Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Paenibacillus larvae



Paenibacillus larvae


  • Last modified
  • 08 March 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Paenibacillus larvae
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Bacteria
  •   Phylum: Bacteroidetes
  •     Class: Sphingobacteria
  •       Order: Sphingobacteriales
  •         Family: Flexibacteraceae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • P. larvae is a rod-shaped bacterium that causes American foul brood (AFB), a destructive disease of honey bee colonies. The origin of AFB is unknown, but it is found worldwide. Bees move spores around the hive...

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Paenibacillus larvae

Other Scientific Names

  • Paenibacillus larvae subsp. larvae (White 1906)

Summary of Invasiveness

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P. larvae is a rod-shaped bacterium that causes American foul brood (AFB), a destructive disease of honey bee colonies. The origin of AFB is unknown, but it is found worldwide. Bees move spores around the hive and robber bees can assist in the transmission of spores between hives. Beekeepers may also spread the disease by moving equipment from contaminated hives to healthy ones (Lindstrom et al., 2008; OIE, 2013a; Ministry for Primary Industries, 2013).

This disease is on the list of diseases notifiable to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and is a notifiable pest according to DEFRA (DEFRA, 2011; FERA, 2013). The disease and pathogen are included in the Invasive Species Compendium because of the OIE listing.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Bacteria
  •     Phylum: Bacteroidetes
  •         Class: Sphingobacteria
  •             Order: Sphingobacteriales
  •                 Family: Flexibacteraceae
  •                     Genus: Paenibacillus
  •                         Species: Paenibacillus larvae

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Paenibacillus is a genus of Gram-positive, facultative anaerobic, endospore-forming bacteria. Members of this genus were originally included in Bacillus, until reclassification separated them into a distinct genus in 1993 (Ash et al., 1993).

Paenibacillus larvae causes American foul brood in honeybees (Apis mellifera). Previously, American foul brood and powdery scale disease were considered distinct (Graaf et al., 2006), but this is no longer valid and the pathogenic agents, Paenibacillus larvae subsp. larvae and Paenibacillus larvae subsp. pulvifaciens, were reclassified as one species, Paenibacillus larvae (Genersch et al., 2006), although the subspecies are still referred to in the literature.


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American foul brood has a worldwide distribution (D’Alessandro et al., 2007) and cases have been reported in almost all the beekeeping regions of the five continents (Antúnez et al., 2004). It appears to be uncommon or even absent in significant parts of sub-Saharan Africa (Fries and Raina, 2003), but has been reported from some countries there (Hansen et al., 2003).

Studies have shown geographical clustering of different genotypes; for example Peters et al. (2006) reported non-random distribution of five different genotypes in the district of Arnsberg, Germany.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


ChinaPresentNäumann et al., 2012
IranPresentOIE, 2009
IraqPresentOIE, 2009
IsraelPresentOIE, 2009
JapanPresentOIE, 2009
LebanonPresentOIE, 2009
TaiwanPresentChen et al., 2008
ThailandPresentChen et al., 2008
TurkeyPresentOIE, 2009


AlgeriaPresentOIE, 2009
EgyptPresentAl-Fattah et al., 2010
Guinea-BissauPresentHansen et al., 2003First confirmed in 2001
South AfricaPresentHansen et al., 2003; Human et al., 2011First confirmed in 2001

North America

CanadaPresentOIE, 2009
MexicoPresentDjordjevic et al., 1994
USAPresentOIE, 2009

Central America and Caribbean

Costa RicaPresentOIE, 2009
CubaPresentOIE, 2009

South America

ArgentinaRestricted distributionAlippi, 1992; Alippi, 1997; OIE, 2009
BrazilPresentSchuch et al., 2003
ChilePresentOIE, 2009
UruguayPresentOIE, 2009


AustriaPresentOIE, 2009
BelgiumPresentOIE, 2009
Bosnia-HercegovinaPresentHadzimuratovic et al., 1986
BulgariaPresentOIE, 2009
CroatiaPresentOIE, 2009
CyprusPresentOIE, 2009
Czech RepublicPresentOIE, 2009
DenmarkPresentOIE, 2009
EstoniaPresentOIE, 2009
FinlandPresentOIE, 2009
FranceRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
GermanyPresentOIE, 2009
GreeceRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
HungaryPresentOIE, 2009
IrelandPresentOIE, 2009
ItalyPresentOIE, 2009
MacedoniaPresentOIE, 2009
MaltaAbsent, reported but not confirmedOIE, 2009
MontenegroPresentOIE, 2009
NetherlandsPresentOIE, 2009
PolandPresentOIE, 2009
PortugalPresentOIE, 2009
RomaniaPresentOIE, 2009
Russian FederationPresentOIE, 2009
SerbiaPresentOIE, 2009
SlovakiaPresentOIE, 2009
SloveniaPresentOIE, 2009
SpainRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
SwedenPresentOIE, 2009
SwitzerlandPresentOIE, 2009
UKPresentOIE, 2009


AustraliaPresentOIE, 2009
FijiPresentDjordjevic et al., 1994
New CaledoniaPresentOIE, 2009
New ZealandPresentOIE, 2009

Risk of Introduction

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P. larvae is already present in most regions where honey bees are kept, but spread on a more local level is still a concern.

It is the spores that are the infectious agent; they can be spread from colony to colony by transfer of wax, queens, combs or honey (OIE, 2013a).

Recent studies have also shown that small hive beetles (Aethina tumida) are vectors of P. larvae and should be considered in control programmes for American foul brood where both pests are present (Schäfer et al., 2010).

Robber bees may enter a hive that has become weakened by AFB infection and take contaminated honey back to their hives, so assisting disease spread to other colonies and apiaries. Studies have shown that transmission of AFB between apiaries can occur within 1 km from clinically-diseased colonies in the absence of robber bees, but over longer distances when they are present (Lindström et al., 2008).

The movement of bees, equipment and supplies worldwide has assisted in spreading bee diseases to all areas where bees are raised (OIE, undated).

Pathogen Characteristics

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P. larvae are Gram-positive, rod-shaped, round-ended and spore-forming bacteria. They are only visible under a high-power microscope. They vary greatly in size, being 0.5 μm wide and between 1.5 and 6 μm long; they occur both singly and in chains and filaments. Some strains are motile. Spores contaminate bee larval food and larvae ingest and become infected by the spores. The spores germinate in the larval gut and the vegetative bacteria are nourished by the larvae. Before the vegetative form of the bacterium dies, millions of spores are produced and can be spread to other bees. (OIE, 2013a; Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, undated).

Studies have shown geographical clustering of different genotypes. Peters et al. (2006) reported five different genotypes (AB, Ab, ab, aβ and A) in Arnsberg, Germany in studies between March 2003 and October 2004. Two genotypes were found in one hive and it was reported that the five genotypes were not randomly distributed in the district.

Host Animals

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Animal nameContextLife stageSystem
Apis (bees)Wild hostOther: Juvenile
Apis melliferaDomesticated host, Wild hostOther: Juvenile

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Food Yes Yes Chen et al., 2008
HitchhikerOn apiculture products or equipment Yes Yes Antúnez et al., 2010

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Host and vector organisms Yes Schäfer et al., 2010
Machinery and equipment Yes Yes ,

Vectors and Intermediate Hosts

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Aethina tumidaInsect

Economic Impact

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American foul brood is a serious disease of honey bees worldwide and causes considerable economic losses (Basualdo et al., 2008). This disease has caused a significant decrease in honeybee populations, beekeeping industries and agricultural production (Antúnez et al., 2010). Honey bees are important to the agricultural and horticultural sectors as pollinators -- the value of pollination is estimated to exceed the value of products from beehives many-fold (Delaplane and Mayer, 2000) -- so any disease causing decline in bee populations will have a significant impact on their role in these industries.

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

A decline in bee numbers has been attributed to American foul brood, amongst other bee diseases. Bee decline will have a significantly negative affect on pollination within habitats that rely on these insects for development (Delaplane and Mayer, 2000).

Impact on Biodiversity

A decline in native bees due to the spread of American foul brood will have a negative effect on bee biodiversity (Cuthbertson and Brown, 2009).

Social Impact

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The effect of American foul brood outbreaks on honeybee health will also have a significant impact on honey products and thus the livelihood of beekeepers.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Host damage
  • Increases vulnerability to invasions
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Pathogenic
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field


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Al-Fattah MAA; El-Awady M; Gelan MI; Barakat OS, 2010. Microbiological and molecular diagnosis of American foulbrood in honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies. Arab Journal of Biotechnology, 13(1):1-12.

Alippi A, 1997. Background on American foulbrood in Argentina. Bee World, 78(2):92-95.

Alippi AM, 1992. Characterization of Bacillus larvae White, the causative agent of American foulbrood of honey-bees. First record of its occurrence in Argentina. Revista Argentina de Microbiología, 24(2):67-72.

Alippi AM; Reynaldi FJ, 2006. Inhibition of the growth of Paenibacillus larvae, the causal agent of American foulbrood of honeybees, by selected strains of aerobic spore-forming bacteria isolated from apiarian sources. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 91(3):141-146.!&_cdi=6888&view=c&_acct=C000028398&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=3891418&md5=b373781fd57161cbb274352b09176e79

Antúnez K; Anido M; Evans JD; Zunino P, 2010. Secreted and immunogenic proteins produced by the honeybee bacterial pathogen, Paenibacillus larvae. Veterinary Microbiology, 141(3/4):385-389.

Antúnez K; D'Alessandro B; Piccini C; Corbella E; Zunino P, 2004. Paenibacillus larvae larvae spores in honey samples from Uruguay: a nationwide survey. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 86(1/2):56-58.

Antúnez K; Harriet J; Zunino P, 2008. Propolis as a natural alternative for the treatment of hives infected with spores of Paenibacillus larvae, causal agent of American foul brood. (Propóleos como alternativa natural para el tratamiento de colmenas infectadas con esporas de Paenibacillus larvae, agente causal de la Loque Americana.) Veterinaria (Montevideo), 43(171):9-14.

Ash C; Priest FG; Collins MD, 1993. Molecular identification of rRNA group 3 bacilli (Ash, Farrow, Wallbanks and Collins) using a PCR probe test. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 64(3/4):253-260.

Bastos EMAF; Simone M; Jorge DM; Soares AEE; Spivak M, 2008. In vitro study of the antimicrobial activity of Brazilian propolis against Paenibacillus larvae. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 97(3):273-281.

Basualdo M; Figini E; Torres J; Tabera A; Libonatti C; Bedascarrasbure E, 2008. Control of American foulbrood disease in Argentine commercial apiaries through the use of queens selected for hygienic behaviour. Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research, 6(2):236-240.

Bzdil J, 2007. Detection of Paenibacillus larvae spores in the debris and wax of honey bee by the Tween 80 method. Acta Veterinaria Brno, 76(4):643-648.

Chagas SS; Vaucher RA; Brandelli A, 2010. Detection of Paenibacillus larvae by real-time PCR. Acta Scientiae Veterinariae, 38(3):251-256.

Chen YueWen; Cheng HaoChun; Huang ChuenUei, 2008. American foulbrood spores in honey samples in Taiwan. Formosan Entomologist, 28(2):133-143.

Cherif A; Rezgui W; Raddadi N; Daffonchio D; Boudabous A, 2008. Characterization and partial purification of entomocin 110, a newly identified bacteriocin from Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. Entomocidus HD110. Microbiological Research, 163(6):684-692.

Chirila F; Fit N; Rapuntean S; Nadas G; Nistor AC, 2011. A study regarding the Paenibacillus larvae strains sensitivity isolated from some counties in Transylvania to different antibiotics and vegetal essential oils. Cluj Veterinary Journal, 19(1):60-64.

Cuthbertson AGS; Brown MA, 2009. Issues affecting British honey bee biodiversity and the need for conservation of this important ecological component. International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 6(4):695-699.

D'Alessandro B; Antúnez K; Piccini C; Zunino P, 2007. DNA extraction and PCR detection of Paenibacillus larvae spores from naturally contaminated honey and bees using spore-decoating and freeze-thawing techniques. World Journal of Microbiology & Biotechnology, 23(4):593-597.

DEFRA, 2011. Plant health, bee health and plant varieties and seeds. UK: Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, 12 pp.

Delaplane KS; Mayer DF, 2000. Crop pollination by bees. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing, xv + 344 pp.

Djordjevic S; Ho-Shon M; Hornitzky M, 1994. DNA restriction endonuclease profiles and typing of geographically diverse isolates of Bacillus larvae. Journal of Apicultural Research, 33(2):95-103.

Elzen P; Westervelt D; Causey D; Rivera R; Baxter J; Feldlaufer M, 2002. Control of oxytetracycline-resistant American foulbrood with tylosin and its toxicity to honey bees (Apis mellifera). Journal of Apicultural Research, 41(3/4):97-100.

FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency), 2013. Foulbrood disease of honey bees and other common brood disorders. Sand Hutton, UK: Food and Environment Research Agency, 37 pp.

Fries I; Suresh Raina, 2003. American foulbrood and African honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Journal of Economic Entomology, 96(6):1641-1646.

Genersch E; Forsgren E; Pentikäinen J; Ashiralieva A; Rauch S; Kilwinski J; Fries I, 2006. Reclassification of Paenibacillus larvae subsp. pulvifaciens and Paenibacillus larvae subsp. larvae as Paenibacillus larvae without subspecies differentiation. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, 56(3):501-511.

Gillard M; Charriere JD; Belloy L, 2008. Distribution of Paenibacillus larvae spores inside honey bee colonies and its relevance for diagnosis. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 99(1):92-95.

Goodwin RM; Perry JH; Brown P, 1993. American foulbrood disease part III: Spread. New Zealand Beekeeper, No. 219:7-10.

Graaf DC de; Alippi AM; Antúnez K; Aronstein KA; Budge G; Koker D de; Smet L de; Dingman DW; Evans JD; Foster LJ; Fünfhaus A; Garcia-Gonzalez E; Gregorc A; Human H; Murray KD; Bach Kim Nguyen; Poppinga L; Spivak M; Engelsdorp D van; Wilkins S; Genersch E, 2013. Standard methods for American foulbrood research. Journal of Apicultural Research, 52(1):52.1.11.

Graaf DC de; Alippi AM; Brown M; Evans JD; Feldlaufer M; Gregorc A; Hornitzky M; Pernal SF; Schuch DMT; Titera D; Tomkies V; Ritter W, 2006. Diagnosis of American foulbrood in honey bees: a synthesis and proposed analytical protocols. Letters in Applied Microbiology, 43(6):583-590.

Gurgulova K; Zhelyazkova I; Malinova K; Takova S, 2007. Disinfection of beekeeping objects with Huwa-san® TR 50. Zhivotnov'dni Nauki, 44(6):104-107.

Hadzimuratovic M; Nevjestic A; Rukavina L; Sabirovic M, 1986. Prevalence of bee and brood diseases in Bosnia and Hercegovina in the period 1980-1984. (Stanje rasprostranjenosti bolesti pcela i legla u periodu 1980-1984 godine u Bosni i Hercegovini.) Veterinarski Glasnik, 40(7/8):505-508.

Hansen H; Brødsgaard CJ; Kryger P; Nicolaisen M, 2003. A scientific note on the presence of Paenibacillus larvae larvae spores in sub-Saharan African honey. Apidologie, 34(5):471-472.

Human H; Pirk CWW; Crewe RM; Dietemann V, 2011. The honeybee disease American foulbrood - an African perspective. African Entomology, 19(3):551-557.

Invernizzi C; Rodríguez JP, 2007. Improvement in the health of the brood in bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies selected for hygienic behaviour. (Mejora en la sanidad de la cría en colonias de abejas (Apis mellifera L.) seleccionadas por comportamiento higiénico.) Veterinaria (Montevideo), 42(167):9-13.

James RR, 2011. Potential of ozone as a fumigant to control pests in honey bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) hives. Journal of Economic Entomology, 104(2):353-359.

Kloucek P; Smejkal K; Flesar J; Kokoska L; Titera D, 2008. Susceptibility of three Paenibacillus larvae strains to geranylflavonoids from Paulownia tomentosa. In: Proceedings of the Fifth Conference on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Southeast European Countries, (5th CMAPSEEC), Brno, Czech Republic, 2-5 September, 2008. Brno, Czech Republic: Mendel University of Agriculture and Forestry in Brno, 34 pp.

Lindström A; Korpela S; Fries I, 2008. Horizontal transmission of Paenibacillus larvae spores between honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies through robbing. Apidologie, 39(5):515-522.

Maggi M; Gende L; Russo K; Fritz R; Eguaras M, 2011. Bioactivity of Rosmarinus officinalis essential oils against Apis mellifera, Varroa destructor and Paenibacillus larvae related to the drying treatment of the plant material. Natural Product Research, 25(3/4):397-406.

Martínez J; Simon V; Gonzalez B; Conget P, 2010. A real-time PCR-based strategy for the detection of Paenibacillus larvae vegetative cells and spores to improve the diagnosis and the screening of American foulbrood. Letters in Applied Microbiology, 50(6):603-610.

Matheson A; Reid M, 1992. Strategies for the prevention and control of American foulbrood. American Bee Journal, 132(6;7;8):399-402;471-475;534-537,547.

Ministry for Primary Industries, 2013. What is American foulbrood? Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry for Primary Industries.

Munawar MS; Shazia Raja; Waghchoure ES; Muhammad Barkat, 2010. Controlling American Foulbrood in honeybees by shook swarm method. Pakistan Journal of Agricultural Research, 23(1/2):53-58.

Näumann G; Mahrt E; Himmelreich A; Mohring A; Frerichs H, 2012. Traces of contamination-well preserved in honey: investigation of veterinary drugs and American foulbrood in honeys of global origin. Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit, 7(1):35-43.

OIE (Office International des Epizooties), undated. Diseases of bees. Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties, 6 pp.

OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health), 2013. Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals. Paris, France: World Organisation for Animal Health.

OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health), 2013. Terrestrial Animal Health Code, edition 22. Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

OIE, 2009. World Animal Health Information Database - Version: 1.4. World Animal Health Information Database. Paris, France: World Organisation for Animal Health.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, undated. American Foul Brood. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, 2 pp.

Peters M; Kilwinski J; Beringhoff A; Reckling D; Genersch E, 2006. American foulbrood of the honey bee: occurrence and distribution of different genotypes of Paenibacillus larvae in the administrative district of Arnsberg (North Rhine-Westphalia). Journal of Veterinary Medicine. Series B, 53(2):100-104.

Roussenova NV, 2011. Antibacterial activity of essential oils against the etiology agent of American foulbrood disease (Paenibacillus larvae). Bulgarian Journal of Veterinary Medicine, 14(1):17-24.

Rumanovská K; Mudronová D; Toporcák J, 2011. Alternative methods of prevention of American foul brood - Part III: fatty acids. (Alternatívne metódy prevencie moru vcelieho plodu - III. Casthacek~: mastné kyseliny.) Slovenský Veterinársky Casopis, 36(1):19-20.

Sabaté DC; Carrillo L; Audisio MC, 2009. Inhibition of Paenibacillus larvae and Ascosphaera apis by Bacillus subtilis isolated from honeybee gut and honey samples. Research in Microbiology, 160(3):193-199.

Schuch DMT; Tochetto LG; Sattler A, 2003. Detection of Paenibacillus larvae subsp. larvae spores in Brazil. (Isolamento de esporos de Paenibacillus larvae subsp. larvae no Brasil.) Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira, 38(3):441-444.

Schäfer MO; Ritter W; Pettis J; Neumann P, 2010. Small hive beetles, Aethina tumida, are vectors of Paenibacillus larvae. Apidologie, 41(1):14-20.

Yoshiyama M; Kimura K, 2009. Bacteria in the gut of Japanese honeybee, Apis cerana japonica, and their antagonistic effect against Paenibacillus larvae, the causal agent of American foulbrood. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 102(2):91-96.


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World: IBRA, International Bee Research Association, Unit 6, Centre Court, Main Avenue, Treforest, RCT, CF37 5YR, UK,

World: OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health), 12, rue de Prony, 75017 Paris, France,

UK: British Beekeepers’ Association, National Beekeeping Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, CV8 2LG, UK,


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23/03/2012: Original text by:

Dr Claire Beverley, CABI, Nosworthy Way, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8DE, UK.

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