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Small Hive Beetles-A Pest of Honey Bees

Small Hive Beetles are a major problem for beekeepers in the southern regions of the United States. Some beekeepers are surprised to find these little black beetles running around inside the hive. Why would this bug want to live in a box with thousands of stinging bees? A few beetles are annoying, a large infestation can spell disaster. Understanding this pest of honey bee colonies is the first step to protecting our hives.

What is a Small Hive Beetle?

Single adult small hive beetle infesting a colony image.

The scientific name for the Small Hive Beetle is Aethina tuimdda – often abbreviated as (SHB). They originated in sub-saharan Africa. (And, Yes, before you ask – there IS a Large Hive Beetle. Let’s hope it stays in Africa.)

Small Hive Beetles infect most of the honey bee colonies found in their native area. But unlike here in the US, they are not a major pest in Africa. The bees have evolved to handle this hive pest.

We don’t know how Small Hive Beetles made it to the United States.  Most likely they came in with bees bought and shipped from an infested region or on a cargo ship. While not as big a problem as Varroa Mites, Small Hive Beetles do cause many colony deaths each year.

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But, don’t panic if you notice only a few in the hive.  You can help protect your colonies by learning more about this pest of honey bees.

Hive Beetles in Southern US

First noticed in the Southeast during the late 1990’s, hive beetles have spread to many states since that time.  Though more numerous in the warm states, cold weather does not seem to completely eliminate them.

Once they arrive in the region, 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.  Beekeepers living in a region with sandy soil can expect more problems with beetles.

Yet, my soil is rock hard red clay and I still have some beetle issues. I can only imagine what the fight would be like in softer soil.

Signs of Hive Beetle Infestations

How do you know if you have Small Hive Beetles?

  • seeing adult beetles
  • shb larvae on bottom board
  • adults running on comb

The most common method of detection of Small Hive Beetles is actually seeing them. They don’t like sunlight and will run when exposed to light. Don’t confuse them with another insect you may see in the hive – earwigs.

When you open a hive for any reason, be prepared to observe and take action. As you remove your inner cover, look quickly on the bottom of it. A colony with a significant infestation will likely have dozens scrambling to escape to the dark areas of the hive.

Have a hive tool ready to squish any beetle that you see. Seeing a couple is no reason for panic. However, more than a few beetles (5-10) are a good reason to develop a beetle battle plan.

Another place to watch for signs of hive beetle infestations is your bottom board. Beetles are attracted to wax cappings that fall to the floor.

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If you see developing larvae in the debris of a solid bottom board – it’s time for a close look inside the hive. But don’t panic, you can have a few grubs here and no real problem in the comb. Just clean the debris off.

Once a major infestation is underway, it may be too late to save your colony. Adult SHB running rampant on the comb with beetle larva in the wax cells is a sign of impending disaster.

Small Hive Beetle Life Cycle

While adult beetles do little harm inside the hive, they are looking for a place to reproduce. The bees will chase them but if colony population is weak, the beetles may be successful.

Females can lay masses of beetle eggs in cracks and crevices at the rate of 1000-2000. Beetle eggs look similar to honey bee eggs but smaller.

In addition to laying eggs in cracks 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 feed on bee 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. Larvae group together near the hive entrance and after dark leave the hive. Their goal is to burrow into the soil ( about 4″ deep) near the hive (usually within 3 feet).

But if the soil condition is not ideal, they are capable of crawling much farther – over 200 yards even. Here they will pupate – the pupa going through several stages to develop into an adult beetle. The cycle begins anew.

The life cycle of the Small Hive Beetle can vary greatly under good conditions.  Time from egg to adult beetle can be very short. And, beetles can live up to 6 months. This is why with the right conditions SHB populations can explode.

Hive beetle with larva in hive debris image.

Over Winter in the Bee Cluster

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.

Small Hive Beetles have another “dastardly” trait. 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.

And, because beekeeper tasks in Winter don’t involved deep hive inspections. We often have no idea those beetles are there – ready to reproduce once Spring comes.

Large Beetle Infestations Kill Beehives

When the hive beetle population grows too big, the colony is in danger.  Does the honey bee colony have a lot of space and too few bees to patrol it?  This is a very bad situation for the bees.

When the situation gets really bad, a large number of adult beetles & larva defecating in the honey can ruin a whole hive.

Beetle droppings contain yeasts that cause honey to ferment. You may even have fermenting honey running out of the hive entrance.  The whole bee colony may abscond to escape this mess.

Beetle infestation with slimed honeycomb and larva image.

First Steps To Hive Beetle Control

Combined with varroa mites, nutrition problems and other stresses, beetles can be the last straw. Many of the things we could do to kill beetles will also harm honey bees. Care must be taken when using methods that have not been studied and approved for use.

Any situation that causes a drop in bee population opens the door for problems: swarming, queen problems, disease, etc.

My basic rule : If I see more than 5 beetles, it is time to put traps and treatment options into place. Using traps with other management practices is the best thing we have right now.

But there are some management techniques you can use to help your colonies:

  • use beetle traps before things get out of hand
  • keep the area around the hive base clean and dry
  • keep hive populations strong – avoid weak hives
  • minimize inspections during beetle season
  • use pollen patties with care

Early Trap Placement

Most beekeepers experience beetle problems from Early Summer into Late Fall. Do not delay putting traps into your hive. There are several types of hive beetle traps and many are inexpensive.

Clean Area Around Hive Base

Beetle larvae pupate more easily in moist soil. Most beekeepers in “beetle country” try to place beehives in full sun. Avoid tall grasses or thick layers of moisture protecting mulch around your hive bases. Find something more suitable to put under your hives.

My bee yard will not win any awards for it’s beauty but beetle larva will only find hard, red clay upon leaving the hive. Keep your colonies on hive stands raised up off the ground. This can help keep the area underneath drier.

Keep Strong Hive Populations

The standard recommendation to fight hive beetle problems is keeping strong hives. In fact, this method of hive management helps in many ways. Strong hives are less likely to be overcome by beetles and can also protect themselves against – bee robbing.

Limit Hive Inspections

We beekeepers unwittingly help the hive beetles.  During hive inspections (which we must do), beetles are able to escape their corners.  Then ,the bees have to round them up again.

Limit unnecessary inspections during hive beetle season. Beekeepers sometimes make things worse by opening hives too often. Inspect when you need to know what is happening but don’t overdo it.

Pollen Patties Can Be a Disaster

Do you like to feed your bees pollen patties? In beetle areas, extreme care must be taken when using pollen patties.

The pollen patty must be small enough to be consumed within 2 or 3 days. Otherwise, your pollen patty may become a hive beetle hotel. They are very attracted to the odor of pollen.

Infographic chart of beehive management tips for controlling hive beetles.

Protecting the Honey Harvest

Besides finding them in the hive, Small Hive Beetle larvae pose another problem for beekeepers. Boxes of honey that have just been harvested from the hives should be extracted within a day or two. Otherwise, any beetle eggs in the comb may hatch and destroy your entire crop. Don’t leave honey supers sitting in the honey house for weeks waiting for extraction.

Upon finding beetles in your hive, and you probably will, don’t panic.  Squish them if possible.  And, use hive management techniques such as placement to give your colony their best chance. Help bees – help themselves.

Common Questions About Small Hive Beetles

What does a Small Hive Beetle look like?

These pests are easy to identify. They are small black beetles running around on the frames or under the inner cover. Larger numbers can be found on the comb.

How big are Small Hive Beetles?

An adult SHB measures about 1/4″ long and is dark-brown to black. The size of the beetles in the hive can vary. It is not uncommon to see larger and smaller beetles on a single frame.

How do Small Hive Beetles enter the hive?

SHB are strong fliers – traveling miles at a time. They tend to travel at night and locate beehives by smell. (Who can blame them – a beehive producing honey smells great!) 

This hard shelled hive beetle walks right in the front door. They are very mobile too. SHB often travel with bee swarms to new locations. 

You can also get them inside a hive when you buy full-sized hives or nucs.  This is why is it so important to only buy hives or frames of comb from beekeepers you trust.

Why don’t bees throw the beetles out of the hive?

Beetles are able to tuck their antenna and legs under their body, the bees find the difficult to remove. 

Honey bee stingers can not penetrate the hard beetle shell. Worker bees chase the beetles and corral them in corners. But eventually, many of the beetles escape their prison!

How many Small Hive Beetles are too many?

A healthy strong colony can deal with a some beetles. There is no industry threshold for how many beetles are too many. But, seeming more than 10 or so is cause for action.

How to know if comb damage is from Hive Beetles or Wax Moths?

Beetle larva do not destroy the honey comb like wax moth larva. Moth larva tunnel through comb leaving “frass”, droppings and webbing.

Honeycomb infested with Small Hive Beetle larva takes on a slick, slimy, shiny appearance. Unless the beetle larva are in the brood nest where less honey is stored.

Why Small Hive Beetles are not a 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 larvae from the hive. 

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22 Comments

  1. You showed a beetle trap. What construction pieces did you use to trap the beetles. (I.e. type and size bottle, type, size, and length of tubing, bait in bottle, etc. )

  2. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    That wasnt actually a trap, it was just a homemade device to remove them. Beetle jails are some of the best traps to use.

  3. Hi Charlotte,

    Would you recommend leaving the beetle jails in year round? I am up in the NorthEast Region during the winter months?

    Thanks,

    Walt

  4. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Hi Walter, I doubt they would do any good because the beetles will stay in the cluster with the bees. But, I cant think of a reason that it would hurt anything.

  5. Unscented Dryer sheets, (yes, the ones for clothes) work too, as well as Swiffer pads….Cut it into smaller squares about 4×4. Then place them right on top of the uppermost frames in the corners. I use a small staple for dryer sheets. The bees know this is not supposed to be in the hive, so the grab and pull at the fibers….Fluffing it up, when it gets fluffed, the beetles can check in but get stuck. The bees seem to catch on to this quickly, and will chase them down into the traps……Old Farmers trick passed down to me…..Works for me and very inexpensive.

  6. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Yes, I do know some folks who use them. The whole dryer sheet thing didnt work well for me (and I am still a bit concerned about chemicals) but if it works for you – awesome. Anything to stop the beetles.

  7. RogerMontague says:

    Fortunately I’ve never seen but a handful in my hives. I try to keep the bees healthy and in a space they can defend

  8. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Yes, not giving the bees more space than they can control is key to Hive Beetle control 🙂

  9. Jay Nolte says:

    Thank you Charlotte as I continuously learn from you. As well as the beekeepers who ask questions.

  10. Guy Taylor says:

    Hello Charlotte – This is more a curiosity and I hope you know the answer as I have struggled to find it. If you leave full honey frames out for too long the SHB eggs have a chance to hatch and ruin the honey. However, if you extract ASAP that is not a problem. So, why is it SHB eggs will hatch if in or on the frame, but not is a sea of extracted honey?

  11. Charlotte Anderson says:

    That’s a great question and I wish I had a for sure answer. Instead, I will say that due to the viscosity of honey, I image any eggs in it would be dehydrated by the honey pulling moisture out of them and may them not viable. However, this is just a swag on my part.

  12. Here in Indiana I struggle with the SHB. I originally put mulch below my bees. I am now removing it. I’ll let you know if that cuts down my SHB issue.

  13. Charlotte Anderson says:

    I can not promise it will make a noticeable difference alone. I do know that having mulch and damp areas right around your hive makes it easier for beetle larva to pupate.

  14. W. Barlowe says:

    After inspection today I saw one larve about 1 inch long fall from my frame when I tilted it over. It had to be hive beetle larve. I’ve killed about 10 small hive beetles in my hive in past month. I didn’t think that was too bad. I have beetle traps on. What do you think that means that I had that big larve in my hive.

  15. Charlotte Anderson says:

    I wouldnt panic over a couple of larva. Both hive beetles and wax moths sometime find protected places where a larva can develop. As long you are not seeing an abundance of adult beetles, you should be okay. Chances are the larva was a moth larva – I have that happen sometimes between frames.
    https://carolinahoneybees.com/wax-moths-in-bee-hives/

  16. Karl Walden says:

    When feeding pollen patties place a beetle trap on both sides of the patties .

  17. David Herbert Rosenbaum says:

    Have you had any experience with nematodes applied to the soil under the hive?

  18. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Beekeepers in my area were not successful using nematodes. Perhaps our hard clay soil played a role. I have heard other beekeepers say nematodes can be one part of a multi step process to control beetles.

  19. Peter Hadeka says:

    I have coated the ground around my hives with a liberal dose of garden powdered limestone. This is a trick that I learned from a friend that visited beekeepers in Cuba, thats what works for them. The SHB do not like the lime. Another thing to consider is not leaving burr comb scrapings in the nearby bushes or on the ground near the apiary. Take them away. The less smell around the hive the better. SHB are generally not a problem in VT. but many bees are imported from the south, that have beetles. As Rose Ann a Danna would say “it’s always something”

  20. Ursula Herz says:

    I love your newsletter. It makes always sense.
    I have a picture that I caught on a native rudbeckia of a “ harlequin” ??? beetle competing with the bees.
    I tried to send it but it came back undelivered He disguises himself in the colors of the plant and some brown.
    If interested tell me how to share it.
    Thanks for all the good work
    Ursula

  21. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Thank you. I would love to see your picture. Try sending it to [email protected]

  22. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Thanks Peter, and yes Rosaanna is right – it is always something LOL

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