Saturday, 25 July 2020

Chafers and Honeybees in France

The other day a chap on a French Beekeeping Face book group posted a photo of a beetle trying to get into one of his hives.   His initial reaction having “Googled” was that it may have been a Large hive beetle, Oplostomus fuligineus, a species that is found in Africa and although this has not yet been recorded in France we can’t be sure where anything is going to turn up these days. New non native species seem to arrive on almost a weekly basis in France and the Small hive beetle, Aethina tumida, another non native, has been found in Italy but as of this moment hasn’t reached France.

Anyway it was clearly a Chafer, that much was indisputable but not a Large hive beetle. I was sure, (ha,ha,ha), at first that it was dark Rose Chafer beetle due to its general appearance and size, (close to 2cm). However I couldn’t find any evidence of Rose Chafers trying to enter hives and although they are plentiful at our place, (Rose chafers and hives), I have never seen them on my hives so I started to deepen my search for any examples of this. After much searching and changing search terms I finally came up with some examples of where peoples hives had been invaded by chafers, but not Rose Chafers but Protaetia morio known as la Cétoine noire. In many ways they look like dark Rose chafers, they are 1.3 to 2 cm long, the dorsal surface is dull, blackish to brownish with small ochre spots more or less marked, or even absent, on the pronotum and aligned transversely on the elytra. Although the greatest populations are to be found in the Mediterranean zone they are present to some extent in almost all other regions of France. Other than the fact that they are attracted to honey their behaviour and life cycle is much the same as the Rose chafer, feeding on thistles, knapweeds etc with larval development in rotting wood and fibrous soil.  

Click on images to enlarge

It seems that the observations of them entering honey bee colonies take place in July and August and if the beetles are numerous they can cause severe disruption for the bees which can’t eject them as the beetles bodies and wing cases are too hard for a bee sting to penetrate. In the case of a hive it should be a simple case of using a hornet guard to keep them out but we can assume that they have developed this behaviour over thousands of years by entering natural colonies in trees.


Wednesday, 20 May 2020

May bug – Cockchafers - Hanneton commune and Hanneton forestier in France.

Hardly extraordinary I can hear people thinking but the other day I saw a May bug here, first one in several years. In fact in the 25 years we have been here there have only been a couple of years when I have seen them.  

A May bug or Cockchafer generally refers to Melolontha melolontha or the Common Cockchafer but there is an almost identical species in France with which they could be confused which is the Forest cockchafer, Melolontha hippocastani, which is a species found in woodlands.  

Generally Melolontha melolontha is considered an to be  an agricultural pest and they were brought almost to the point of extinction in the arable areas of France following the use of chemical insecticides such as DDT and Lindane. Both of these caused massive environmental harm before being banned from use. In the 19th century prior to insecticides being available the beetles were collected by hand to be killed, a process called “hannetonnages” that had some effectiveness even if a little laborious. Schoolchildren would sometimes be enlisted to perform this task where they would place sheets under the hedgerows in the morning and shake them out, collecting them in containers. Back at school the chafers would be weighed and some payment made by the kilo, a kilo roughly equalling 1,200 chafers. We can only dream of such numbers these days.

Since the 1970’s their numbers have slowly recovered on pasture land. However where intensive arable farming is practiced they are few and far between as almost every available piece of land is cultivated and constantly ploughed. This practice makes it close to impossible for them to complete their life cycle as any larvae, in the unlikely event that there should be any, are constantly bought to the surface and exposed to the birds that follow the tractors. This only leaves the roadside verges and any small uncultivated parcels of land. The situation has been made worse by the removal by the EU some 15 years or so ago of the requirement for farmers to leave a percentage of land fallow. This resulted from the misconceived idea that bio fuels are more important than habitat, a decision that has caused and is causing untold harm to a vast range of species.   


Friday, 24 January 2020

Beaver in Nord pas de Calais for the first time in 150 years

The presence of Beavers has been confirmed in the area around Val-Joly, in the Avesnois, Nord-Pas-de-Calais after 150 years of absence. More than 20 trees have been found with the distinctive pencil cutting and fur traps have provided DNA evidence.

The beavers will have crossed the border from Wallonie, (Belgium), where they were released in the early 2000’s by activists where they have apparently expanded at an extraordinary rate both in numbers and territory covered in the canals and rivers that crisscross the region.

Unlike the recent discovery in Pyrénées-Atlantiques which is likely to have been a clandestine release this will be a natural progression and should provide a basis for continued expansion throughout the region.