The Small Hive Beetle, Aethena tumida, is one of the relatively recently arrived scourges of beekeeping.
First found in western Sydney in 2002, it came to us from South Africa where it is endemic.
It lives and feeds on fruit, but its best love is a beehive where it lays its eggs for its larvae to hatch into hungry grubs which feed on everything in the hive and leave a horrible slime over the combs.
It can kill even a strong colony very quickly.
Its advent and spread far and wide have added a new dimension to beekeeping, amateur and professional.
Beekeepers have had to invent traps, modify hives and devise ways of controlling the pest, adding to work and management costs.
What has this got to do with toast?
In early days after its arrival it was not a common sight, and I remember the first time I saw a beetle on a honeycomb.
It was at a Tocal Field Day where we had frames of bees in a display case, always a popular attraction for kids.
On the Sunday afternoon of the show a very observant young girl looking at the display asked, 'What is that little black thing on the comb?'
It was a Small Hive Beetle, only one, but by next morning the comb was teeming with white grubs.
One morning I sat down to breakfast, took a slice of toasted multigrain bread, spread some honey, (my own of course), but hesitated before eating when I noticed a small black object.
A grain from the bread?
But no, on closer look it was animate with little black legs.
A small hive beetle, but how did it get there?
How did it escape the filtering process?
There was a simple explanation.
It was a productive spring and one of my hives was so full of honey that the bees had built and filled a lot of burr comb between and on top of frames.
Such burr comb has to be scraped off, and is often wasted, but it was lovely freshly built comb full of beautiful golden runny honey.
As I was shown growing up, I never waste anything and certainly not this golden treasure.
So I had scraped it off, dumped it in my billy and saved it for 'after'.
The honey 'extracted' from the beeswax by gravity found its way to the breakfast table.
The early beehive invader which had escaped early attention must have drowned in the honey only to appear on my toast.
Sadly, finding this pest on honeycomb is no longer a surprise - it is a menace for bees and beekeepers.
- Jim Wright is a life member of the Hunter Valley branch of the Amateur Beekeepers' Association of NSW.