Small hive beetles are invasive bee hive scavengers. For the past decade, small hive beetles have been an aggravation at times and a serious problem at other times since their introduction into the US. Beetle populations explode in weakened or queenless hives. Adult small hive beetles, which alone seem to do little harm, live among the bees. The hard wing coverings of the adult beetles protect them from honey bee stings. Since the bees can’t kill the intruding beetles, the worker bees in strong hives drive the adult beetles to the outer edges of the brood nest and honey supers. They also capture adult beetles and trap them in “jails” made of propolis, or bee glue. The narrow space between the ends of frame top bars and the edge of the hive boxes make convenient small hive beetle jails. Since some worker bees are deployed as beetle guards, an additional portion of the worker bee population is occupied. The real problem with small hive beetles is the damage done by their larval stage. The beetle larvae eat everything in the hive: comb, brood, honey, and pollen. The beetles are particularly attracted to the protein in pollen. As the beetle larvae eat their way through a hive, they leave a trail of waste similar to the trail left behind a garden slug. The waste hosts yeast that ferments the honey and gives the hive the odor of rotting oranges. The odor attracts adult beetles that fly in from great distances. The odor also causes honey bees to abandon the hive.
Researchers from the University of Arkansas are searching for natural biological agents that may be exploited to help control small hive beetles. Natasha Wright and Jon Zawislak are at Peace Bee Farm capturing adult beetles and sampling the soil around bee hives searching for nematodes, bacteria, or other microscopic agents that might attack small hive beetles. The beetles are particularly vulnerable when they leave the hive to pupate in the soil.