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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Beetle infestation threatens beehives

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Small hive beetle

Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture

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The small hive beetle has been discovered in beehives near Hilo, adding another threat to Hawai'i's honey industry and its commercial export of queen bees, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

On April 27, a beekeeper on a Pana'ewa farm contacted the agriculture department's entomologist in Hilo about beetles he found in hives there, agriculture officials said.

They were confirmed as small hive beetles April 30 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Identification Service in Riverdale, Md.

Adult and larval beetles have been found at two sites. Surveys in West Hawai'i, where the majority of the queen bee operations are located, began yesterday, officials said.

Agriculture officials have activated the Incident Command System, widely used for other emergency responses, to manage this pest situation.

"The small hive beetle will be difficult to eradicate and control because it also feeds on various decaying fruits which are abundant in the wild," said Neil Reimer, manager of the Plant Pest Control Branch. "We are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a queen bee certification procedure that would allow for the continued export of clean queen bees to foreign and domestic areas."

The adult beetles are about 4 to 5 millimeters long. The yellowish-brown beetles turn brownish, then black, as they mature.

Native to South Africa, they have turned up since the 1990s in many southern U.S. states, including California and Florida.

They feed on honey, pollen, wax, honeybee eggs and larvae, and tunnel through the honeycomb, damaging or destroying it and contaminating the honey. Symptoms of an infestation include discolored honey, an odor of decaying oranges, and fermentation and frothiness in the honey. Heavy infestations may cause honeybees to abandon the hives.