February 1999 – Special

George Imirie’s PINK PAGES

The Small Hive Beetle

Maryland is NOT too cold for this new “critter”, nor is Maine, Ohio or Minnesota (who has already filed or special exception to treat). How well I remember those days of 1984 when tracheal mites were first found in the U.S., and the reaction of many beekeepers. Most ignored the announcement, some said “so what”, some bought more Terramycin, some stop buying packages or queens, two states tried to stop trucks of bees from entering their highways or banned bees from out-of-state, others said “my bees are healthy and are not moved from their safe home so they will be OK”, and a few of us who had listened long and hard to the scientists went to chemical houses, bought menthol, and treated our bees.

Even in spite of the heavy losses by tracheal mite infection during the next 3 years, in 1987 beekeepers reacted the same way with the appearance of the varroa mite! We all know that many thousands of colonies have been sacrificed to man’s unwillingness to pay attention to the bee experts, the scientists, or the extension people; and persisted in believing that time worn-out philosophy that “it won’t happen to me”.

Sticking with my crusade of attempting to “Upgrade Havers into Keepers”, I am writing this article early to put you on the alert that the small hive beetle is a real killer of bees and whole apiaries can be wiped out in a very short period of time, “overnight” is the word used by the Florida Dept. of Agriculture.

I will try to summarize my knowledge about the beetle that was learned by spending several hours in Nashville at the American Beekeeping Federation’s Convention listening to highly skilled beekeeping investigators who have been researching this new beetle for the past 8 months.

Some of the very prominent investigators included: Dr. Shimanuki of Beltsville Lab; Drs. Wilson & Eischen of Weslaco Lab; Laurence Cutts and David Westervelt, State Apiarists of Florida; Jim Baxter of Weslaco Lab; and Jack Thomas of Mann Lake Ltd. plus numerous others who presented their findings to the meeting of the Honey Producers Assn. meeting which was held earlier in the week at Baton Rouge, LA.

I spent a lot of personal time with Florida’s #1″beetle” man, David Westervelt and Dr. Bill Wilson, who was sent from Weslaco Lab to investigate the resistant varroa mite and got heavily involved with the hive beetle. It is interesting that David Westervelt comes from a migratory beekeeping family, so he has great knowledge about bees and the movement of bees.

Before you lose interest in my long-windyness statement about this devastating pest, let me tell you how your colonies in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, or any other area are going to get this beetle.

It can fly, estimated up to 5 miles, it very happily lives in a bee colony or just among bees like migratory hives, pollinating hives, “nuc” hives, or packages. Although in emergency, the adult beetles will eat cantaloupe or other fruit, they prefer HONEY or POLLEN, and the larvae burrow through the comb of both super frames and brood frames to get it, thereby destroying the bee brood.

The beetle larvae also may burrow into the ground near colonies to pupate. In tests, beetle larvae have survived being frozen for 0 days at -5 degrees, and upon warming became adult beetles. Hence, beetles traveling in a colony of migratory, pollinating, nuc or package bees can come into your state this spring or summer, drop off into the ground, pupate, and fly to some resident colony of bees, maybe YOURS!

This beetle, Aethina tumida Murray, is known as an apiary pest in South Africa, where it is called the small hive beetle. With total difference of honey bee species in South Africa other than our European types, the normal habits of their bees, notably absconding rather than building up to a large population and then swarming, the hive beetle is considered an annoying pest rather than a devastating colony killer. The adult beetle is broad, flattened about 3/16″ – 1/4″ long, dark brown to nearly black in color, has 6 legs, and can scurry away to hide rather quickly.

Unlike our bees, the gestation period of the small hive beetle is weather dependent and highly variable, from 38 to 81 days. Hence, you can see that the population can be EXPLOSIVE in the warm months of May through September, with each female laying 1000’s of eggs.

In 1998, beetles were found in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and scattered reports of sightings in several other states.

The effect upon a beetle by DISTURBING A BEE HIVE is most unusual and surely works AGAINST a beekeeper. After the beetle “takes up residence” in a particular bee hive, it seems to coexist rather well without much breeding and multiplication, but when that colony is DISTURBED perhaps by a beekeeper’s inspection or move by truck, the beetles suddenly mate and shortly thereafter the colony is overwhelmed by the increased number of beetle larvae eating through the comb and brood to the demise of the colony. Just as interesting is the speculation that beetles are attracted to disturbed colonies, i. e. leaving an undisturbed hive where they coexist with the bees there and fly to a disturbed hive and mate resulting in a sudden reproduced increase in beetle population.

Quoting a paragraph from the SpeedyBee: “In the field, the researchers noticed that hives which were intensely manipulated one day would be seen succumbing to beetles the next day. It is thought that a strong, stable colony is able to stay abreast of the infestation and eat/kill the emerging beetle larvae; however, in the wake of intense manipulation, the colony becomes disoriented for a period, during which the beetle population overcomes the bees.

To “put icing on the cake”, a beekeeper had an infestation of beetles in his honey house and the larvae had crawled to the soil outside of the house, pupated, and emerged as adults to perpetuate and spread a heavy infestation of beetles over a large area!

WHAT IS THE TREATMENT? Many chemicals have been tried to kill the beetles without damage to bees, and to date, only one has been found – cournaphos, an organophospate. The EPA has ALL organophosphates under review due to the Food Quality Protection Act which means EPA is highly resistant to release any organophosphate for any use unless a very special need exists and the use of that chemical is HIGHLY CONTROLLED. Scientists at Weslaco Lab had found that Cournaphos will kill the Apistan resistant varroa mite. Hence, Bob Crawford,Commissioner of the Florida Dept. of Agriculture appealed to EPA to use Cournaphos in Florida, and apply for colonies troubled with resistant varroa mites and/or SMALL HIVE BEETLES. All other states will have to show just cause in their filings. Maryland State Apiarist, Bart Smith, told me in Nashville, that Maryland will file quickly because we now have varroa mites resistant to Apistan in Anne Arundel County.

Only one commercial firm, Mann Lake, Ltd. of Hackensack, Minnesota is licensed to sell Cournaphos strips and their cost will be from $1.7S – $2.40 each, dependent on quantity purchased. These strips will not be available for “open purchase”, but only by permit. The strips are NOT used like Apistan strips. Since Hive Beetles like to HIDE and are very mobile,one strip is to be put under the ends of the top bars, both front and rear of the hive, and the 3rd strip is to be placed UNDER CARDBOARD at the front entrance to the colony. Staying “true to form” of “letting the chips fall regardless of where”, I want to say that certain beekeepers(Know-it-alls) abused the use of Miti-Cur a few years ago, causing the manufacturer to withdraw it from sale.Miti-Cur strips contained Amitraz which, effective on both tracheal and varroa mites, was a fine mite control chemical, and I hated to see it taken off the market. This was caused by the “back yard good-old boys” trying to play “scientist” who figured if 10 was a good dose, then 50 would be better and 5 times faster, and they killed their bees and then had the GALL to sue the manufacturer claiming “defective chemical”. Rather than waste money in court defending Miti-Cur, the manufacturer simply removed Miti-Cur from the market. DON’T LET THE SAME THING HAPPEN TO COUMAPHOS! I end this long epistle by saying: Now beginning my 66th year of beekeeping, I have seen many things, both good and bad, come and go; but our stomachs need the food secured by honey bee pollination, and my mind has been often blessed by the Joys of Good Beekeeping. So, just as one “climbs a mountain just to get to the top”, let us all try to Upgrade our thinking from beeHAVER to beeKEEPER!

George Imirie
Certified EAS Master Beekeeper

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