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Sustainable Agriculture

Baiting the Trap: New Lures Ensnare Damaging Hive Beetle

Many consider honey bees the building blocks of horticulture because of their role in pollination. Their honey production is sweet, too, with 17 million pounds harvested each year in Florida alone. Yet, the Florida bee industry faces a major threat from the small hive beetle, a damaging pest that for the past decade has been feeding on pollen and contaminating honey stores. Since Florida is a common over-wintering destination for bees, the infestation has spread throughout the eastern United States and is even taking up residence in California. A serious small hive beetle infestation causes bees to abandon their hives, leaving beekeepers without honey and their bee colonies.

Responding to pleas from beekeepers, SARE-funded researchers at USDA's Agricultural Research Service and the University of Florida worked on site with beekeepers to devise a trap that lures small hive beetles away without using purchased chemicals, which leave residues in honey. They built upon the work of Drion Boucia, a University of Florida researcher, who discovered that hive beetles release an alluring yeast.

“When the yeast grows on pollen in the hive, it attracts more beetles with a cascading effect,” said Peter Teal, an ARS research leader in Gainesville. “It disturbs the bees and they leave.”

Researchers put the yeast to work for them. Collaborating with half a dozen beekeepers in a SARE on-farm research grant, they installed traps baited with yeast below each hive, separated by sliding doors drilled with conical holes. Hive beetles can squeeze through into traps, but not return.

“Female beetles lay eggs in the trap, so we routinely catch 10 times more larvae than adults,” Teal said.

Teal predicts the traps will solve the problem for small-scale beekeepers,whom he says make up 60 percent of the industry, because they typically tend their hives daily and can clean their traps. For large-scale beekeepers, who maintain up to several thousand hives, Teal and his team are hoping to develop a new trap requiring less management.

Their findings are timely. Beekeepers throughout Florida are waiting for traps to become widely available commercially. “We have a horrific pest that's redefining beekeeping,” said Jerry Latner, manager of a beekeeping supply manufacturer. “If they perfect the lure, it will be a great benefit.”

 

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