Roots 'n' Shoots: South African Bees in Trouble: American Foulbrood Disease (AFB)

Why is RnS Moving to

Google had brought out an algorithm update in May 2017. With previous updates like Panda or Penguin, Mr G had penalized blogs or websites with low quality content and those more focused on aggressive adverts (including multiple ads or pop-up ads in articles). However, many blogs/websites that weren't shady got penalized beyond recovery too and a lot of people lost their income. The May 2017 update has had wide-scale effect on blogs and websites, but without any explanation from Mr G as to why or what it does. RnS has been hit by it too and hard. RnS organic search stats (i.e. users from Google) have dropped by 75% since. Even though RnS is not a source of income, I tried to figure out why RnS is being culled. It seems that it doesn't really have anything to do with RnS per se, but likely because RnS is FREE and not paying for page ranking (via AdWords or Ad Ranking). Now it is likely being aggressively shoved to lower page rankings to accommodate the paid ads.

I cannot rely on Mr G anymore to get RnS' content where it is needed. So I am busy moving RnS to Wordpress where you can find me as Whisker Flowers @

I am also imposing 301 redirects from already moved posts and pages!

- The Shroom - (AKA Whisker Flowers)

Saturday, 7 February 2015

South African Bees in Trouble: American Foulbrood Disease (AFB)

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The plight of the humble honey bee is not merely an 'Overseas Problem'. Our own honey bees are increasingly at risk due to the lack of proper quarantine and trade regulations during beekeeping and the selling of bee products.

African Honey Bee,
Apis mellifera scutellata,
pollinating nectarine flower
Bees are related to wasps and ants as they belong to the Hymenoptera order of Insects, characterised by their restricted waists. There are an estimated 20 000 species of bees, which include bumble bees, solitary bees and colony forming bees such as the European/Western Honey Bee, Apis mellifera.

In South Africa, we have two indigenous honey bees (i.e originating and only found here) that are a subspecies or race of the European Honey Bee. The African Honey Bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) has the widest spread, found in central and southern Africa, whereas the Cape Honey Bee (Apis mellifera capensis) is found in the far southern extremes of the country (around the fynbos area). Please see the South African Bee Industry Organisation (SABIO) website for more information on the biology of our native bees.

A devastating disease has slowly been etching its way through bee colonies in the Western Cape and a recent report on 27 January 2015 has stated that the situation has gone out of control! (Ref 1) This was the first time that I have heard of this disease effecting our honey bees and was appalled to notice how underplayed and little attention had been given to this by the government and beekeepers alike and how uninformed the general public has been left. I am an avid promoter of the use of beneficial insects in the vegetable garden and the honey bee is one of the most important.

Bees are crucial to human food production, a role often overlooked. It is estimated that one third of our plant products depends on the natural behaviour of bees (Ref 2). Imagine a world without bees where humans would need to hand pollinate each and every flower in order to have food such as squash, apples, pears, nuts, peaches, berries and carrots... (Please see to Ref 2 for a comprehensive outlook on the economic value of bees and pollination). Therefore, I decided to do a bit of research and write a post to get the information out to my readers and hopefully raise some awareness amongst South Africans.

African Honey Bees are known to be more robust and resilient to pest and disease than the European Honey Bee. This natural immunity has left the African Honey Bees mostly unaffected by the global Collony Collapse Disorder (CCD) reported extensively in Europe and America (See my previous posts on this here Jan 2012 and Oct 2013). Ameican Foulbrood Disease (AFB) is caused by a bacterium known as Paenibascillus larvae, so named due to the fact that it infects honeybee larvae (also known as 'the brood'; these are larvae up to 3 days old) when they consume food contaminated with bacterial spores (Ref 3). The bacteria multiply in the midgut of the larvae and digest the gut wall resulting in the death of the larvae. The remaining body disintegrates into a sticky mass and later becomes a desiccated husk, which remains contaminated with spores. Although adult bees are not effected by the bacterium, they remain passive carriers of the spores for up to 2 months after consumption of contaminated food such as honey. Spores can attach to adult bee bodies after contact with contaminated hives, dead larvae or beekeeping equipment. This ensures rapid spread of the spores and infection within and between bee colonies. Colonies soon collapse when more than 100 larvae are infected.

Field Test for American Foulbrood Disease:
Dead larvae are touched with a toothpick,
If a sticky substance or 'rope' develops then
hive samples need to be sent for testing.

AFB disease was recorded in the Western Cape during February 2009, a 150 years after the last recorded infection (Ref 4 & 5). Illegally important honey contaminated with bacterial spores was suggested as the point of origin (Ref 5). AFB spores are highly stable and resistant to most environmental conditions such as high heat (Ref 3). These spores remain viable for up to 50 years and infected hives need to be burned or irradiated with gamma radiation as no known cure for the disease exists (Ref 3), ultimately killing the bees. Other control methods include dipping hives in paraffin wax to trap and prevent the spread of spores, whereas antibiotics simply treat the symptoms and does not destroy bacterium spores, leaving bees susceptible to re-infection (Ref 4). Up until the 2009 outbreak South Africa had no regulations or control methods concerning AFB and I struggle to find whether any such protocols have been developed since.  The KwaZulu-Natal Bee Farmers Association merely has links to two videos with information concerning AFB and European Foulbrood Disease (a milder form). This is the same association that claimed 'not to be concerned about AFB reaching KZN' (Ref 5) during 2009 and in the most recent report of 2015 (Ref 1), as well as on their website, they express increasing fears of the spread of AFB disease to KZN.

AFB is highly contagious and proper control methods include the timely diagnosis and unfortunate destruction of both the hives and infected equipment. This is a disease that is well documented amongst the 'domestic hives', i.e. those kept by humans for either commercial or recreational purposes. Data concerning AFB in wild populations is lacking (Ref 3). It is known that African Honey Bees abandon their hives when disturbed and are extremely hygienic, which may result in a self-cleansing situation amongst wild populations, effectively decreasing the infection and spread of AFB (Ref 3). Also no great losses of bee colonies or further outbreaks have been reported for the period of 2009-2011, which is likely more attributed to no monitoring or surveillance being implemented (Ref 3). This would suggest that the African Honey Bees may be resilient against AFB infection, but scientists (Ref 3) argue that this might not hold up when the load of bacterial spores reaches a breaking threshold in bee hives.

It seems that this threshold has been reached amongst the Western Cape domestic bees and although honey infected with AFB disease is safe to be consumed by humans (Ref 7) it does not diminish the seriousness of the situation. Bees have been 'ravaged' in the Western Cape according to the latest 2015 report (Ref 1). Diseases such as AFB have a natural spread progression, initially low levels are present in a country and nobody takes serious steps to control it, then it increases and spreads and within a blink of an eye it reaches epidemic proportions - we are already seeing this happen with foot and mouth disease in South Africa (Ref 8) and I hope that South Africa will react quickly enough to stop AFB from becoming a nation wide outbreak.

African Honey Bee,
Apis mellifera scutellata,
pollinating basil flowers
I typically do not report 'doom and gloom senarios' neither am I a fan of hype or sensationalising, but this truly troubles me and the fact that yet again nothing serious is being done about it irks me. I hope that this article reaches as many people as possible and that we can limit the spread of this disease (the most fatal brood disease known to honey bees). I place here a link to a document: American Foulbrood from the NSW Government in Australia who are currently battling with the AFB disease. This document contains a comprehensive outline of AFB, what it is, how it is transmitted and how to recognize the symptoms in bee hives. I know that South Africa is more concerned with the dwindling number of Rhinos at the present moment, but if we neglect our bees because they are merely seen as a nuisance, neither human nor rhino would survive.

FactSheet - American Foulbrood: Disease Symptoms, Spread, Diagnosis and Control Measures. Nov, 2012. Doug Somerville, Technical Specialist Bees, Goulburn. Agriculture NSW, Livestock Systems


1) Disease threatens bee farmers. Jan 27, 2015. Chelsea Pieterse, The Witness,

2) Nicola Bradbear. 2009. Chapter 8: THE VALUE OF BEES FOR CROP POLLINATION. pg 69-79. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome   [For the Entire Book: Click Here]

3) Human H. et. al. 2011. The Honey Bee Disease American Foulbrood - An African Perspective. African Entomology: 19(2) 551-557.

4) Millions of Bees infected by killer disease. May 4, 2009. Staff Reporter. Main & Guardian.

5) KZN Beekeepers not worried about disease. May 5, 2009. Stephen Coan. The Witness.

6) Cape Bee Farmers could be crippled by foul brood disease outbreak. April 1, 2009. Eyewitness News.

7) American Foulbrood Disease in South Africa. Vitacare.

8) Foot-and-Mouth Disease Eats Up Farming. Jan 14, 2015. Graeme Hosken. Times Live.


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  1. It is a pity that you did not ask any beekeepers about what is happening with this disease and how much work is being done to try and control it. Why did you not contact the KZN bee association for more information other than just looking at the website

  2. I believe in freely available public information that is easily accessible through organisational websites and brochures, which the NSW government of Australia have always impressed me by - they always stay in contact with their respective clients (such as beekeepers and farmers) as well as raising public awareness of current problems. Therefore I prefer superior information suppliers such as these.

  3. would also like to point out that NSW is in Australia.We are not in Australia instead we are battling with many problems in the beekeeping industry and South Africa is unable to deal with this disease outbreak by relying on volunteers as we do to control the disease. If you had contacted us we would have told you about the research being done in Stellenbosch and Pretoria on bee disease , we would have told you about the very recent meetings that have been held with government officials on controlling it, as well as what the western cape beekeepers are doing to manage and control AFB. What KZN is trying to do, to prevent the spread This is all within the last 2 to 3 months. So use your information from NSW . But I would rather contact you directly to show you the measures that are been taken. My email address is on the KZN bee farmers association website

  4. I respect the Australians (and New Zealanders as well as the Americans alike) in their endeavours to control pathogens and parasites. They have many systems in place for the quarantine and eradication of several invasive parasites and diseases, for example:

    1) Joseph D Busch et. al. 2014. Widespread movement of invasive cattle fever ticks (Rhipicephalus microplus) in southern Texas leads to shared local infestations on cattle and deer. Parasites & Vectors 2014, 7:188 doi:10.1186/1756-3305-7-188

    2) Alan V. Tasker and James H. Westwood. 2012. The U.S. Witchweed Eradication Effort Turns 50: A Retrospective and Look-Ahead on Parasitic Weed Management. Weed Science. 60:267–268

    3) Bolger, P. and Pharo, H. 2014. Control of American foulbrood in New Zealand. Bee health and veterinarians. Editor: Ritter, W. pp. 167-171.

    Also South Africa is part of a global community and we are all responsible for the welfare of our animals and control of re/emergent diseases/parasites. I know we can learn a lot from the Australians/New Zealanders and Americans regarding already established quarantine/eradication methods. Trying to reinvent the wheel by remaining in isolation is completely unnecessary when control of diseases/parasites concerns everyone globally.

    I am well aware of the bee research at UP and Stellenbosch (see Ref 3) , but researchers cannot raise public awareness on their own - hence the requirement of an open communication channel through which all recent and relevant information is gathered and broadcasted to the public (without the need for every concerned citizen to have to contact individuals directly involved as this takes time and money away from people who could have used it to assist with the problem otherwise (through volunteering or donations for instance)).

    Nevertheless, I do not believe that the issue is my information sources, because my references and science is solid - I believe the issue is with the fact that I called the KZN bee farmers association out on their error, which was to label AFB disease as 'not a concern' when they had the knowledge and researchers (especially epidemiologists) by their side to advise them otherwise. Current research efforts will go a long way towards understanding the dynamics of AFB in SA bees, I’m certain, but research and/or the establishment of control procedures are not being made aware to the public in an easily accessible manner – for example, the South African Rhino campaigns are very active and very accessible to the public not only by the presence of the individuals involved in our malls and shopping centres, but also their electronic footprints on social media and websites alike.

    By the end of the day my post was meant to raise public awareness of the current plight of our honey bees as we are all on the same side here – we are concerned about the future of our tireless pollinators and the food that will be lost without them. Thus, I suggest that instead of arguing with me further on the topic, rather update the KZN bee farmers associations or SABIO websites. Place a portal there for donations and open a registry for volunteers – get the word out on Facebook, Twitter and get the public involved – there are many volunteers and donators out there who would happily support the causes towards sustainable beekeeping and production efforts – they must just be made aware of it.

    Then at a later stage, when I have enough new information about the latest research and/or control procedures on AFB disease I would be more than happy to report it again as well as giving my honest opinion on the matter and to keep my readers updated on further developments regarding our honey bees.


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