Many Mid-South beekeepers reported their hives heavily infested with small hive beetles this year. It appears that rainy conditions in the previous two years lead to successful reproduction of large populations of these bee hive scavengers. While the beetles are often a secondary pest of the honey bee, once their populations explode they become a primary pest of the hive. A strong honey bee colony may share a small hive beetle population living within its hive numbering several hundred insects. The bees drive the beetles into distant corners of the hive, away from the brood nest. Today’s photo shows a small hive beetle hiding from guard bees in the space between the top bar of a frame and the edge of a super. Small hive beetles can overtake the bee hive when the bee population is weak, the colony is stressed by disease or other pests, the colony is queenless, or multiple generations of beetles are reproducing in the hive.
While handling small hive beetles in the bee hives is an ongoing challenge for beekeepers, they can be a real concern in the honey house. Leigh, a beekeeper in Hawaii, was most disappointed to find that small hive beetle larvae had emerged in his frames of honey to be extracted. The honey was fermented, and the flavor and aroma greatly affected. When harvesting honey, we should try to avoid bringing beetles into the honey house. To prevent beetles from destroying harvested honey, the honey should be extracted within a day or two. Supers of honey should not be stored in the honey house for long periods of time. Frames of honeycomb “slimed” by small hive beetles have the odor of fermenting oranges. The islands of Hawaii have been immune to a number of honey bee pests and pathogens until recent years. World trade can accidentally transfer unwanted pests, pathogens, and invasive species along with cargo. For beekeepers, like Leigh, small hive beetles add a level of complexity to our craft.