The Small Hive Beetle (SHB), scientifically named Aethina tumida, has emerged as a formidable pest for beekeepers worldwide. Originating from Africa, this invasive species has established itself as a significant threat to honeybee colonies, particularly in areas such as the USA and Australia. The beetle’s larvae cause the most damage, as they feed on the honey, pollen, and brood, leading to the destruction of comb and potentially causing honey to ferment. Beekeepers must remain vigilant to protect their hives from the devastating effects of an SHB infestation.

Management and early identification of Small Hive Beetle are crucial steps in mitigating its impact on bee populations. Beekeepers are tasked with regularly inspecting their hives for signs of SHB, such as the presence of adult beetles, larval tunnels in the comb, or honey spoilage. With effective strategies in place, including the employment of traps or chemical controls where applicable, the spread of Small Hive Beetles can be contained, preserving the health of bee communities and the continuity of pollination and honey production processes.

Educational resources, such as guidelines from the National Bee Unit, provide essential information for beekeepers on how to identify and control Small Hive Beetles. By fostering an informed beekeeping community, the collective effort to safeguard bees from this pest is enhanced, securing the future of apiculture.udies have shown that various imported goods, such as fruit imports and transport vehicles, can serve as vectors for the beetle’s spread, raising the importance of biosecurity measures to prevent its introduction into new regions.

Biology and Identification

The Small Hive Beetle, Aethina tumida, presents a notable threat to bee colonies, primarily due to its invasive nature and complex life cycle. Effective identification and understanding of its biology are crucial for managing this pest.

Life Cycle of Aethina Tumida

The life cycle of Aethina tumida starts when adult females lay their eggs in crevices within a beehive. After hatching, the larvae feed on honey, pollen, and bee brood, causing extensive damage. These larvae then exit the hive to burrow into the soil where they pupate. The development from egg to adult beetle takes approximately four to six weeks, depending upon environmental conditions.

Identifying Features and Behaviour

Adult beetles are typically about 5 to 7 mm in length, with a dark brown or black shiny exoskeleton. They possess a set of clubbed antennae and are quite agile, able to quickly run and hide when disturbed. The identification of these beetles includes looking for signs of irregular behaviour within the hive, such as disoriented bees or spoilt honey stores. Aethina tumida‘s distinctive trait is its ability to fly, which aids in its invasive spread to new areas.

Prevalence and Distribution

The Small Hive Beetle (SHB) has transitioned from being a confined pest to a global threat, spreading to multiple continents and affecting various regions.

Global Spread and Affiliated Regions

Originally from sub-Saharan Africa, the Small Hive Beetle is now established beyond its native range. Global spread has been significant with the beetle having reached the shores of the United States, various parts of Australia, Canada, and even Cuba. International trade and the movement of bee colonies have greatly facilitated the beetle’s expansion.

Case Studies: Africa, Australia, USA, and UK

Africa: As a native species of the region, SHBs in sub-Saharan Africa have coexisted with local bee populations with minimal impact. However, this subtropical region served as the genesis of what would become an international pest issue.

Australia: In Australia, the presence of the Small Hive Beetle has been recorded since the early 2000s. It has adapted to local conditions and poses a threat to the Australian beekeeping industry.

United States: Since their detection in the United States in 1996, SHBs have spread to many states, creating significant challenges for beekeepers. The climate in the United States has proven hospitable to SHBs, aiding in their reproduction and survival.

United Kingdom: Although the UK has not experienced an established population, the threat remains serious given the beetle’s presence in nearby regions. Vigilance and biosecurity measures are critical to preventing the beetle’s establishment in the UK.

Impact on Honey Bee Colonies

The Small Hive Beetle (SHB) poses a critical threat to honey bee colonies, undermining the structural integrity of the comb and jeopardising the health of the bee brood. A consequence of infestation may include hive abandonment, which devastates not only the infested colonies but also the wider ecosystem dependent on pollination.

Damage to Honeycomb and Bee Brood

SHB larvae burrow through honeycomb, feeding on honey, pollen, and bee brood, which causes severe damage to the comb structure. They defecate in the honey, causing fermentation and spoilage. This not only wastes the bees’ valuable food stores but also results in a condition known as “slime-out”, where the honeycombs become slimy and unfit for bee habitation.

  • Fermented honey: no longer edible for bees or humans
  • Ruined comb: bees must expend energy and resources to repair or rebuild

Risks of Hive Abandonment

When SHB infestation levels become high, the bee colonies are often forced to abandon their hives—a phenomenon known as hive abandonment. They may leave behind their brood and vital resources in search of a new home.

  • Abandoned hives: once bees vacate, the hive deteriorates rapidly
  • Infested colonies risk complete collapse, exacerbating the problem of bee population decline

Management of SHB is crucial to ensure the sustainability of honey bee colonies, the preservation of beeswax structures, and to prevent the potential escalation leading to hive abandonment.

Detection and Monitoring

In combating small hive beetles (SHB), a keen approach to detection and monitoring within the apiary is critical. Timely recognition and regular surveillance are the first lines of defence to safeguard bee colonies from this invasive pest.

Inspection Techniques

Beekeepers must regularly conduct hive inspections to check for the presence of SHB. One should look for adult beetles scuttling within the hive or larvae in the comb. The beetles are small, dark in colour, and oval-shaped, whereas the larvae are cream-coloured and worm-like. These inspections should be thorough, examining the corners and crevices of the hive where beetles may hide from the bees. Brood frames and honey stores are particularly at risk and merit close scrutiny.

Monitoring Tools and Traps

A variety of monitoring tools and traps are available to beekeepers for SHB surveillance and control. Traps are typically designed to lure beetles using bait such as fermenting fruit or proprietary attractants and then trap them in a container from which they cannot escape. Beekeeping equipment providers offer options like in-hive traps that fit between frames or sit on the bottom board. These traps often contain oil or diatomaceous earth that ensnares and kills the beetles without harming the bees. Regular trap maintenance is essential for them to remain effective.

Integrated Pest Management Strategies

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for small hive beetles combines various tactics to keep pest populations under control. Effective IPM includes cultural, mechanical, and biological strategies, each playing a pivotal role in mitigating the threat these beetles pose to beehives.

Cultural Control Methods

Cultural control methods are best practices designed to create an environment less conducive to small hive beetle infestations. Beekeepers are encouraged to maintain strong, populous colonies since healthy bees are more capable of fending off invaders. Additionally, keeping apiaries in full sun can deter beetle breeding as they prefer shady conditions. It is also essential to remove any weak or dead hives promptly, which can serve as breeding grounds for pests.

Mechanical and Physical Barriers

Mechanical and physical barriers serve as a direct line of defence against the ingress of small hive beetles. A popular mechanical control is the use of bottom boards with reduced beetle entry points. Beekeepers often install traps within the hives that lure in adult beetles, trapping them and thus preventing reproduction and honeycomb damage. Consistent monitoring and cleaning of these traps are vital to their effectiveness.

Biological Controls and Natural Predators

Adopting biological controls involves the use of natural predators and agents that target small hive beetles. Entomopathogenic nematodes can be applied to the soil around hives, targeting beetle larvae during their pupation phase. Ensuring the presence of these nematodes can be considered a part of integrated pest management best practices. In areas where small hive beetles are a problem, beekeepers sometimes use chickens or ducks that naturally feed on exposed larvae and beetles around the hives, aiding in population control.

Chemical and Non-Chemical Treatments

Effective management of Small Hive Beetles (SHB) hinges on the application of both chemical treatments and alternative control techniques. Beekeepers must select appropriate methods in compliance with local regulations and recommended practices.

Approved Chemical Treatments

Chemical treatments for SHB include specifically authorised insecticides that are applied within the hive. One must apply these substances with utmost care to avoid harming the bee colony. Permethrin is a commonly used chemical; however, its application and approval status vary by region and should only be employed if sanctioned by local agricultural authorities.

Alternative Control Techniques

In addressing the SHB threat, beekeepers have devised various non-chemical strategies. Mechanical traps using mineral or vegetable oil to drown the adult beetles are widely recommended for their efficacy and safety. Furthermore, heating the hive to temperatures that are lethal for the SHB but tolerable for the bees is an emerging control technique. This method, however, requires careful monitoring to prevent collateral damage to the bees.

Prevention and Legislative Measures

In order to safeguard apiaries from the Small Hive Beetle (SHB), a combination of prevention strategies and legislated protocols is essential. Best practices among beekeepers and adherence to regulations help to maintain bee health and support the productivity of bee-related agriculture.

Beekeeping Best Practices

Beekeepers can play a crucial role in the prevention of SHB by adhering to a set of best practices. Ensuring that hives are strong, population is high, and bees are healthy is the first line of defence against an SHB infestation. Weak colonies should be consolidated, and apiaries should be kept clean from discarded wax and other debris. The introduction of new bees into a colony should be carefully managed, with quarantine protocols in place to prevent the introduction of SHB from infested areas. Additionally, beekeeping associations provide guidelines to enable beekeepers to recognise symptoms of an infestation early and take immediate action.

Regulations and Compliance

Legislation plays a vital role in the control of SHB. In the UK, SHB is classified as a notifiable pest under the Bee Diseases and Pests Control (England) Order 2006, managed by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Beekeepers are required to report any suspected presence of SHB to DEFRA, which may then undertake measures to contain and eradicate the pest. Export regulations also demand that bee products and bees from countries where SHB is present are thoroughly inspected to ensure they are free of the beetle. Agriculture regulations might restrict the movement of bee colonies and beekeeping equipment from infested to non-infested regions to prevent the spread of SHB. Compliance with these preventative measures supports the health of bees and protects the beekeeping industry’s viability.