Muhammad Babar Shahzad Afzal, Ansa Benazeer, Muhammad Rizwan, Ammad Ahmad

Beekeeping & Hill Fruit Pests Research Station, Shamsabad, Rawalpindi Pakistan

Honeybees are social insects that play a crucial role in pollination and honey production. Honeybees are crucial for pollinating many crops, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Their role in agriculture is essential for food production. Understanding and addressing the challenges facing honeybees is important for maintaining biodiversity, supporting agriculture, and ensuring the health of ecosystems. Honeybees face various challenges that threaten their populations and, consequently, the crucial pollination services they provide. Among these threats, various inveretebrate and vertebrate pests are one of the biggest threat and challenge for honeybees. These pests affect the honeybee colonies strength, productivity, foraging and pollination activity and honey production. Some of the most important honeybee pests are given below;

1. Wax Moths (Galleria mellonella and Achroia grisella)

Wax moths lay eggs in beehives, and their larvae feed on beeswax, pollen, bee brood, ecdysial  skins,  and  honey,  as  well  as  causing  damage  to  wood. Damage occurs as the larvae create silk-lined tunnels through the hexagonal cell walls and over the comb surface. The tunnels and borings made by the larvae on the cell caps make holes through which honey leaks out. As a result of silken threads, it entangles emergent bees which later die due to starvation. As a result of severe infestation, weak bee colonies abscond, while in strong colonies bee population quickly decline resulting in heavy economic losses to beekeepers. Managing wax moth infestations is crucial for maintaining the health and integrity of honeybee hives. The combs that are weak, damaged, or already infested with wax moth larvae should be replaced with new, clean frames to minimize the risk of re-infestation. Frames infested with wax moth larvae or eggs, can be placed in a freezer for at least 48 hours to ensure that all life stages of the wax moths are eliminated. Wax moths prefer dark, humid environments; ensure that beehives receive adequate sunlight and ventilation, as this can deter wax moths from laying eggs in the hive. Deployment of pheromone traps to attract and catch wax moths can prevent them from laying eggs in the hive. Beekeeping equipment can be subjected to heat treatments at temperatures ranging from 45-80°C for 1-4 hours, or immersed in hot water for 3-5 hours. These methods help eliminate wax moth stages and prevent their development. Variety of oils and plant extracts are also helpful to prevent wax moth infestation. Spraying  wax  frames  with  alcohol  extract  and  oil  from  eucalyptus  leaves  can  prevent  damage  from wax moths for  three  months. Moreover,  the  frames  treated  with  2%  extract concentration  can provide  10  months  of  protection.

2. Wasps

Wasps are a group of insects that can pose a threat to honeybee colonies. While some wasps are predatory and may attack honeybees for food, others are attracted to the hive for other reasons. Yellow jackets (Vespula and Dolichovespula spp.)are aggressive wasps known for their predatory behavior. They are attracted to honeybee hives, where they may attempt to steal honey, capture worker bees, or damage comb. They can be particularly problematic during late summer and early fall. Hornets (Vespa spp.), including the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), are larger wasps that can pose a significant threat to honeybee colonies. They are known to attack and feed on adult honeybees and may decimate entire hives. Paper wasps (Polistes spp.)are less aggressive than yellow jackets, but they may still pose a threat to honeybees. They are attracted to the hive for its warmth and may prey on individual bees or consume honeybee brood. Various tactics can be employed to manage wasps attacking honeybees and they are listed as follows:

  • Use entrance reducers to minimize the space through which wasps can enter the hive. This can help honeybees defend the hive more effectively.
  • Strong honeybee colonies are better equipped to defend against wasp attacks. Ensure that your hive is healthy, has a strong population, and a laying queen.
  • Minimize attractants such as spilled honey, comb fragments, and dead bees near the hive, as these can attract wasps. Set up wasp traps near the hive using attractants such as sweet baits. This can help reduce the number of foraging wasps.
  • Conduct regular hive inspections to check for signs of wasp activity. Remove wasp nests in the vicinity of the hive when possible.
  • Planting aromatic herbs, such as mint or basil, around the hive may act as a deterrent for wasps. In severe cases, chemical controls can be considered. However, these should be used cautiously and in accordance with local regulations.

3. Mites

Mites are a significant concern for honeybee colonies, as they can have detrimental effects on bee health and hive productivity. Two of the most problematic mites affecting honeybees are the varroa mite (Varroa destructor) and the tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi). Varroa mites are the single most devastating global pests of both adult and immature honey bees, Apis mellifera L. Adult bees growing from a mite-infested brood cell suffer from loss of body fat and are often underweight. Their lifespans may be greatly reduced, and the most severe damage occurs when mites vector harmful viruses to the bees. Although many viruses can be vectored, it seems that a particularly virulent form of the honey bee deformed wing virus (DWV) kills most colonies. The degree of damage from direct feeding by the mites depends on the number of mites parasitizing each bee larva. One or two invading mites can produce enough offspring to decrease the vitality of the emerging bee. Higher numbers of varroa mites per cell result in malformations like shortened abdomens, misshapen wings, and deformed legs or even death. Normal colony functions become disrupted when young bees that normally progress through a series of age-related tasks are lost prematurely from the bee population. Eventually, the mite population increases to economically damaging levels, and the colony weakens and begins to exhibit symptoms of a condition known as parasitic mite syndrome (PMS). The basic symptoms are a very weak colony with brood combs having a poor capped brood pattern and sick larvae showing a yellow or brown color caused by viral diseases. Colonies exhibiting PMS usually cannot be saved. Tracheal mites infest the tracheal tubes of honeybees, affecting their respiratory system. Infected bees may exhibit reduced lifespan and weakened immune function. Both Varroa and Tracheal mites are significant contributors to the overall decline in honeybee health. Beekeepers must adopt proactive and integrated approaches to monitor, control, and mitigate the impact of mite infestations on their colonies. Additionally, research efforts continue to explore new strategies for mite management while minimizing the use of chemical treatments to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of honeybee populations. Regular monitoring and early intervention are key components of successful mite management in beekeeping besides using chemical treatments (organic acids, synthetic acaricides), biological controls (predatory mites), and breeding for mite-resistant bee strains.

4. Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida)

Small hive beetles are small, dark brown to black beetles that thrive in warm climates. They are known to infest weak or stressed colonies and can multiply rapidly under favorable conditions. Small hive beetles are scavengers and invade honeybee hives, consuming pollen, honey, and bee brood. Large infestations can cause damage to combs and lead to the disruption of the hive. Early detection and a combination of cultural, biological, and mechanical control methods are essential for effectively managing small hive beetle infestations. Beekeepers should tailor their management strategies based on local conditions, hive health, and the severity of the infestation. Regular monitoring and prompt action are key components of successful small hive beetle management in beekeeping.

5. Phorid Flies (Apocephalus borealis)

Phorid flies are known to parasitize honeybees, impacting their behavior and potentially contributing to colony decline. These flies are parasitoids, meaning their larvae develop by feeding on the tissues of their host organism, in this case, honeybees. Phorid flies parasitize honeybees, laying eggs in the bee’s abdomen where larvae develop by feeding on the tissues of their host organism. The larvae consumption of the bee from the inside by larvae of phorid flies, ultimately lead to death of bees. Infected honeybees are sometimes referred to as “zombie bees” because of the behavioral changes induced by the developing phorid fly larvae. Infected bees often exhibit disoriented and erratic behavior, leaving the hive at night, which is unusual for healthy honeybees. While individual bee mortality due to phorid fly parasitism might not cause a significant direct impact on a colony, the altered behavior of infected bees can affect the overall hive dynamics. The weakened state of infected bees may make them more susceptible to predation and other stressors. Regular monitoring of hive entrances and bee behavior can help identify signs of phorid fly infestations. Beekeepers should be observant for bees exhibiting unusual and erratic behavior, especially during nighttime. Maintaining good hive hygiene, including the removal of dead or weakened bees from the hive, can help reduce the opportunities for phorid flies to complete their life cycle. Developing honeybee strains that are less susceptible to phorid fly parasitism could be a long-term solution.

6. Ants

Some ant species can be a nuisance to honeybee colonies, causing disruptions, stress to honeybees, stealing honey and attacking bees and potentially leading to the weakening of the hive and reducing the honey yield for beekeepers. Ants are attracted to beehives for various reasons, including the presence of honey, pollen, and even the bee brood. While they may not directly harm adult bees, ant invasions can disrupt hive activities. In order to prevent bee hives from ants elevate the hive above the ground using hive stands or other platforms. Elevating the hive makes it more challenging for ground-dwelling ants to access. Maintaining good hive hygiene by promptly removing hive debris, spilled honey, or any food sources that may attract ants is also important strategy. Moreover, use of natural repellents (cinnamon, diatomaceous earth, or coffee grounds), essential oils (peppermint, cinnamon, or citrus oils) and bait stations around the bee hives should also be included in the management program for ants in apiaries.

Effective management strategies, such as integrated pest management (IPM) practices, are crucial for controlling these pests and ensuring the health and survival of honeybee colonies. Regular hive inspections, monitoring for signs of infestations, and implementing appropriate measures can help mitigate the impact of these pests on honeybee populations.

7. Mice and Rodents

Mice and other rodents may seek shelter in beehives, especially during colder months. They can damage combs, consume honey, and create unsanitary conditions within the hive.

8. Bears

Bears are known to raid beehives in search of honey and bee brood. They can cause significant damage to hives, destroying equipment and decimating entire colonies.

9. Skunks

Skunks are attracted to beehives for their protein-rich bee brood. They may scratch at hive entrances to access bees or brood, leading to hive disturbance and potential colony decline.

10. Raccoons

Raccoons are opportunistic feeders and may attempt to access beehives for honey and bee brood. They can cause damage to hives and disturb colonies.

11. Small Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis)

The Small Green Bee-eater is a small, slender bird found in open habitats such as grasslands, savannas, scrublands, and near water bodies. It is commonly seen in agricultural areas and gardens. As the name suggests, bee-eaters primarily feed on bees, wasps, and other flying insects. They catch their prey on the wing and are known for their agile and acrobatic flight. If an apiary is set up close to a bee-eater colony, a larger number of honey bees are eaten because they are more abundant. However, bee-eaters do not intentionally fly into the apiary, rather they feed on the insects caught on pastures and meadows within a radius of 12 km (7.5 miles) from the colony, this maximum distance being reached only when there is a shortage of food. These birds actually enter the apiary only in cold and rainy periods, when the bees do not leave the hive and other insect prey are harder for the bee-eaters to detect. It’s important to adapt management strategies based on the specific vertebrate pests present in the region and the local environment. Collaboration with local wildlife authorities and fellow beekeepers can provide valuable insights and assistance in managing vertebrate pests effectively.

Conclusion

It’s crucial to tailor pest management strategies based on the specific pests present in your region, local conditions, and the overall health of your honeybee colonies. Regular monitoring, early detection, and a proactive approach to pest management contribute to the well-being and sustainability of honeybee populations.

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