Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Development of a monitoring system for the small hive beetle, Aethina tumida (Murray) - PH0503

Bees make an essential contribution to agriculture and the environment through pollination: they also produce honey and wax (Cuthbertson & Brown, 2006: Biologist 53: 78-81). The honey bee (Apis mellifera) plays a dominant role, being the major managed pollinator available to provide this service. Recent estimates for agricultural/horticultural crops grown commercially in the UK that benefit from bee pollination are in the region of £200m p.a. (Carreck & Williams, 1998: Bee World 79:3 115-123) while the value of honey production in the UK fluctuates between £10m and £35m p.a. Honey bees also importantly pollinate many wild species of flora. Pest and disease impact at its worst can cause high colony losses. High losses of bees to pest/diseases have occurred in the European Union (EU report, October 2003: Varroa situation in the European Union).

There are an estimated 274,000 colonies of honey bees in the UK kept by about 44,000 beekeepers. Some 250,000 colonies are managed by 37,000 beekeepers in England and Wales. Around 200 beekeepers manage bees on a professional basis and are members of the Bee Farmers’ Association; collectively they manage around 40,000 colonies. The remainder are small-scale producers. The National Bee Unit (NBU) at the Central Science Laboratory implements the national bee health programme in England and Wales, underpinned by a programme of research and development to provide up to date technical support to beekeepers. The work includes disease/pest diagnosis, development of contingency plans for emerging threats, import risk analysis, related extension work and consultancy services to both government and industry. With globalisation, trade and movement of bees around the world has increased the risks to bee health. Potential exists for major pest threats of the honey bee to reach Europe and the UK. Recent concern has focused on Aethina tumida (the small hive beetle (SHB)) and the Tropilaelaps mites. In 2003, the European Commission stepped up measures to protect EU apiculture against these pests by making both notifiable throughout the Community and establishing additional import controls to reduce the risk of their introduction from third countries (Commission Decision 2003/881/EC).

The small hive beetle is a major threat to the long-term sustainability and economic prosperity of EU and UK apiculture and to agriculture/environment through disruption to pollination. It has the potential to become a problem for apiculture on a global scale (Brown et al., 2002: Bee World 83(4): 151-164). The beetle belongs to a family of scavenger beetles indigenous to Southern Africa. However, the beetle, although primarily a sub tropical insect has recently escaped its native range and established populations in North America and Australia, including more temperate regions of the USA due to the capacity to successfully over-winter in honeybee clusters. From its first detection in Florida, it has spread to over 30 US States (Hood, W. 2004: Bee World 85 (3): 51-59). The economic damage it has caused is significant. In Florida in 1998 alone, estimates of colony losses and economic damage from beetle infestations and honey contamination cost the industry $3 million, with over 30,000 colonies lost (Neumann & Elzen, 2004: Apidologie 35 (229-247). The SHB will cause significant colony losses and economic damage if it were to become established in the UK and Europe. Small hive beetle was intercepted in October 2004 in an unauthorised consignment of queen bees imported into Portugal from Texas, USA (Murilhas, A., 2005: EurBee Newsletter No. 2, April 2005.). It is hoped that the rapid response from the authorities and destruction of the affected apiaries eradicated the pest. This incident shows that the beetle arriving in the EU is a very real prospect. To date, all medicament control methods employed against the SHB have been inadequate with success rates highly variable. Additionally experiments to develop traps or exclusion devices for the beetles have not been completely successful either. The Portugal incident highlights the urgent need to face this new threat and find appropriate and environmentally safe methods for both detection and control of high efficacy before its arrival in the UK to protect the UK beekeeping industry and the pollination services provided to the UK economy.

Traps with attractant lures have proven to be an effective means of monitoring for the presence and population levels of insects in a wide variety of situations, for example, moth species in orchard ecosystems (Cuthbertson & Murchie, 2005: Int. J. Environ. Sci. Tech. 2: 101-104). Attractant lures may be based on pheromones produced naturally by the insect, derived from food sources or in the case of parasitoids and predators, on volatile cues from the host/prey of the insect. Little knowledge exists on the behaviour of the SHB in relation to mate location and location of hives. The greater our knowledge of the behaviour the greater the opportunity to develop effective control measures. It is important that any control measures developed do not affect bee behaviour or health. Therefore, measures that are specific for the SHB would be advantageous. At present there is no early detection method or trapping system available for inspection services or beekeepers to use.
This project aims to establish a system for early detection and monitoring of the SHB by developing an effective lure and trap system and to investigate key aspects of behaviour for optimum deployment of monitors and to examine the potential of novel control measures. All information gained from the project will be readily disseminated to all interested parties via the bee health inspectorate.
This project will aim to:

1. Plant Health Division will establish a project steering group to discuss project progress and results obtained. The group will meet annually. Scientists within the project will meet on a regular basis to discuss results and next steps.

2. Establish and maintain a laboratory culture of the small hive beetle (SHB) in CSL’s quarantine licensed facilities.

3. Identify sources of natural cues to attract the SHB, establish the chemical identity of the attractants and the feasibility of their use in attractant lures.

4. Establish whether pheromone communication is used by the SHB and if so to establish the identity and function of the pheromones.

5. Develop a trap incorporating an attractant lure and establish a protocol for its use.

6. Disseminate information to stakeholders, beekeepers and inspectors.


7. Validate a monitoring system for SHB in field trials (e.g. in South Africa and in the USA, where SHB occurs)

8. Examine behaviour of non-wandering and wandering larval stages and identify the possibility of a chemical cue to influence behaviour

9. Investigate novel control methods for the SHB that could be used in conjunction with the attractants/monitoring systems, or larval chemcial cues if found.

10. Complete field trials in South Africa.

11. Complete studies of novel control methods.

12. Complete field trials in USA.

13. Incorporate findings into contingency plan and produce guidelines for UK apiculture industry.

14. Produce final report for Defra Plant Health Division.

Project Documents
• Final Report : Bee Health Final Report PH0503: Development of a monitoring system for the small hive beetle   (479k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2006

To: 2009

Cost: £225,772
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Central Science Laboratory
Bee Health              
Bee Pests              
Plants and Animals              
Fields of Study
Plant Health