Beetles In The Bee Hive
The beekeeper walks out to the hive to perform a routine hive inspection. The top is removed in anticipation of being greeted by busy honey bees. But wait… what are those black beetles in the bee hive! Is this a big problem?
Yes, it sure can be a big problem. You have just met the Small Hive Beetle, Aethina tumidda, (SHB) to be exact.
This small, oval, black/brown beetle doesn’t sting or bite. Yet a large infestation of beetles in the bee hive can bring a strong hive to “its knees”.
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Tools of the Trade
What Is A Small Hive Beetle?
Small Hive Beetles originated in sub-saharan Africa. (And, Yes, before you ask – there IS a Large Hive Beetle. Let’s hope it stays in Africa.)
When we see beetle infestations in the beehive, this one is the culprit. You may see another type of beetle on occasion but it is the Small Hive Beetle that concerns beekeepers.
SHB infect most of the honey bee colonies found in their native area. But unlike here in the US, the Small Hive Beetle is not a major pest in Africa.
We don’t know how Small Hive Beetles made it to the United States. Most likely they came in with a package of bees or on a cargo ship.
They were first noticed in the Southeast during the late 1990’s. The beetles have spread to over 30 states since that time.
Though more numerous in the warm states, cold weather does not seem to deter beetle populations.
The type of soil found in any given area plays a bigger role than the average temperatures. Clay soils are less inviting to beetle reproduction. However, my soil is rock hard red clay and I have beetle issues. I even made a small tool to help.
Adult SHB are strong fliers traveling miles at a time. They tend to travel at night and locate bee hives by smell. (Who can blame them – a bee hive producing honey smells great!)
SHB often travel with bee swarms to new locations and you can get them in comb when you buy nucs.
Adults beetles do no real damage in the bee hive. Worker bees chase the beetles and corral them in corners. But the bees can not sting through the hard beetle shell. And eventually, many of the beetle escape!
Small Hive Beetle Life Cycle-
Adult Beetles In the Bee Hive Lay Eggs !
Laying masses of eggs in crack and crevices, female beetles can produce over 1000-2000 eggs. Beetle eggs look similar to honey bee eggs but smaller.
In addition to laying eggs in crack and crevices, beetles often puncture the cappings of brood cells and lay eggs inside to hide them from the bees.
Eggs hatch in 2-4 days and the beetle larvae feeds on pollen, honey and bee brood (developing baby bees).
Small Hive Beetle larvae grow to about 1/2 inch in length. They have 3 pair of well-developed legs at the front and row of nubby spines on their belly.
After 7-10 days of feeding, larval development is finished. The beetle larvae will crawl out of the front of the hive at night.
Most larva stay within 6 ft of the hive but they can go much farther if necessary. (Beetle larva has been known to crawl 30-40 feet across a concrete floor.)
Burrowing about 4″ deep in the soil, larvae develop into adults in 3-6 weeks.
The life cycle of the small hive beetles can vary greatly under good conditions. Beetles can live up to 6 months.
Reproduction stops in winter but adult beetles overwinter in the bee cluster. Being a tropical bug, they must have a way to avoid cold winter temperatures.
One of the most dastardly things about small hive beetles. They have developed the ability to stimulate a bee’s mouth-parts and receive food. So the honey bees, that are holding the beetles imprisoned, actually feed them. Sneaky beetles.
What to Do If You See Beetles In Your Hive
If you see Small Hive Beetles don’t freak out. A healthy strong colony can deal with a good many beetles. There is no industry threshold for how many beetles are too many. But we do know that bees can manage some beetles in the bee hive.
Small Hive Beetles are not usually the cause of collapse of a strong colony. However, they can put a lot of stress on the colony. Combined with mites, nutrition problems and other stresses, beetles can be the last straw.
If the colony drops in population due to swarming, queen issues or disease, this is when beetles in the bee hive become a problem.
There are several methods of fighting beetles and none are perfect. The best plan for most beekeepers is to keep beetle numbers in check. My basic rule : If I see more than 5 beetles, I put several beetle traps in my hive.
Small Hive Beetle Infestation
When the beetle population grows to big, the colony is in danger. Does the colony have a lot of space and too few bees to patrol it? This is a very bad situation for the honey bee colony.
A large number of adult beetles defecating in the honey can ruin a whole hive. Beetle droppings contain yeasts that cause honey to ferment. It may even run out of the cells. If you ever see honey running out of the front of your hive – that is not good.
The whole bee colony may abscond to escape this mess.
Sometimes, adult beetles hide their eggs. They will punch a hole in capped brood cells. Eggs are laid inside the brood cell. Beetle larva develop while feeding on the baby bee.
Honeycomb infested with beetle larva takes on a slick, slimy, shiny appearance. You will not see as much slime if the beetle larva are in the brood nest. But, the whole bee colony may abscond to escape this mess.
Why Are Small Hive Beetles Not A Major Problem in Africa ?
Our European honey bees chase adult beetles but they tend to ignore beetle larva.
Africanized bees are more likely to remove beetle larva. They will open brood cells containing beetle larva and the larva. This hygienic behavior may be why Africanized bees are better able to tolerate beetles in the beehive.
How Do I Know If I Have Beetles In My Bee Hive ?
The most common method of detecting beetles is actually seeing them. Beetles don’t like sunlight and will run when exposed to light. When you remove your inner cover, look quickly on the bottom of it. Have a hive tool ready to squish any beetle that you see.
The bees will try to help you. Don’t ignore beetle issues. Seeing a couple is no reason for panic. However, more than a few beetles in the bee hive are a good reason to develop a beetle battle plan. (BBP).
Important Considerations of Any BBP
Beetle larvae pupate more easily in moist soil. Most beekeepers in “beetle country” try to place bee hives in full sun. I keep grass and debris away from my hive stands. It does not look very pretty but I want any beetle larvae to find hard, red clay upon leaving the hive.
The standard recommendation to fight beetle problems is keeping strong hives. However, strong hives can be overcome by beetles too.
Beekeepers sometimes make things worse by opening hives too often. (this releases trapped beetles).
Do you like to feed your bees pollen patties? Extreme care must be used when using pollen patties to feed bees when beetles are present. The pollen patty must be small enough to be consumed within 2 0r 3 days. Otherwise, your pollen patty may become a beetle hotel.
More Tips On Dealing With Beetles in The Hive
*Be careful when using bee escapes to harvest honey – unprotected comb is at risk
*Don’t give your bees more space than they can patrol – don’t over super
*Don’t leave harvested honey sitting around for days before extracting – there could be beetle eggs on the comb
*Set Small Hive Beetle Traps in your beehive
Upon finding beetles in the bee hive, and you probably will, don’t panic. Read, learn and prepare for beetles.
Click Here for More Ideas on How to Deal with Hive Beetles
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