only beetle to have been found. He’s also not convinced the beetle is a significant and growing threat to B.C. beekeepers given that it tends to be a tropical insect.
But we’re all mindful of the fact that varroa was once not a problem in North America. It is a rare beekeeper now who doesn’t have to deal with this serious invasive pest.
This new and emerging concern about SHB is one reason why the B.C. Honey Producers Association is spending more time looking at this pest. At the October Annual General Meeting the association has brought in two speakers familiar with SHB; Medhat Nasr, the Alberta chief apiculturist, will outline actions he and other provincial apiculturists are undertaking to limit the spread. Les Eccles, the head of the Ontario Beekeepers Association’s tech-transfer department, will outline their actions. Here’s the link to the conference agenda and registration process.
Van Westendorp will also give a review of his department’s plans.
His ministry has posted a circular on SHB. The Ontario provincial government also has a useful information page.
At the same time the BCHPA is considering asking the provincial government for more action to prevent the spread of SHB. It has set up a special committee to review data and consider proposals to be sent to the AGM in October.
In the meantime, it’s a fair bet that beekeepers in the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver will be keeping eyeballs peeled for this unwanted critter. Van Westendorp said that during recent SHB scares he was flooded with samples of beetles pulled from peoples’ hives. Unfortunately – or rather fortunately, he said – he has the finest collection of harmless sap beetles.
Still, van Westendorp is encouraging beekeepers who find ANY beetle in their hives to capture it and send it to him for a complete verification.
More to come on this later.

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