Small Hive Beetle

Small Hive Beetle – Beekeeper’s Guide

This is a guide for beekeeper’s around the world on the Small Hive Beetle (SHB). Describes impact, lifecycle, geographic spread, photos, detection, control methods and traps.

The Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida) originates from Africa where it is considered a minor pest of honey bees, causing little harm as the bees there have strong cleaning and defensive behaviours.  These include: preventing the beetles access to the colony by aggressively harassing them, filling cavities where the beetle could hide with propolis, removing beetle larvae from the hive, and confining beetles to ‘propolis prisons’.

European honeybees, which can be found around the world, do not have these defensive traits and the SHB can spoil honey and force honeybees to abandon the hive.

Hive Beetle On Comb
Small Hive Beetle On Comb (photo by Laura Rittenhouse)

Geographic Spread & Timeline

  • Small Hive Beetle indigenous to Africa
  • 1998: detected in Florida
  • 2002: detected in Australia, Canada
  • 2005: Jamaica
  • 2007: Mexico
  • 2012: Cuba
  • 2014: detected in ItalySmall Hive Beetle Adult

Small Hive Beetle – Impact

  • Beetle larvae tunnel through combs of honey, feeding and defecating, causing discoloration and fermentation of the honey
  • Beetle damages comb, stored honey and pollen
  • There can be up to 10,000 beetles in a single hive and if infestation is sufficiently heavy, bees may abandon hive

Small Hive Beetle – Lifecycle

  • Adult beetle is dark brown to black and about 11mm long
  • Adults can live up to 6 months and be found anywhere in a hive
  • Female beetles lay irregular masses of eggs in cracks in the hive
  • The female can lay up to 2,000 eggs in her 4-6 month lifetime
  • The eggs hatch in 2–6 days into white-colored larvae that grow to 10mm in length
  • Larvae feed on pollen and honey, damaging combs, and require about 10–16 days to mature
  • Larvae that are ready to pupate leave the hive and burrow into soil near the hive (but they can travel up to 200m to find the right soil)
  • The pupation period lasts 3–4 weeks
  • Newly emerged adults seek out hives and females generally mate and begin egg laying about a week after emergence
  • Adults can fly at least 10 km to infest new colonies
  • Hive beetles may have up to 6 generations a year
Small Hive Beetle Larva
Small Hive Beetle (Larva)
Source: National Bee Unit, Crown Copyright

Beekeeper Actions

  1. Record your details on the national register – so that you can be alerted of local detection of the SHB. In the UK this is BeeBase.
  2. Best not to import any bees but if you must – make sure you only import bees through the proper channels and with appropriate health certification
  3. Make sure you know what the beetles and larvae look like and understand their lifecycle
  4. Be vigilant
  5. In countries where SHB present use the controls described below
  6. In the EU we must notify the bee inspector of we find the beetle

Small Hive Beetle – Identification

This page has several photos of the beetles, eggs and larvae to help identification.

Small Hive Beetle (Pupa)
Small Hive Beetle (Pupa)
Source: National Bee Unit, Crown Copyright

Small Hive Beetle – Detection & Traps

There are a number of traps on the market to detect the SHB. The Beetle Blaster* below is made by Vita (they also make Apiguard and other beekeeping health products) and is available globally.

Beetle Blaster with oil
Beetle Blaster with oil

This trap is designed to fit between outer frames in a hive. Each Beetle Blaster can contain about 25ml of vegetable oil which acts as the trapping fluid. The holes in the top of Beetle Blaster are big enough to allow SHBs to enter, but cannot be accessed by honeybees.

There are other traps but the principle is the same.

* The Beetle Blaster link was paid for.

Control Methods

  • Integrated pest control required as described below
  • Strong colonies can reduce infestation rate
  • Use of traps as described above
  • Move colonies to new sites periodically
  • Select bees that have lower beetle infestations (they may have genetic traits for defending against SHB)
  • Use of pesticides within hive and surrounding soil (approved pesticides vary by country)
  • Always use queen excluders in hives, to prevent queens laying in supers. If brood is brought into the extraction room with the honey crop, any Small hive beetle larvae hatched from eggs laid in supers will rapidly cause spoilage of the honey and destruction of comb
  • Supers should be extracted rapidly after harvesting from hives to give beetles minimum opportunity to cause damage
  • Where honey is stored prior to extraction keep relative humidity to below 50%. This inhibits beetle eggs hatching, and eliminates larval damage to honey. This can be done by circulating air down through stacks of supers raised up off the ground on pallets (using a fan or dehumidifier)
  • Clear up thoroughly after extraction. Do not leave comb or wax cappings lying around for beetles to lay eggs in
  • Fluorescent light sources placed on the floor of the extraction room at night attracts larvae looking for soil in which to pupate. These can be swept up and destroyed by pouring into soapy water
  • Freezing of honeycomb kills all SHB life stages (-12°C for 12 hours). Many local beekeepers already put super frames through the freezer prior to extraction or storage, to control wax moth
  • Stored comb should be checked for signs of infestation

Small Hive Beetle – Video

A great educational video from the University of Florida Honeybee Research Lab:

Read More

3 thoughts on “Small Hive Beetle”

  1. We have SHB here (outskirts of Sydney) and it is here to stay. One of the (many) problems with the SHB is it lives happily outside of the hive in trees. They prefer a hive (nice and warm and so much yummy, healthy food) but don’t require it. Which means it’s impossible for a beekeeper, no matter how vigilant or determined, to eradicate the pest entirely. Right now we’re stuck with putting traps in the hive and trusting the bees to chase the beetles into them.

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