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The Small Hive Beetle

The Small Hive Beetle is another one of those lovely gifts that beekeepers received from across the seas. The critter originated in Africa. Oddly, one would expect that the Beekeeper’s of Europe would have encountered them as well, but maybe the beetle could never survive the trip through the Middle East…

At any rate, this Bug likes to eat sweet stuff. Fruit, honey, sugar water…you name it. As an adult, it will sneak into a beehive and lay eggs in an out of the way location. Once the eggs hatch, a nasty little larva crawls around and eats honey, comb and brood (that’s right…brood…) The honey bee fights it off, chasing the parents out of the hive and cleaning up the eggs. I am guessing that they will also kill the small larva if given the chance. Once the larva is full, it crawls out of the hive and digs into the ground, mutating back into the beetle (see my Small Hive Beetle page for thoughts on nemotodes that might fight this.) Then, it just flies back up and starts laying eggs again…

But, this all assumes a strong hive. A weak hive can fall behind the beetles and end up with a nest of larva climbing through everything. To make matters even worse, they defecate in the wax and this is one substance that the bees turn their noses up at. They will not clean it  out and can/will eventually abscond from a hive that is full of these little beasts.

Now, back to my beekeeping adventures near Richmond, Virginia. The Small Hive Beetle (aka SHB) has been slowly working its way up the coast over the past several years. Like the Varroa Mite, it can overwinter in the warmth of the hive’s cluster. But, it has had a hard time getting a toehold in the more temperate regions (it is a tropical bug, after all.) Still, the State Apiarist noted that central Virginia had its first SHB around 2005. He says that they will cover all of Virginia soon enough, so get ready for them.

Well, I have them. I had them last year, but only a few running here and there. This year, they seem to be everywhere. I think the early warm season gave them a bit of an advantage. Tomorrow, I will take a look at my small hives to see how they are faring, but the reason for this post centers on the Southside Hive.

About 6 days ago, I decided that I should give the Southside Hive some pollen substitute to help them get going. I had just sucked them out of a tree and they had no resources at all. I could see that they were storing nectar, but was unsure if they were getting enough pollen. Like an idiot, I tore off a small chunk (maybe the size of a silver dollar) and pushed it through the entrance (I could not lay it on top, as I have a hive top feeder on this hive right now.)

Well, I checked the pollen sub this morning, to see if they were  using it, and found that they were not. Instead, as I pulled it out and turned it over, about a dozen SHB larva were crawling all through it! Ugh! These things are nasty. I wish I had snapped a picture, but I was so pissed that I dropped them on a rock and smashed the living bejesus out of them. Hopefully, I caught this in time and did not endanger the hive any. But, it has me wondering what is going on under the feeder. In addition, I thought I noticed a weird smell from the Berkley Hive the other day (it also has a top feeder – another thing that attracts the cursed bug). At the time, I thought that maybe the syrup was getting ripe (you cannot leave the feed, which is basically water and sugar, out in this heat for too long before it begins to ferment.) But, they were almost finished and I just figured I would swap that feeder out for a clean one tomorrow.

At any rate, this post reflects a big lesson for me. Once SHB weather is here, do not feed Pollen Sub. In this case, the bees will have to make it on their own. Natural Selection. If I give them the sub, I am only stacking the deck against what might otherwise be a strong gene pool. At any rate, I hope that I do not have to cull frames tomorrow, to get rid of a SHB problem. I might be going to the store to get some materials for a homemade trap…

5 comments to The Small Hive Beetle

  • Doug Ladd

    You can mixed Pollen Sub like Mega bee into the suger water or feed it dry. With SHB you cant use moist patties… This is what people do down south…

    The feral hive i pulled from the tree in Richmond yesterday had SHB’s…

  • Mixing that stuff with sugar water sounds a ton more easier then it is. It will not mix unless the concentration is very high (in fact, I have never gotten it to mix, but was told that 2:1 (sugar:water) would do it – it only partially mixed – I have never gone higher then 2:1.) I have a 50 lbs bag of that stuff (dry) from last. Hopefully, it doesn’t go bad…

    But, that’s a very good idea that I had forgotten about (my negative experiences with trying to mix it last year put that thing out of my mind.) I will be cracking several hives over the next few days. If I discover any that need a little help, I’ll give that a whorl again.

  • David Stover

    Another thought on this, though not an answer. As the nectar flow slows down and pollen is not abundant, the queen will also slow down her egg laying. Not as many “mouths” to feed. This is the bees natural response to getting through slow times. Unfortunately, us humans get hives started in late May and early June as this is when Nucs are ready. This year it looks like the “flow” is ending right now and newly started hives do not have the resources to have built up enough stores of honey and pollen to see them through to the fall flow. So we end up having to help them along. Feeding sugar and pollen substitute keeps the bees in the mode of Nectar Flow! (especially 1:1 mixture?) Queen keeps laying, larvae need more food, (viscous cycle) when in natural surroundings swarms will leave in April and early May and have plenty of time to build a surplus.

    As an example I got a swarm in late April and it has built up tremendously with plenty of stored pollen and honey. Another swarm that I caught 4 weeks ago is doing OK but has not had the time to really get going strongly so I’m having to feed sugar syrup and boy do they suck it down. I’ll stay away from pollen patties for now.

    Maybe one should feed sugar syrup, no pollen patties, for three or four weeks and then stop. Keep an eye on the hives to make sure they don’t starve but not feeding constantly?

  • It’s a good point. My experiences last year (with the Albo Hive) were that the bees simply did not build during the July/early-August time-frame. It was not until late-August/September that they really started to build up again.

  • Doug Ladd

    thats because your one brood cycle behind…When you started feeding in July the queen had already slowed due to lack of nectar and pollen in mid june. so you started feeding in July so she started laying good again… well that brood didnt hatch until the end of july assuming you started feeding July 1 and it took a few days for the queen to ramp up again. so by the end of july you have a good batch of brood hatching. Well then the queen is now laying strong if you continued feeding and now she can lay more with all those new workers from the July feeding. Now your second batch of brood wont be until the end of August… Hence your observation of late august/sept build up… Always Think 21 days ahead of what you plan to do. Because what you do today will ONLY effect a month from now…

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