Friday, August 28, 2009

Small Hive Beetle Invasion

The small hive beetle probably entered the United States like many invasive species as a stow-away in a cargo ship. The unintentional migration of this honey bee pest from Africa occurred about a decade ago. The beetle entered the Arkansas Delta about 2004. As the beetle is virtually unchecked by any natural predators, it spread rapidly to almost all parts of the country. This invader is thought to be capable of flying for miles, and it is moved with migratory bee hives on trucks.

The small hive beetle is an opportunistic invader of bee hives. The adult beetle, about a third the size of a lady beetle, can live inside the bee hive, protected from the bees by a hard covering. The beetles often occupy a healthy hive and wait to move to a weakened, stressed, or queen-less hive. The small hive beetles are attracted to a stressed hive by the alarm pheromone given off by honey bees. Inside the stressed hive, the small hive beetles lay eggs. The beetles develop through a full four-stage metamorphosis like the honey bee. It is the second stage of the small hive beetle’s development that damages the honey bee hive. The small hive beetle larvae eat everything in the hive: comb, brood, pollen, and honey. They turn the hive into their waste, a wet, brown slime with the odor of fermenting oranges. The odor attracts small hive beetles from miles around and repels honey bees. Bees will abandon the slimed hive, often in a manner of a few days. Click on the photo of small hive beetles starting to take over a queen-less hive. The first sign of trouble that I detected was bubbles developing in the fermenting honey in the supers above the brood nest. Fermenting honey is in the cells to the upper left. Caught early, before the combs are slimed, the beetles may be killed by freezing the frames.


  1. Excellent site for beekeepers Richard.

    Even Hawaii has succumbed to the bee pests of the mainland…

    I am writing under this post of yours because I just lost my only bee hive to these hive beetles... I was negligent at checking in on them because I only have the hive for my personal honey supply and therefore leave it unattended for long stretches. I have been pulling honey off this hive for 12 years.

    Anyway, I pulled the nearly-full-of-honey top super and saw a couple of beetles scurry across a frame. I did not notice the larvae until I was extracting the honey… Then I noticed some bad patches of comb and a few larvae of various sizes. I washed the comb under tap water to flush out the larvae, even cut out some of the bad comb, and then extracted the honey… But now some of that honey tastes weird… Then I read about the ‘sliming’ and ‘fermenting’ of hive beetle honey… Is there a health issue with eating slightly slimmed honey? Do you know of a way to treat this honey - like heating or re-filtering it to remove the slimed affect?

    Meanwhile, when I returned the empty combs to the hive the bee colony was strong… three days later the bees were gone and the entire hive was a complete wasteland and filled with thousands of beetle larvae--- sickening sight.

    I would like to be able to keep and consume the 2½ gallons of honey especially since it will be my last wild honey for a long time.

    Thanks for your site,

  2. Leigh,
    I am sorry that the small hive beetles ruined your honey. It sounds like the beetles caused the bees to abandon their hive as well. The beetles are a stressor on honey bee colonies. If the beetle populations get too large, they can quickly overwhelm even a strong bee colony. The small hive beetles are hive scavengers that reproduce rapidly in weakened hives. Often the cause is associated with the colony being queen-less.

    I am not aware of a human health concern with eating this fermented honey. However, the honey is definitely damaged and cannot compare with the excellent honeys produced in Hawaii. A friend brought me some Hawaiian honey recently. Heating the honey would further change the color and flavor of the honey, and additional straining would doubtfully be effective. Damaged honey can be fed back to bees, but only if you are comfortable in knowing that it didn’t come from a hive containing American foulbrood. AFB reproductive spores may exist in such honey.

    Frames of slimed honeycomb can be washed and reused in the hive. I prefer to use plastic foundation, as it can be reused. Beeswax foundation is usually destroyed by small hive beetle larvae. Please resist the temptation of fighting small hive beetles with chemicals in the hive. Insecticides affect honey bees and lead to resistant strains of pests. Beetle traps work fairly well in helping control adult beetle populations.

    I posted some ideas to consider for avoiding small hive beetle damage in the honey house today, November 22, 2010. Best wishes with your beekeeping.

  3. Thank you very much for this thorough reply Richard.

    Yes my entire hive was completely destroyed by these beetle larvae, but I did have plastic foundations. I am now leery of trying to start a new hive with so many of these beetles around now. Also, the varroa mite arrived here on the Island of Hawaii in 2007, adding one more challenge to our previously pest-free beehives. The small hive beetles were first identified on this island seven-months ago! The beetle apparently thrives on decaying fruit and honey. With plenty of fruit here year around the beetles have spread rapidly. This is a sad thing.

    I was planning to make some beetle traps but was too slow to establish them in the hive. One good thing, I used to manage five hives and had only one on site when the beetles arrived. I can’t image how the commercial beekeepers are handing these pests.

    I will repost this on your post of Nov 22nd,