Small hive beetles (Aethina tumida Murray) are small black beetles that seek out honey and beehives. Once inside a hive, they nestle in small cracks, edges and corners. You may see them scurry under frame spacer or where two boards join. Some beekeepers have noted something of a propolis cage to keep the beetles in one area. A healthy colony will sequester a small population of beetles and keep them in check. They will often post guard bees near the beetle's hideout to keep them contained. However, if the population gets out of control, for example in a weak hive, the beetles can take over contributing to a die out of that colony.
When the small hive beetles gain strength, they will leave the crevices and move into the comb. The larvae will feed on honey and the honeybee pupa. A yeast that is carried by the small hive beetle will cause honey to ferment and create a slime in the honeycomb. This obviously ruins the honey. Therefore the beekeeper should be mindful of the small hive beetle population and take steps to reduce or eliminate beetles in the hives.
Even though a strong colony will sequester the beetles, it is a good thing for the beekeeper to help the colony out whenever possible. Below are a few ways to help keep the small hive beetle in check.
There are several styles of traps, all of which use an odorless oil, like vegetable oil to drown the beetles. An attractant can also be added, e.g. cider vinegar to lure the beetles to the trap.
Disposable traps are small and sit between the frames.
Reusable traps are placed along the outside edge and when filled with beetles, taken out, dumped and refilled with oil. When removing these care must be taken to ensure that no oil is spilled in the hive and on the bees.
A trap is also available to use on the bottom board. A spacer is placed on the bottom board, then the tray that is filled with oil. The tray is topped with a screen that allows the beetles to fall through into the oil, but prevents the bees from getting into the oil. This trap will need to be checked and emptied every week or so until the infestation has diminished. This style of trap is also most effective in the late spring to fall when beetles are most active.
Our state bee inspector advised using Mite Away Quick strips for treating Varroa mites will help suppress the hive beetles as well. In an earlier post (Treating Varroa Mites) I suggested using powdered sugar as a treatment for Varroa mites. While this may be effective for mites, it will not have the same effect in diminishing the hive beetles. The active ingredient is formic acid. It is approved for use in organic hives and during the honey flow, although to smell it and read the warnings, you would not suspect it. This treatment feels right to me given the organic nature and the overall effectiveness.
Any time you are in the hive and see a beetle, be sure to smash it with your hive tool. It is a small effort but each time is one less beetle in the hive.
It is curious how small hive beetles can find a hive. There have not been honeybee hives on this property in at least 13 years, probably longer. We started with new equipment and package bees from a reputable supplier. Nevertheless, the small hive beetles have found us and now must be addressed.
In addition to honeybees, Five Feline Farm is an ever expanding effort in hobby farming. Stop by our website and download your free copy of "Wisdom of the Bees". Also, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. For more MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts by Julia Miller, click here.
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