How do You Treat Small Hive Beetles?
Small Hive Beetle traps and treatments are hot topics of conversation among Southern beekeepers. Those of us who live in these regions, understand the serious risks posed by these honey bee pests . Hive beetle control can be difficult to manage. The key to protecting your bees is the keep the beetle population low.
If you are a beekeeper who does not know what Small Hive Beetles are – that’s great, maybe you don’t have them in your area – yet.
For many of us, who live in the warmer regions of the US, Small Hive Beetles are something we can not ignore. These small black bugs can become a big problem – year round!
Many area beekeepers lose beehives each year due to hive beetle infestations. Does this mean you should “freak out” when you see one or two of them?
No, but you should always be on guard and monitor the situations in your colonies. Perform regular hive inspections to keep track of any problems inside the hive.
In my region, seeing 5 or 6 beetles inside a strong hive is no reason for concern. However, if I begin to notice 10 or more, I take action.
Hive Beetle Control Of Adult Beetles
A relatively new pest for US beekeepers, hive beetles are originally from Africa. This is why they are primarily a pest of the warmer sections of the country.
You can imagine the challenges of trying to keep a tiny flying beetle out of a beehive – while allowing the honey bees to come and go. Though some folks are working on this idea.
The adult beetles do no damage to the colony. They fly into the beehive looking for a place to lay eggs on the wax comb.
If the bee colony does not have enough workers to patrol all the comb inside, those eggs hatch into beetle larvae.
It is the larval phase of the Small Hive Beetle that causes damage. Small Hive Beetle larvae are small white grubs.
They are similar in appearance to the larvae of the Wax Moth. But hive beetle larva have spines along the length of the body and 3 pair of distinct legs on the anterior end.
Beetle larvae eat honey, pollen and young developing bees leaving behind feces that causes honey to ferment. Sometimes, fermented honey will run out of the front of the hive.
The frames of comb inside the hive become covered with a clear slime. A large population of beetle larvae can take down a beehive in just a few days. Yes – days!
Once Small Hive Beetle larvae reach a certain size, they leave the hive and burrow into the soil to pupate. Adult beetles emerge and the cycle begins again.
If conditions get really bad, your whole colony of bees may decide to abscond or leave the hive.
Why Hive Beetle Traps are Important
Prevention is the best method of hive beetle control. Preventing adults from laying eggs in the hive results in no developing beetle larvae.
This is where our arsenal of hive beetle traps and control strategies come into play. We want to prevent the adult beetles from laying eggs in the first place.
What do You Put in the Hive Beetle Trap?
Most traps have special compartments that allow you to place a type of oil to prevent the adult beetle from escaping.
Common oils are : vegetable oil, mineral oil or a special beetle oil that is supposed to serve as an attractant.
Small Hive Beetle Trap Recommendations
There are many different types of small hive beetle traps, rims and shims on the market. Most of them have several compartments.
The idea is to lure the adult hive beetle inside the trap – where they will not be able to get out.
Attractants of various types of beetle bait are often placed inside the trap. And, the use of mineral oil to trap and suffocate beetles is common as well.
Those of us in regions where this pest is common, often keep a trap or 2 in the hive during the Summer.
If you think you may be headed for trouble, place several traps in each box of the hive.
The Beetle Jail – ReUsable Beetle Trap
The Beetle Jail – is currently my favorite hive beetle trap. It is re-usable – though kinda gnarly to wash out. But I do like the fact that is reusable – less waste or dis-guarded plastic in the landfill!
Beetle jails are designed to hang between the frames inside the hive. It is a sturdy trap and sits recessed between the top bars.
There are 3 compartments and 2 of them have a small slit in the top. As bees chase the adult beetles- the beetles hopefully scurry inside the slit.
Fill the 2 larger compartments about 1/3 – 1/2 full of mineral oil, vegetable oil or beetle oil.
Take care when installing and removing – you do not want to spill oil in the hive.
Some beekeepers report success in using DE or Diatomaceous Earth in the larger compartments instead of oil. If you try this, be careful – DE also kills bees.
The smaller middle compartment can be used for bait – though I normally don’t bother. You can add a bit of pollen, or some apple cider vinegar for beetle bait.
A Disposable Beetle Trap – Beetle Blaster
This disposable beetle trap, known as the Beetle Blaster ,was designed by an American Company. Mr. Laurence Cutts is a lifetime beekeeper and retired Florida State apiary inspector.
He is also a heck of a nice guy (whom I had the pleasure to meet one time) and he knows more than I could ever hope to about Small Hive Beetles.
This trap hangs between the frames much like the Beetle Jail. It should also be partially filled with oil but has no compartment for bait.
Not as sturdy or reusable as the beetle jail, this trap is less expensive and design to throw away.
Sonny-Mel Beetle Trap – Homemade Option
This homemade beetle trap has been successful in some locations. Use a small plastic sandwich container and drill small 1/8″ holes around the sides – not quite at the bottom.
Add a layer of mineral oil inside the box. Also, glued inside the box is another small container (often a bottle cap). Inside the bottle cap a liquid beetle bait is placed.
Use the following beetle bait recipe:
- 1 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- peel of 1 ripe banana- chopped into small pieces
Allow the beetle bait recipe to ferment for a couple of days before adding to the trap. The trap is placed on the top bars inside the hive.
Of course, this make it necessary to place a shim (wooden frame) or extra super on the hive to make space.
Oil Traps Used to Catch Beetles
Some beekeepers experience success with oil traps placed under the hive. These trays (with oil inside or even DE) are placed under a screened bottom board.
Notable models are the West Trap and the Freeman Beetle Trap. Both fit under the hive and contain a tray to hold the oil or DE.
Beetle larva (and maybe some varroa) will fall into the trap and be unable to leave.
I don’t prefer this type of trap due to the expense and mess but you may like to give it a try.
Swiffer Pads and Dryer Sheets for Beetle Control
A newcomer in Small Hive Beetle traps is the use of pads. These pads are placed on the top bars inside the hive.
As, the bees try to remove them from the hive it causes the pad to become very fuzzy – and grabby. Adult beetles become trapped in the fuzz -but most bees escape.
Some beekeepers experience success with the use of unscented dryer sheets or unscented Swiffer Pads as hive beetle traps.
These can be effective, I have tried the Swiffer pads and the commercial bee pads and found both to work. My issue with them is that they do catch and kill some bees.
And for myself, they made the already stuck together boxes harder to separate. Keep in mind that we do not know the effect on the bees from any chemicals in the sheets.
How to Get Rid of Hive Beetles?
We will probably never be rid of Small Hive Beetles in the environment. Our hope is to limit the damage they cause inside our beehives.
One of the best beekeeper strategies for Small Hive Beetle control involves keeping strong colonies. A hive with a large bee population is better able to deal with beetles.
Can Bees Sting Hive Beetles?
Honey bees can sting mammals and other bees. However, the bee stinger can not penetrate the hard shell of the Small Hive Beetles.
Our bees do not have the capacity to kill adult Hive Beetles. They can only chase them throughout the hive.
Why Don’t Bees Throw Hive Beetles Out?
Small Hive Beetles can “hunker down” and tuck in their head and legs. The best our bees can do is to corral the beetles into corners. Here, the worker stands guard and prevents the beetles’ escape.
Practice “Clean Beekeeping”
While working in the bee yard, don’t throw down bits of wax and other hive debris. This practice attract beetles, skunks and other predators. And the aroma, encourages beetles.
Periodically clean any accumulated debris off your bottom board. Otherwise, you will have beetle larva growing inside your hive on the bottom board.
Hive Placement to Deter Small Hive Beetles
Adult Small Hive Beetles prefer hives in shady locations. Therefore, placing hives in the sun may be of some benefit.
Here in South Carolina, I place my hives in full sun. It gets hot! But the hot, red, clay soil discourages larva development. Fewer larva survive to pupate in the hard dry soil.
Keep your hives up on a stand. It is easier on your back while managing your hive. And, it is easier to keep the area around the base of the beehive clean – don’t use mulch.
Other Methods of Controlling Small Hive Beetles
Avoid Giving Bees too Much Space
Resist the temptation to “over-super” your colonies. Beehives with a lot of boxes must have a large enough population to patrol all of the comb surface.
Once the beetle population grows, no amount of hive beetle traps will be able to make a difference.
Small Hive Beetle Ground Treatments
Gardstar is applied as a soil drench that prevents larva development. Application may last 30 days depending on soil type, ph and rain. It is not effective in areas with a lot of rainfall.
Nematodes: If beetles are a big problem in your area, you many consider the use of nematodes. Beneficial predatory nematodes are commercially available to add to your soil.
This method has not worked well in my hard clay soil but you may have better results where you live. You can not use any nematodes – some varieties do a better job of grub control.
Chemical Control – Last Ditch Effort
Checkmite+ (coumaphos) is an approved treatment for Small Hive Beetles. The chemical strips are placed inside small boxes with slits.
Considered a “hard” chemical, I don’t know any beekeepers who use it. I would not use this in my hives.
Final Thoughts on Controlling Small Hive Beetles
There is no perfect way to get rid of Small Hive Beetles. Our goal is to limit the adult beetles inside the hive. Thus limiting the number of beetle larvae present to do damage.
The beekeeper must instead strive to keep healthy strong colonies, make good decisions on hive placement and strive to keep beetle numbers under control.
Prevention is key to success if you live in “beetle country” – keep those beetle numbers low or no amount of Small Hive Beetle traps will save you.