Biological Control of Small Hive Beetle

I corralled about a million nematodes under each of my three hives this morning. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

Infective Juvenile Nematode

Infective Juvenile Nematode

Small Hive Beetle is a native of Africa. It found it’s way to Florida in 1998 and is now widespread in the United States. I found Small Hive Beetle in 2 of the 3 hives this week. They are nasty. Their larvae can ruin a hive to the point where the bees simply abscond. I put in oil traps but I really wanted to put a crimp on the life cycle of the beetles that don’t get trapped.

Here is a summary of the small hive beetle’s life cycle:

  1. Adult beetles lay large numbers of eggs in the hive.
  2. Eggs hatch into beetle larvae which eat brood, pollen and honey. This is how they ruin a hive.
  3. Larvae crawl out of the hive to pupate. Pupation usually occurs in soil outside the hive.
  4. Adults emerge from the ground and can fly 5 miles to infest new colonies.

Putting in oil traps gets the small hive beetle at stage #1. Some beekeepers get rid of their compost piles because small hive beetle can flourish there and re-infest hives (stage #5). Some beekeepers put plastic under their hives in an effort to stop them at stage #3. I think this looks cheesy and it probably just makes the larvae crawl farther.

I really hate small hive beetles. I don’t just want them to die. I want them to die a horrific death. That’s where nematodes come in.

Once small hive beetle larvae crawl into the soil under the hive, they will be greeted by hungry nematodes. These tiny, unsegmented parasitic worms will find cracks and orifices to burrow into the larvae. Once inside the larvae, they will regurgitate mutualistic bacteria (Xenorhabjus or Photobabdus) from their stomachs into the body cavity of the larvae. This bacteria will grow and turn the insides of larvae into rotten goo within 48 hours. The nematodes lap this goo up, lay eggs in the cadaver, and new nematodes emerge. The whole cycle from infection to emergence takes 10 to 15 days!

I called Southeastern Insectaries, Inc. of Perry, Georgia (478-988-9412, southeasterninsectaries.com) and ordered a baggy of five million nematodes of genera Steinernematidae & Heterorhabditidae. That is enough to treat about 10 hives so I gave a couple million nematodes to a neighbor beekeeper. An insulated package arrived from Southeastern Insectaries two days later. It came with instructions and interesting information on the nematodes. Basically, you mix the nematodes into water and apply them with a sprinkling can.

For more information on beneficial nematodes and a list of suppliers, visit this Cornell University web page. Nematodes are becoming easier to find and that may make then cheaper in the future. The Home Depot website has nematodes for $20 but they do not say what genera they are. Beneficial nematodes will not attack other animals such as pets, wildlife, neighbor kids, or plants.

For more information on the Small Hive Beetle, click here.

I will report in the future on the ongoing battle with Small Hive Beetle.

6 comments to Biological Control of Small Hive Beetle

  • GiveThanks,

    Unfortunately, I have seen no studies on the subject and have detected no consensus among the experts. Perhaps this is because nematodes only potentially influence one factor of a multifactor problem. Mature hive beetles from several mile away are said to follow scent trails to sweet-smelling hives. So even if nematodes kill SHB larvae 100% of the time, you still have a significant problem from beetles outside the apiary.

    I have thought of using external traps (in addition to nematodes & internal oil & vinegar traps) but have heard that they can make matters worse because they attract mature SHB from afar.

    Here is what I believe does work to contain SHB:
    1. a healthy colony that fills all corners of the hive – this is also the best way to manage wax moth
    2. feeding of pollen patties in smaller, more frequent portions – so that the bees can process it quickly and minimize availability to SHB.

  • GiveThanks

    Wondering if anyone has any updates on the use of nematodes for hive beetles? Advice on application or lessons learned they’d like to share?
    Would love to learn more and see if they are affective at controlling SHB.
    Give Thanks

  • Beeutifulbees,

    That is an excellent idea since SHB are reported to fly as far as 5 miles and compost heaps are breeding grounds for fruit-loving grubs. The grubs favor slightly moist, loose, sandy soil. I did a little research and found no definitive studies on SHB control by treating compost piles with nematodes. I have heard beekeepers plead with other beekeepers to destroy their compost piles but I think your solution is better.

    I will definitely treat my compost pile next time I treat the area under my hives with nematodes.

  • beeutifulbees

    Does this nematode infest garden vegetables and can I put some in my compost piles? We have several piles four foot cubed.

  • carsimex

    Hello,
    Very interesting post and was interesting in learning more if using Nematode to help to control SHB. Please post results.

    Thanks, Andrey.

  • ET

    Long ago as a student I use to work at the nematology lab at the University of Florida. In those days nematodes were often viewed as a large problem for turf grass producers and for golf courses. Now this very small beast may be one of the beekeeper’s best friends.

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