By George Giltner, Master Gardener
American beekeepers first began to report problems with small hive beetles (Aethina tumida) in 1996. Since then, they have spread throughout the United States mainly through importing queens from other countries and transporting hives from state to state.
Damage caused by hive beetles includes Colony Collapse Disorder, ruining honey by beetle larvae feces, fermentation of honey by inoculation of the honey with yeast, and larvae tunneling through the comb destroying bee larvae. Heavy infections can transform a beautiful golden honey hive into a discolored frothy mess.
The cream colored larvae grow to ½ inch. Note the distinct hairs on the body and only three pairs of legs near the head. Don’t mistake these larvae for the greater wax moth larvae (Galleria mellonella) which has four pairs of prolegs near the posterior end.
The larvae do their damage in 7 to 10 days, then they exit the hive and head for the ground (within 6 foot of the hive) to pupate for 3 to 6 weeks. At this point in their life cycle, they are vulnerable. Permethrin drenched soil will destroy the larvae, but it is highly toxic to bees. Follow instructions.
The adult, black to dark brown beetles emerge from pupation, then they seek new hives and mates (up to miles away) to lay new eggs within a week. Once within a hive the bees can only nudge them around into corners and crevices, as their beetle wings protect them from bee stings. The adults live 6 months plus, while laying 1000 eggs in over-lapping generations.
The behavior of the adults is to avoid light and to congregate in areas of the hive that are inaccessible to bees. Avoiding light is also larval behavior, except in the latter stages when it is maturing and seeking its way out of the hive. A fluorescent light near the hive floor may attract larvae seeking to pupate. Sweep up the larvae and drown in soapy water.
The most effective means of control is prevention by maintaining a clean apiary and honey house, reduce stresses from mite parasitism and diseases, and propagate bees that have strong hygienic traits. Since the beetles prefer shady locations, put hive in direct sun for at least some of the day. Perform regular cleaning or screen bottom boards to prevent debris that larvae can pupate inside the hive. Utilize mechanical traps inside the hive to reduce numbers. Some of the traps available are the West Trap, the Hood Trap, the Freeman Beetle Trap, AJ’s Beetle trap, and Cutt’s Beetle Blaster. The Beetlejail trap gets them at the front door by drowning them in oil.
An extensive and very well written article on identification, life cycle, and control measures for the small hive beetles can be found at www. extension.org/pages/60425/managing-small-hive-beetles. Also for expertise from experience beekeepers contact the Southwest Louisiana Beekeepers Association through county agent Keith Hawkins at email@example.com or 337-463-7006. Happy Beekeeping!