Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Melissococcus plutonius



Melissococcus plutonius


  • Last modified
  • 08 March 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Melissococcus plutonius
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Bacteria
  •   Phylum: Firmicutes
  •     Class: Bacilli
  •       Order: Lactobacillales
  •         Family: Enterococcaceae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Melissococcus plutonius is the aetiological agent of European foul brood, an important disease of honey bees which is found on all continents where Apis mellifera is kept; it also affects A. cerana...

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Melissococcus plutonius (Trüper and de' Clari, 1998)

Other Scientific Names

  • Melissococcus pluton
  • Streptococcus pluton White

EPPO code

  • MELKPL (Melissococcus pluton)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Melissococcus plutonius is the aetiological agent of European foul brood, an important disease of honey bees which is found on all continents where Apis mellifera is kept; it also affects A. cerana. European foul brood is on the list of diseases notifiable to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the disease and pathogen are included in the Invasive Species Compendium for that reason.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Bacteria
  •     Phylum: Firmicutes
  •         Class: Bacilli
  •             Order: Lactobacillales
  •                 Family: Enterococcaceae
  •                     Genus: Melissococcus
  •                         Species: Melissococcus plutonius

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Studies carried out by Bailey and Collins, published in the early 1980s, concentrated on the taxonomy and reclassification of the causal agent of European foul brood disease. The authors reported that Streptococcus pluton strains isolated from European-foul-brood-infected honeybee larvae in broadly separate parts of the world were all related serologically, and thus represented a fairly homogenous taxon (Bailey and Collins, 1982b). The results of tests indicated that the strains should constitute the nucleus of a new genus, Melissococcus.

In the same volume of the Journal of Applied Bacteriology, Bailey and Collins (1982a) announced the reclassification of Streptococcus pluton in the new genus, proposing Melissococcus pluton (White) nom. rev.: comb. nov. as the one species within that genus.

Trüper and Clari (1998) corrected the name to Melissococcus plutonius to meet the requirements of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.


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European foul brood disease is distributed worldwide (Forsgren et al., 2013) on all continents where Apis mellifera is kept; it also affects A. cerana (FAO, 2006). The Distribution table contains records only for those countries where records are readily available, so it should not be taken as an exhaustive list of where the disease is present.

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.

Risk of Introduction

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

Infection can be spread by natural movement of bees, but the main cause of spread is the movement of bees and equipment by beekeepers (FERA, 2013).

Many larvae infected by the bacterium are detected by nurse bees and removed from the cells; however, some infected larvae do survive and successfully pupate and emerge as adults. These surviving larvae exacerbate disease propagation by expelling faeces infected with the bacteria (OIE, 2013a).

In a study of spatial distribution of M. plutonius in adult honey bees, Belloy et al. (2007) stated that in over 90% of colonies without European foul brood symptoms located in apiaries with symptoms, the bees were carriers of the bacterium. Thirty percent of colonies in apiaries without European foul brood symptoms, but near apiaries with symptoms, contained bees carrying M. plutonius. An increase in the proportion of adult bees carrying M. plutonius in colonies without symptoms was observed when there was a decrease in distance to apiaries with clinical European foul brood symptoms. Obviously pathways such as this have to be considered when control methods are put into practice.

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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Melissococcus plutonius is the cause of European foul brood. It occurs singly, in longitudinal chains or in clusters. It is morphologically similar to the secondary invader, Enterococcus faecalis (OIE, 2013a).

Paenibacillus alvei, Bacterium eurydice and Enterococcus faecalis are often associated with EFB, but as secondary invaders, not the cause of the disease. P. alvei has vegetative rods 2-7 x 0.8-1.2 um, with flagella. It sporulates with spores lying adjacently and both rods and spores are larger than those of P. larvae (the causal agent of American foul brood) (OIE, 2013a). B. eurydice is a slender and square-ended rod in vivo, but can form chains of cocci in vitro in certain media. E. faecalis closely resembles M. plutonius morphologically and grows well in vitro under the conditions suitable for M. plutonius, but it may be readily differentiated by its ability to grow aerobically (OIE, 2013a).

Vectors and Intermediate Hosts

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Varroa destructorMite

Economic Impact

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Honey bees are important to agriculture and horticulture as pollinators, and European foul brood is a very serious and infectious disease (FERA, 2013). The value of pollination is estimated to exceed the value of products from beehives many-fold (Delaplane and Mayer, 2000). Any disease that causes a significant decrease in honeybee population is likely to have an adverse effect on the beekeeping industry and agricultural production.

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

Bee decline will have a significantly negative affect on pollination in habitats that rely on these insects for development. The value of pollination is estimated to exceed the value of products from beehives many-fold (Delaplane and Mayer, 2000).

Impact on Biodiversity

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

Social Impact

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The effect of European 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 Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Host damage
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
  • Damages animal/plant products
Impact mechanisms
  • Pathogenic
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field


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Bailey L; Collins MD, 1982. Reclassification of 'Streptococcus pluton' (White) in a new genus Melissococcus, as Melissococcus pluton nom. rev.; comb. nov. Journal of Applied Bacteriology, 53:215-217.

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Belloy L; Imdorf A; Fries I; Forsgren E; Berthoud H; Kuhn R; Charrière JD, 2007. Spatial distribution of Melissococcus plutonius in adult honey bees collected from apiaries and colonies with and without symptoms of European foulbrood. Apidologie, 38(2):136-140.

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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.

Distribution Maps

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