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Taking small hive beetles seriously

Home Forums HoneyLove Forum Taking small hive beetles seriously

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    Tyson Kaiser

    I’ve been noticing some evidence of small hive beetles in 3 out of 4 hives I’m seeing lately, whether feral or managed. They are new to the California scene and haven’t been here in any real numbers until last year, probably as a result of migratory hives being brought into the state. They’ve set up very well in Florida, the overwintering home of migratory beekeepers, and have made a real nuisance of themselves so far. They’ve previously spread into Canada before management practices were able to keep them at bay. It has been stated before that small hive beetles may not be able to spread into non-tropical areas, but considering that they have spread to states like New York and Pennsylvania, latitude probably has little to do with the spread of SHB. This year has been especially tough for local hives and that may have a lot to do with an increase in SHB, allowing them to gain a real toehold in our environment.

    While I haven’t seen more than one or two at a time and this seems manageable the real damage comes not from the beetles themselves but the larva that chew through the inside of the comb, undetected. Eggs are laid in parts of the hive bodies that are underutilized and lightly patrolled. Once the eggs hatch the larva crawl in and chew through the central part of the comb, making infestation identification difficult. Once the established, the larva consume comb and defecate in the storage cells. The honey exposed to fecal matter begins to ferment, and is said to smell somewhat of molding oranges. Once SMB has strongly established in a colony, usually one under stress, the larva become overwhelming for the bees to eradicate, the honey in the hive spoils completely and bees are said to abscond. By the time the hive has open crawling larva on the comb, it’s probably too late.

    SHB originate from sub-Saharan Africa where they possibly had some sort of balance with local populations of bees, likely A. mellifera scutellata. They appear to take advantage of weaker hives but considering A. mellifera from Europe have had no contact with SHB until recently, they may not have developed much of a hygienic behavior towards them and can easily be bypassed. Indeed, many people are reporting that even strong hives are being overrun.

    Perhaps the only good news that can be had in this situation is that small hive beetles can be controlled without resorting to treatment but rather physically trapping them. Various plans exist for oil traps that are either based on screened bottoms, or using corrugated plasticboard and cooking oil as attractants, in order to drown beetles. While it doesn’t appear that SHB have arrived to the point where it is a big threat, if the population increases we may see beetle infestations that can run out of control, even for our feral bees.

    A few years’ time should tell the tale.

    • This topic was modified 6 years, 8 months ago by Tyson Kaiser.
    Ruth Askren

    This is surprising and disappointing, but considering the evidence it seems you have indeed pinpointed a new predator we need to be on the lookout for. I have only ever seen a solo hive beetle here or there, much like moths… Questions:
    If we make sure the bees are inhabiting and building in all parts of their hives, do you think that will be enough to ward it off at this time? I already have that policy to keep the moths away. And, do the shb’s build up in spring along side the bees, or are they on some other schedule?

    Tyson Kaiser

    It seems from what I am reading that having a heavily populated hive isn’t enough in itself to necessarily stop SHB. They tend to crawl into the 90 degree angles inside the hive and even “allow” themselves to be trapped by guard bees. This is where it gets really weird: the area they get stuck in is called the “prison” and bees will actually post guards on duty to keep the hive beetle from moving. The hive beetle can then stay alive long enough to lay eggs by using its antenna to groom the bees for feeding. The bees will regurgitate some food on impulse, thereby prolonging the beetle’s life and stay.

    So bizarre…

    There’s a really interesting article in pdf form on the lifecycle of these critters, but woefully I’m having a hard time understanding seasonal build up. One thing that does become clear is that hives located close to the ground are at greater risk from being overrun, so roof hives may be a safer bet in the event SHB become “popular” in the LA area.


    Tyson Kaiser
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