• Patrick Dawkins

Euthanasia and welfare of managed honey bee colonies

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE BROUGHT TO YOU BY dnature

While euthanising hives is surely the most dispiriting aspect of a beekeeper’s work. It is a task which, at times, is unavoidable. In this month’s Under the Microscope, we take a look at a recently released paper which details various methods available to beekeepers to most humanely euthanise troubled colonies.

Euthanasia and welfare of managed honey bee colonies / Author Franco Mutinelli / Published in Journal of Apicultural Research – open source.

Unlike many other countries, antibiotic treatment of American foulbrood (AFB) infected honey bee colonies is not permitted in New Zealand and beekeepers are required to kill and destroy such colonies within seven days of discovery.

The Pest Management Plan (PMP) which sets out the legal requirements for beekeepers in cases of AFB discovery states “any suitable substance” can be used to carry out the task of euthanization. However, by far the most common method used by Kiwi beekeepers is petrol or diesel applied inside the hive to cause asphyxiation.

The paper presented by Mutinelli considers substances intended for euthanizing honey bees, taking into account both their fitness for purpose and safety for users and any impact on the environment, so is worth considering by beekeepers searching for best practice in their situation.


“Once euthanasia has been decided and the goal is to minimize pain, distress, and negative effects to the animal or animal population, the humaneness of the technique (i.e. how to bring about the death of animals) is also an important ethical issue,” Mutinelli states in his introduction.

Of course, where our friends the honey bee fall in the paradigm of animal welfare and “humane” treatment, is contentious.

The ropiness tests – a sign of whether a hive will need to be euthanised.

“Although the capacity for nociception is recognized in many invertebrate taxa, the Internal Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) involved in invertebrate research is challenged by a lack of clear understanding of invertebrate welfare and by differing standards of moral concern for these taxa,” Mutinelli states.

Among the substances detailed are: petrol/diesel, sulphur dioxide, 70% Isopropyl alcohol, dry ice, soapy water and even pesticides (synthetic pyrethroids) in certain situations.

Mutinelli’s advice around best practice use of petrol and diesel will be most pertinent for Kiwi beekeepers who find themselves in the unenviable position of AFB infection of their bees. The paper even links to research work carried out by a range of New Zealand scientists, such as Dr Mark Goodwin and Dr Michelle Taylor.

While it is not a pleasant subject, discussion recently around codes of welfare for bees and their human treatment does have the issue in the spotlight, so upskilling on best practice in bee death, as well as their life, should be considered.

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