Bee stocks here face 'total annihilation' if exotic beetle lands
Bee-keepers are being warned to be on alert for the small-hive beetle which could annihilate bee stocks if it arrives in Ireland.
The beetle, which is indigenous to Africa, wiped out tens of thousands of honey bee colonies in the US in the first few years after it became established there - and now it has arrived in Europe.
It was detected in south west Italy in the port city of Gioia Tauro last month.
"There is a now a serious risk of its accidental introduction into Ireland and the UK because there is significant trade in queens and bees from EU countries," said beekeeper Philip McCabe, who is based in Termonfeckin, Co Louth.
"If it came in here it would really wipe out all the colonies in a very short space of time," said Mr McCabe.
At the moment there are very few wild bee colonies here.
They have been hit by the varroa mite parasite and its associated viruses, which affected large swathes of bees over the last few years.
"The only bees surviving now really are those in a bee hive that have a beekeeper to manage them," Mr McCabe said.
"If this beetle came in, it would annihilate most of the bee colonies.
"It is imperative to be vigilant to prevent its introduction because once established it will be almost impossible to eradicate the small hive beetle," said the expert.
The adult beetle lays up to 1,000 eggs that hatch into larvae which devour wax, honey and honey bee brood, devastating affected colonies.
It can cause major damage to combs, stored honey and pollen.
And if a beetle infestation is sufficiently heavy, they may cause bees to abandon their hive.
The beetle has already spread to Australia, Canada and the Caribbean, as well as the US.
They can survive the winter by harbouring in honey bee colonies.
Safeguards are already in place to prevent the accidental introduction of the pest from imported tropical fruit on which it can survive.