In my last Bee Mama Missive, I mentioned that my hives have been invaded by Small Hive Beetles, Aethina tumida.
These invasive ickies hail from Africa, appearing in the United States first in 1996. Here in Texas, there’s nary a honeybee hive that doesn’t host these lovely creatures. Sarcasm here, folks. Our hives were invaded by them last year, too. If the hive is strong, the beetles don’t cause all that much damage–bees will remove some of the beetles and their larvae, thus keeping the invaders in check. But hive beetles are destructive; they can damage comb and the accompanying honey and pollen. If the hive is weak for whatever reason, the hive beetles can destroy the hive and/or the honeybees will abandon their hive.
This summer, many beekeepers in Austin have reported prolific infestations of small hive beetles, owing to the heavy rains and resulting higher humidity that occurred in late spring. My hives are no exception to the rampant hive beetle infiltrations. Last summer, I’d see a few beetles whenever we checked our hives, but only a few. In the last three hive checks, I’ve been appalled at how many of the nasty critters scurried away as we removed the tops of our hives for inspection.
One suggestion to limit hive beetle infestation is to place hives in full sun–apparently the beetles don’t particularly care for the blazing sun and resulting heat in the hives. In my garden, there aren’t many “full sun” spots on my property and none of those spots are particularly appropriate for hive placement, so that’s not a remedy I can employ. My hives face east and are under the shade of a large Shumard Oak. I don’t use chemicals in my gardens and with beekeeping (for obvious reasons), chemical fixes are generally discouraged. While Bee Daddy and I can squish the hive beetles when we open our hives, that’s not a particularly effective or practical way to limit their population, no matter how satisfying the squishing might be. What to do?
I noticed that Beeweaver Apiaries sells a product called Beetle Bee-Gone.
Basically, it’s a package of cotton cloth sheets that act to trap the beetles in the hives.
The sheets are affixed to the frames and the bees will chew up the cloths, rendering them “fuzzy”. The beetles in the hive are then trapped because they have hooks on their legs and become ensnared in the fuzz. Honeybees like tidy hives and they will remove the fuzz-n-beetles loose in the hive.
At $7.95 per 48 sheets, plus shipping and tax, I’m game to try just about anything against the helmeted menaces.
On July 22, just before I left on a trip, I placed two sheets in each of the top two boxes of both Scar and Mufasa.
It wasn’t quite as easy as I’d envisioned, placing the sheets under bars while wearing thick gloves and crooning to the annoyed bees. Yes, I do that. I removed a couple of the center bars in the top and middle boxes, then tacked down each sheet with a little bit of wax, placing the bars back on top of the sheets. I closed the hives, wished the bees well and left town with a good heart.
Sixteen days later and with some trepidation–Did the traps work? Will we see more beetles? Is there beetle damage to the comb?–we opened and checked both hives.
Mufasa is thriving! Mufasa has a strong queen and the hive is healthy, active, a bit cranky, and loaded with beautiful honeycomb.
With plenty of capped and uncapped brood–a new generation is underway.
However, there was no sign of the sheets that I placed in Mufasa’s boxes. A day or two before, I’d seen bees removing fuzz from the hive entry board. Was it Beetle Bee-Gone fuzz? Maybe, but I’m not positive. There were still more beetles that scurried when we opened the hive than I would have liked, but significantly fewer than we’d seen in the last few hive checks. We squished plenty; I’ve discovered an additional use for the hive tool.
It’s an excellent beetle murder weapon when placed on top of a victim and pressed.
Generally pleased that the hive was healthy and that we saw fewer beetles, we closed Mufasa and moved on to Scar. Scar was quite the revelation!! Not as robust a hive as Mufasa, there were hardly any beetles–a few, but roughly in the manageable numbers that we saw last summer. And in Mufasa, we were able to see the Beetle Bee Gone sheets in action.
Or maybe post-action is a better description. The sheets were obviously bee-chewed and fuzzy and there were beetles, dead and alive, caught in the fuzzy sheets.
Scar doesn’t have the full comb in both top boxes like Mufasa has, nor the amount of honeycomb, but like Mufasa, Scar has lots of capped and uncapped brood.
I added more sheets to both hives and will check on the beetle-trapping progress in a couple of weeks. I gathered up the used sheets with beetle bodies,
…and tossed the whole mess where it will do some good–in my compost bin.
I feel good about the success of the Beetle Bee-Gone sheets and their trapping of some of the beetles. Did we get them all? No way and we also didn’t check the bottom, or main, brood box. There could be beetles there, causing havoc. But both Bee Daddy and I concur that we don’t want to go into the hive that deeply–the risk of rolling our queen is just too great. Been there, done that. We’ll continue to monitor the hives from the middle and top box.
That will have to suffice. Fingers crossed.
I think that giving the bees a hand in the maintenance of their hive may have allowed them to get ahead of their beetle infestation. I won’t know if that’s true until we check the hives again, but we noticed that during the last few hive checks and with full, gross beetle infestation, our bees were quite cantankerous. Really mean. Even with adequate smoke, they were much more aggressive than usual. This hive check? They were back to their (relatively) sweet selves. Yes, they get snippy when we invade their home, but they were tolerant of our intrusiveness this time, whereas in the last few checks–wowzers–they were tough customers!! Was their over-the-top defensiveness because the hive was under siege? I think that makes some sense, especially since they seem more normal now and the beetles seemingly have less of a presence.
For now, I have to give Beetle Bee Gone a thumbs up in our war against the invasive Small Hive Beetle.
One of the best parts of checking the hives is that Bee Daddy always cleans our bee tools afterwards!
Isn’t that nice? Now for those dinner dishes….
Wishing the the girls a good August: success in foraging, in egg laying, and the raising of a new generation of bees and in the continued dissipation (dare I say eradication?) of the small hive beetle infestation.
If you live in or near Austin, The Tour de Hives will be held this coming Saturday, August 15. The tour of local bee yards is in celebration of National Honey Bee Day and is a fundraiser for the Travis County Beekeepers Association, a nonprofit organization committed to promotion of and education about honeybees. Check out the links for more information.
I hope so!!
Such an interesting post Tina. I am so glad you have found a non- lethal weapon in your fight against this beetle. I hope your beees will continue to thrive.
Thanks, Chloris. I hope that the bees will be okay, too. Late summer is the height of beetle infestation, so maybe we’re on the downside for the year? Hopefully.
Who knew such drama went on in bee hives? Amazing stuff Tina. Thanks for sharing.
Haha! Yeah, the girls are full of drama. Drama queens. And drama workers.
Soooo interesting. Like any new ‘mom’ I’m constantly imagining all kinds of disasters. Hive beetles are one of those monsters. Your photos are superb — they really helped me understand. I found a couple of sites with good information. You probably know all this but maybe one of your readers will be interested. Here’s a video from the U Florida Honeylab https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tydo9rABsK4 with probably more info than anyone could ever want about these beetles. I love the IPM description at http://www.clemson.edu/extension/beekeepers/publications/small_hive_bettle_ipm.html Once again it looks like the hated fire ant may come to our rescue! Who would have thunk it?
Yeah, the mom thing sometimes gets in the way. Everytime I check the bees I think to myself: Arhg! I hope I didn’t inadvertently kill one of both of the queen. Or, something. There’s always something. I’d heard about fire ants being a possible remedy. Well, they eat ticks, so why not hive beetles??
Here’s to out-smarting the beetles and helping the bees help themselves. That is fascinating about the general temperament of your bees before and after you took steps to help them get the beetle population under control. It makes perfect sense for the bees to be more aggressive when they are sensing a threat. If I’m a bee and I already have those tiny dark hive beetles roaming around the halls of home, of course I have a lower tolerance for you huge white beetles that come in and dissemble things for your mysterious purposes. Enough is enough, I say! Or rather buzz.
Sidebar: I am not seeing any fire ants lately but those observations are limited to my yard. I spent several seasons years ago waging biochemical warfare on the ones that kept wanting to dominate my garden beds and paths. (yes yes I’d be more tolerant now – but that ship sailed long ago) It is not that I don’t have ants – we have all kinds and I see them everywhere – they just aren’t fire ants. Are y’all seeing them regularly?
I hope we’ve outsmarted those nasties. I’m glad I purchased the Beetle Bee-Gone. Squishing the SHB is very satisfying , but not efficient at all. And, a little gross. Honeybees are really good about tossing out invaders from the hive, but the hive has to be strong, otherwise, the bees can suffer.
I haven’t had fire ants in a long time. Honestly, I never really minded them, as long as I knew were the mound was and if it was in the garden, well, they’re very welcome to aerate for me, thank you.
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It must take a lot of time to put a post like this together. But the photos and the information are so interesting. Thanks for more information about bees…. Speaking of Mom, I need to check on the monarch cats. Fifth in stars eat a lot…. Michelle
Depending upon how interested I am in the topic, some posts take longer than others. I have to remember to take photos with intention and thought towards what I’m trying to teach about. So nice about your Monarchs. I’m reading from garden bloggers in the north/midwest and they’re all showing their Monarchs. I hope I have some visit my garden on their migration back to Mexico in a few months.
Very clever, natural solution to get rid of the beetles, even if partially. So much work with the bees –
I appreciate even more now the honey we eat!
I like the idea of traps and the sheets seem to be working. Those bees–they’re quite remarkable; we don’t fully appreciate what they and all the other pollinators do for us.
My fingers are crossed the continuing success of the Beetle Bee-Gone sheets. It certainly sounds positive at this point.
I think things will be fine–but I’ll keep the buzz on. 🙂
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