History of American foulbrood in New Zealand
The start of AFB
American foulbrood is a bacterial disease infecting brood of the honey bee (Apis mellifera). The disease is present in almost all countries where honey bees are found. American foulbrood was first recorded in New Zealand in 1877, 38 years after honey bees were introduced. Within 10 years, the disease had spread to all parts of New Zealand and was being blamed for a 70% reduction in the nation’s honey production.
Information on the numbers of beehives infected with the disease was not recorded during the early period of beekeeping development in New Zealand. Part of the reason was that beekeepers attempted to manage the disease, rather than destroy infected hives.
Honey bee colonies with light infections were “shook swarmed”. Bees were shaken from infected hives into hives that contained only foundation. While the method was often effective at eliminating the disease, painstaking effort was required, and some colonies still developed heavy infections and had to be destroyed.
Early attempts at managing AFB using “shook swarming” make interesting reading:
“The districts in which the Ruakura State Apiary is situated were amongst the worst in the Dominion for foulbrood. The colonies I started the State Apiary with, that were already on the farm, were affected. By constant attention and treatment we were able to keep the disease from spreading and when we left for the Christchurch Exhibition (1906) there were six out of over 70 slightly affected with foulbrood. When we returned in the following June we found the disease had spread through robbing to nearly every colony. Early in the following season we treated a number of the worst cases and replaced bad with clean combs. As this did not turn out as satisfactory as we hoped, I hoped to treat the whole of the colonies the next spring.”
A new approach
In 1950, it was decided that the incidence of AFB could not be reduced further if shook swarming continued to be used. Beekeepers were therefore instructed by the Department of Agriculture to “destroy the contents of diseased hives and to sterilise thoroughly any remaining hive equipment, by approved methods”.
Shook swarming is illegal in New Zealand.
How well do you know what you need to know about AFB and beekeeping? Take our short quiz and find out.
Our videos cover everything from your legal obligations to how to recognise AFB, collecting cell and bee samples and more.
There’s a lot of good information here, telling you everything you need to know about recognising AFB: the visual symptoms, smell of AFB and more.
New Zealand beekeepers have a number of legal obligations that must be met regarding AFB disease. Read the shortened list in summary, here.
Most hives become infected because bees, honey or equipment have been put into a hive from another hive that is infected with AFB. Lower your chances of an AFB infection by reading this section.
Find out when the next AFB Recognition and Competency Courses, or Refresher Courses are available. These are held throughout the year in various New Zealand locations across the South Island and North Island.