The small hive beetle is a hive scavenger that can cause severe damage to the bee hive and even drive the bees away from their nest. The greatest damage is caused by the larval stage of development of small hive beetles. The larvae consume great amounts of the bee hive to support their rapid growth. They are particularly attracted to sources of protein in the form of stored pollen, bee bread, brood, and drowned bees in hive feeders. Adult small hive beetles do little harm to the hive, but the colony employs guard bees to corral beetles freely moving about the hive. These bees occupied harnessing adult small hive beetles are taken away from other important duties, like foraging for nectar and pollen.
Small hive beetles may be found in any hive. Adult beetles often congregate in a strong hive. Though the beetles are harassed by guard bees, the well-populated hive offers a favorable environment with warmth and plenty of food. Small hive beetles are keenly sensitive to honey bee alarm pheromones released by a colony in stress. The stress may be caused by queenlessness, attack by predators, or careless beekeeper activity. Once the beetles detect a bee colony is in trouble, they fly to its hive and immediately begin laying eggs. In just a few days, small hive beetle larvae can virtually explode in the weakened hive. That is the case with today’s photo of small hive beetle larvae in a “slimed” bee hive. As the beetle larvae crawl through the hive, they consume everything—beeswax, comb, honey, pollen, bee bread, and brood. The ravenous larvae leave behind a liquid waste that supports the growth of yeast. Slimed frames have a strong odor of fermenting oranges. The odor attracts other small hive beetles from great distances while it repels the hive’s bees. Often the first indications of a small hive beetle infestation are liquid drooling from the hive, a sticky landing board, and the odor of fermenting oranges.