If you are a beekeeper in the Southern region of the US, you are most likely familiar with Small Hive Beetles (also called SHB). This pest of honey bee hives poses some serious risks to our colonies. Hive Beetle control can be a difficult task. Small Hive Beetle traps and good hive management are the first lines of defense used by most beekeepers. The key to protecting your bees is the keep the beetle population low.
How to Get Rid of Small Hive Beetles
For many of us, who live in the warmer regions of the US, Small Hive Beetles are something we can not ignore. Most colonies will end up with some beetles eventually.
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They can be a big problem, area beekeepers lose colonies 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 condition of your colonies. Performing regular hive inspections, especially in the warm months, is very important.
Keeping Adult Hive Beetles Out of Beehive
A relatively new pest for US beekeepers, Small Hive Beetles are originally from Africa. They are from a hot climate. This is why they are primarily a pest of the warmer sections of the country.
Can you keep beetles out of the hive completely? 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. I have not seen an entrance that works really well without serious drawbacks. Maybe someday.
Interestingly, the adult beetles do no damage to the colony. They fly into the hive looking for a place to lay eggs on the wax comb.
SHB love cracks and crevices. If the bee colony does not have enough workers to patrol all the comb inside, eggs laid by adult SHB will hatch.
Beetle Larva Responsible for Damage in the Hive
It is the larval phase of the Small Hive Beetle that causes damage. Small Hive Beetle larvae are small white grubs. New beekeepers may mistake them for bee larva at first.
Also, 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, the situation will get so bad that 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!
If conditions get really bad, your whole colony of bees may decide to abscond or leave the hive.
Once beetle larvae reach a certain size, they will crawl outside and burrow into the soil near the hive to pupate. Eventually, adult beetles emerge and the cycle begins again.
Why Hive Beetle Traps are Important
Prevention is the best method of Small 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 Small Hive Beetles from laying eggs in the first place.
If we are unable to keep the adult beetles out, trapping some of them helps your colony control the number running around the hive.
Popular Small Hive Beetle Traps
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 or 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 several beetle traps in the hive during the Summer.
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 I can use it again and again – less waste or discarded 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. This is not bait – it is mean to trap the adults. 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.
The Beetle Blaster –A Disposable Beetle Trap
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. You must carefully pour a small amount of oil in through the slots in the top.
Not as sturdy or reusable as the beetle jail, this trap is less expensive and designed 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.
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 sandwich 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 Tray 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 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.
What do You Put in the Hive Beetle Trap?
Most traps have several compartments. The larger areas are designed for the trapping oil. Common oils are : vegetable oil, mineral oil or a special beetle oil that is supposed to serve as an attractant.
A few traps have a special bait compartment. It is not a requirement to use bait in a trap. As they scurry around the hive trying to escape the bees, some beetles will go into the trap – and hopefully not make it back out.
Ground Treatments for Small Hive Beetle Control
When Hive Beetle larva are ready to pupate and become adults they must leave the hive and burrow into the soil. This is a sensitive time when we may be able to stop their development.
GardStar Ground Drench
GardStar® 40% EC is applied as a soil drench that prevents beetle larva from developing into adults. Application may last 30 days depending on soil type, ph. and rain. It is not effective in areas with a lot of rainfall.
Care must be taken to not allow any drift onto the entrance of the hive as bee deaths may result.
Using Nematodes to Battle Small Hive Beetles
If beetles are a big problem in your area, you many consider the use of nematodes. Beneficial predatory nematodes (Heterorhabditis Indica ) 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 just any kind of nematodes – some varieties do a better job of grub control but are not suited for Hive Beetle larva.
Chemical Control – Last Ditch Effort
For beekeepers trying to get rid of Small Hive Beetles, there are not many chemical options. In fact, only one is approved for use in beehives at this time. This is the chemical “coumaphos” – often sold under the name – Checkmite+.
Checkmite+ for Hive Beetle Control
Checkmite+ (coumaphos) chemical strips are placed inside small boxes with slits. Beetles go into the boxes to hid and are exposed to the coumaphos.
Considered a “hard” chemical, I don’t know any beekeepers who use it. I would not use this in my hives. But if you are involved in a major beetle battle this might be the only option.
Be sure to wear protective chemical resistant gloves (not your bee gloves) and follow the instructions from the manufacturer.
Other Methods of Controlling Beetles in Hives
There are some beekeeper decisions that may help our honey bee colonies deal with beetle infestations.
- practice clean beekeeping
- place hives in full sun
- don’t use heavy mulch – avoid moist ground
- avoid giving bees too much space
- reduce entrance size
Practicing “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 adult hive 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.
Don’t Use Heavy Mulch Around Your Hives
Keep the ground near your hives clean. Using a hive stand is a good idea for several reasons. 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.
If you choose to put something under your hives – don’t use heavy mulch or allow thick grass to grow. Why?
This keeps the soil underneath moist. If you are already having a Small Hive Beetle problem, they love to pupate in that nice moist soil.
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. Only add another super when the bees need it.
Once the beetle population grows out of control, no amount of Small Hive Beetle Traps will be able to make a difference.
Smaller Hive Entrances May Help
If you are experiencing a severe problem with beetles, reducing the entrance of your hive may help. Guard bees will attempt to chase adult beetles out.
They are not normally successful but it is always a good idea to reduce the hive entrance during times of stress for the colony.
Why Can’t the Bees Get Rid of Beetles?
Honey bees can not sting Small Hive Beetles. Honey bees can sting mammals and other bees. However, the bee stinger can not penetrate the hard shell of the beetles.
Honey bees can not throw all the Beetles out of the hive. SHB 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.
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 strive to keep healthy strong colonies, make good decisions on hive placement and work to keep beetle numbers under control.