It is common for insect populations to explode every few years and then to return to normal levels for a number of years. This pattern may result from external conditions like weather, food supply, or reduced predation. In the few years that the small hive beetle has been established in the United States, we have seen its population fluctuate somewhat from year to year. I suspect that the quite controlled environment of a bee hive regulates the small hive beetle population considerably. However, there is one stage of the small hive beetle’s life cycle when the insect lives outside the bee hive. Beetle larvae crawl from the hive to pupate in the soil. The beetles continue their development as pupae in moist soil. Beetle populations are generally higher in hives located in the shade than in the full sun. Perhaps the beetle larvae experience considerable predation from insects and birds as they crawl long distances seeking moist soil.
When migratory beekeepers move their hives, they leave behind the beetle pupae in the soil. Of course, the pupae emerge as adults and fly to surrounding managed hives and feral honey bee colonies. Control of small hive beetles is best achieved by the bees themselves. Strong colonies of bees filling the hive’s internal space keep beetle reproduction in check. Beetles thrive in hives with plenty of hiding space, such as those stacked with excess brood boxes or honey supers. Internal feeders holding drowned bees are breeding grounds for small hive beetles. Beekeepers should not use chemical treatments in the hive against small hive beetles. Even if the chemicals are effective, the housekeeping bees spread toxins throughout the hive as they remove the dead beetles. Some beekeepers have success trapping beetles with small pieces of corrugated plastic, like old campaign signs, placed in the bottom of the hive. Beetles enter the holes, and worker bees seal them inside with propolis. Today’s photo: yucca blooms in a Peace Bee Farm bee yard.--Richard