Small hive beetle (SHB) can have a crippling effect on honey bees. Their mobility allows them to quickly move to new hives, especially those that appear vulnerable.
The easiest way to avoid SHB is to practice beekeeping in areas where this pest hasn’t yet migrated to. If that sounds a little extreme, follow this guide which looks at how to prevent small hive beetle from infesting your hives.
How can beekeepers prevent SHB?
To lessen the chance of getting small hive beetle, beekeepers should strengthen weak hives, respect bee space, and keep inspections to a minimum.
Removing clearer boards, placing hives out of the shade, and maintaining hive hygiene will also help ward off beetles.
Consider beetle traps or laying out diatomaceous earth around the hive for a more aggressive approach to insect invasions.
1. Strengthen weak hives
A weak bee colony has a target on its back. Beetles prefer making their home in these hives as they face less resistance. Low bee numbers mean sections of comb go unguarded, allowing adult beetles to lay eggs uninterrupted.
Beekeepers should maintain strong colonies, giving the bees a fighting chance at warding off pests. If you have multiple hives, consider uniting two struggling colonies. Another option is to add two sealed brood combs from a thriving hive into the weak one.
Before transferring or combining hive resources, both hives must be free from all diseases and pests. Otherwise, you’ll facilitate the spread and weaken even the strongest colony.
Tip: Learn the common signs of small hive beetle so that you stop them from spreading to nearby hives.
2. Respect comb space
Too much comb space in a hive is never a good idea, so beekeepers should avoid adding extra supers before they’re needed. Excess space may cause the colony to abandon its home. But even if they remain, the unguarded comb is prone to small hive beetle infestation.
Beekeepers should check the hive’s comb to see how much is filled with brood and honey. Avoid adding an extra super until at least 70% of the comb is full. Consider removing a super if your hive has more than 30% empty comb. This step will make it easier for the bees to defend their home.
3. Reduce hive inspections
While this advice may sound counterintuitive, it is essential only to open the hive when necessary. Trying to spot the queen doesn’t usually count as a good reason.
The smell of honey and pollen attracts beetles to hives. But what they love more is a freshly opened hive, especially if a few bees were accidentally squashed during the inspection. At this point, the colony is vulnerable and less able to fight a parasitic invasion.
It is best to minimize opening the hive even if SHB hasn’t reached your state or country. This practice sets the hive back days, so keep inspections to essential hive management.
4. Remove clearer boards
Clearer boards, or escape boards, help remove bees from a super before removing it. The clearer stops bees from returning to the super once they leave.
It is best not to leave honeycomb above clearer boards for longer than necessary. Remove it for extraction once the bees clear. This comb is unprotected and provides a warm environment for beetles to thrive.
5. Consider hive position
The simple step of ensuring all hives are placed in a sunny position is a significant deterrent for SHB. These pests love the shade, so hives in a shady gully will have much greater appeal. Read more about the small hive beetle’s lifecycle to understand how they develop and what conditions they prefer.
Beekeepers who live in a hot, sunny climate should consider partial shade. It will give their bees some relief from days of extreme heat.
6. Focus on apiary hygiene
Maintaining a clean, well-kept hive is the job of the bees and beekeeper. Any burr comb, beeswax, or other scraps left lying around hives will attract small hive beetle. Remove any leftovers and process them appropriately.
Keep bottom boards clean, and never introduce supers or other untreated materials from another infested hive.
7. Set beetle traps
Beetle traps come in a wide range of sizes and shapes. They are a good investment if you live in an area prone to SHB. They’re a preventative measure but double as a useful treatment. Click here to learn more about treatments for small hive beetle.
Some gadgets are chemical-free. They often have a small opening that’s too small for bees to access. Once insects enter, an ocean of inescapable oil awaits. Sticky mats are another option for ensuring the bugs can’t get away.
Some traps come with a chemical that beekeepers apply. Never add these chemicals directly inside the hive, as they often harm bees.
8. Scatter diatomaceous earth
Some beekeepers spread food-grade diatomaceous earth, or amorphous silica, around the hive to roughly six feet. It won’t stop adult beetles, but many beekeepers find it helps control maturing larvae from leaving the hive to pupate in the nearby soil.
Sprinkling out the earth just before expected rainfall will stop bees from mistaking it for pollen. A light dusting is all that’s required. Always wear a good quality mask before application to avoid inhaling dust particles. Learn more about DE here.
Important: Beekeepers considering diatomaceous earth should check local laws around its use.
How to prevent SHB at the honey extraction shed
- After combs of honey are removed from the hive, immediately extract them to reduce the chance of eggs hatching into larvae.
- Keep combs with traces of brood should away from the extraction zone.
- Protect comb waiting to be extracted by circulating dry air and keeping humidity in the room below 50%.
- Comb removed from the hive is still a target for SHB.
- Wax, burr comb, and dead bees should be kept away from the extracting premises.
- Melt down any beeswax and also package and freeze pollen.
Nothing guarantees your hives will remain free from the threat of pests and disease. However, proper beehive management will give honey bees their best chance of developing into a thriving colony. A strong, growing hive has the numbers to keep out threats better.
Even the strongest hive can be susceptible to insect invasions. To help prevent small hive beetle, try to strengthen weak colonies and avoid big unused spaces in the hive. Keeping inspections to a minimum will also greatly benefit your bees, helping to avert a SHB invasion.