The Small Hive Beetle


The small hive beetle Aethina tumida Murray (Coleoptera: Nitidulidae) was identified from honey bee colonies (Apis mellifera) in Florida by M.C. Thomas of the Florida Department of Agriculture, June 1998.

Essentially the small hive beetle can be described as a sub-tropical pest, behaving as a scavenger and opportunist. There is no doubt that the beetle has been transported to most states within the US, but it is encouraging that few reports of damage have been received from most areas of the country.

Beekeeping management practices have contained the problem in most cases. The adult beetle and the larval stage appear to be very tough and are capable of going into a hibernation phase when climatic conditions do not suit their development or activity.

Warm temperatures in the 60 degrees F and humidity levels about 50% promote beetle activity at all stages. Adults can live in excess of a year and are capable of laying up to 2000 eggs. An egg is the most fragile stage of development but hatches within 24 to 48 hours. The larvae become very active and quickly destroy the surface of combs causing a slimy, sticky mess resulting in un-saleable honey.

These larvae will crawl hundreds of feet to seek suitable soils to pupate within. All these stages are temperature and humidity dependent.

Beekeepers experience problems in two fields. Firstly, within the colony the beetle is controlled in most cases and only becomes a problem to colonies weakened for other reasons. This is frequently due to Varroa mites decimating populations. Small colonies or nucleus colonies used extensively in the queen bee production industry are particularly susceptible to damage from the small hive beetle.

Maintaining strong colonies and fumigating material which originates from dead colonies prior to its reuse are the primary strategies of beekeepers in reducing the problems caused by the beetle in the apiary.

Secondly, within the honey extracting house the problem of the beetle becomes more widespread.

Honey combs are normally removed from the colonies and transported to a central location for extraction. In many cases the micro climate of these sheds is ideal for beetle activity. Provided with a food source, the beetle populations can rapidly increase with the larvae causing extensive damage and loss of income through the spoilage of combs prior to extraction. To overcome this, beekeepers have modified their practices and now generally extract honey combs within a day or two of their removal from a colony. The wax cappings are also an attractive food source for beetles and these are processed very quickly after the extraction process. Generally the small hive beetle has meant that many beekeepers have become more “hygienic” when it comes to the extraction process of their beekeeping business, extracting, processing and cleaning up honey plants very quickly and not relegating this job to a less important status.

Good SHB Management practice

Action Reason
Extract filled supers within 1-2 days.

Render cappings promptly or do not leave them exposed for long periods.

Beetles can build up rapidly in stored honey and wax especially away from protective bees.
Freeze frames to –12 degrees C for 24 hours This is known to kill eggs, larvae and adults.  The effect of different temperatures and times is the subject of future research.
Store supers under conditions of good air circulation and less than 50% humidity The rate of egg hatching is reduced and larval development slowed.
Maintain clean honey houses by cleaning up daily Honey attracts beetles and feeds larvae.
A fluorescent light near the floor in the honey house at night will attract larvae falling out of infested supers looking for a place to pupate.  They can be swept up and drowned. This is a way to break the life cycle and reduce the total number of beetles.
Do not stack infested supers onto strong colonies.

Do not make splits or exchange combs with infested hives.

These activities can spread SHB and provide beetles with room to become established away from the cluster of protective bees.  Strong hives have reportedly been killed in this way.
Monitor colonies for hygienic behavior (ability to get rid of beetles and larvae) These beetle resistant queen lines can be propagated to produce SHB resistant colonies.
Place hives on rock or hard clay based soil rather than light sandy soil.

Consider traps to catch larvae as they leave the hive.

Mature larvae move out of the hive and need to burrow into soil to pupate.  This is one way to break the life cycle of the beetle.
Treat soil around infested hives with permethrin (Guardstar) Mature larvae and pupae can be killed before hatching into adults.  Permethrin use is most efficient where larvae are present in the hive.
Ensure hives are not stressed e.g. by diseases, poor food stores Stressed hives are thought to be more attractive to SHB
Maintain boxes in good condition Warped, cracked or rotten boxes provide hiding places for adult beetles and make detection difficult.
Try mechanical traps e.g. bottle screwed into base of hive covered with a raised platform that allows SHB in, but is too narrow for bees. This reduces the number of adult beetles available to lay eggs without the risks of chemical use.

Small Hive Beetle
Brood Diseses
Greater Wax Moth
History of Beekeeping
Mathematical conversions