What's small hive beetle and how to manage them

The Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida) is a pest insect affecting European honey bee colonies all over the world. They are usually about 5mm long and are dark brown or black in colour.
Native to Africa, the small hive beetle (SHB) has spread across the world at an alarming rate. The pest was first identified in the United States in 1996. It made its way into Australia in 2002 and now affects beekeepers in both Queensland and New South Wales.

 

SHB infestations can devastate European honey bee colonies, damaging all the major components of a hive. This includes the honey stores, pollen supplies and even the comb itself. Severe cases of infestation can significantly impact colony function. In extreme cases, this may cause the bees to abandon their hive altogether.

 

Adult beetles vs. larvae (maggots)

Pictured: Adult SHB.

Each beetle is capable of laying thousands of eggs in the comb. They like to feed on the pollen, the honey and the brood as they go through their own larvae stage. 

Pictured: SHB Larva.

The maggots fall out of the hive, and into the ground where they live and eventually emerge as a beetle.

SHB larvae vs Wax moth larvae

On the Flow Hive 2 integrated pest management tray and Flow Hive Classic corflute slider, wax moth larvae can sometimes be mistaken for SHB larvae. 
Here are some characteristic differences:

  • SHB larvae have little red forked tail
  • Wax moth larvae are (generally) considerably larger

Read more on wax moths here.

 

Symptoms

If your hive is not so strong or does not have an established colony with many bees to manage the situation, then they could be in trouble. You may end up with a pile of maggots—it’s called getting slimed—and it’s not a pleasant thing to experience.

Symptoms of SHB presence will vary based on the seriousness of the infestation. Beekeepers should keep an eye out for the following:

  • Damaged/destroyed brood combs: SHB larvae will eat and burrow through a colony’s combs, causing extensive damage if left unaddressed.
  • Contaminated honey: These beetles will eat and contaminate honey stores.
  • Contaminated honey combs appear slimy and have a characteristic smell similar to rotten oranges.
  • Hive abandonment: In extreme cases, bees can fully abandon—known as absconding—their hive due to the infestation.

In NSW and QLD, it is not uncommon to see a few getting around the hive, especially during really wet, humid periods, however if numbers are greater than several visible beetles, you may want to consider taking action.

 

How to get rid of SHB in your Flow Hive

Flow Hive 2

In the Flow Hive 2, SHB larvae can be detectable as movement in the new integrated pest management tray.
Generally, the larvae will drop out of the brood comb, and crawl into the ground, to emerge as adults beetles.

However, with the integrated pest management tray, it is possible to catch them and observe how significant the infestation may be.
There may be a mass of wasted bee pupae, potentially even comb, in the tray. Any damaged brood will get rejected by the bees, and cleaned up.

If you slide-out your pest management tray and happen to see it crawling with little larvae, you can empty the tray contents into a bucket of water to drown them.

Clean out the tray, and then fill the tray with oil to catch the beetles before they get a chance to lay eggs in the brood comb.
We recommend using sunflower, rice bran or a similar oil – enough to cover the surface.

Check for bees before you slide the tray back in—sometime they can try to get into the hive from the bottom metal screen and could become trapped in the tray. If you find any bees, just brush them away with a gloved hand, as the bees will also die in the cooking oil if not removed.

Make sure to put the ventilation cover back on.

Watch more on how to manage SHB in the video below.



Top tip: If you don’t like your pest management tray becoming a mess with all sorts of bee-hive ejections, you can also insert the tray upside down, and instead use the method below for catching SHB (the “fuzzy tablecloth” method below).

Flow Hive Classic

In a Flow Hive Classic there is a mesh screen bottom baseboard, with corflute slider.

With a corflute slider, you won’t see the SHB maggots, however you may see the adult SHB on the corflute slider, or debris from damaged bee pupae.

You can use the tablecloth method (see below), or you could also consider fashioning a tray of sorts to use the oil method. (You could use an old lunch box lid that you can slide in between the corflute slider and mesh).


 

You can also use specific SHB pesticide traps. Make sure to put them underneath the screen baseboard, as you don’t want the chemicals accidentally getting inside your hive with rain or similar.

 

Get in touch, and let us know of your experience and if you’ve found a method for managing SHB that works for you!


Read more about European honey bee pests and diseases here.


Flow Team
Flow Team

Author

"If we look after the bees, they'll look after us."