Small Hive Beetle Management

The small hive beetle (SHB) (Aethina tumida) is a pernicious threat to beekeepers and can swiftly destroy a thriving hive. Originally native to sub-Saharan Africa, the SHB has become a significant issue in Australia since its introduction in 2002, particularly in warm and humid coastal regions between Victoria and North Queensland. The larvae of the SHB cause the majority of harm to active hives by consuming brood, honey, and pollen and contaminating the honey with a fermenting yeast. Infestations can lead to the destruction ( a “slime-out”) of a strong hive in just a few days.

To minimise the damage caused by SHB, beekeepers should follow a set of preventative measures, particularly during the summer months when temperatures are above 30°C and humidity is 70% or higher, as these conditions are ideal for SHB activity and reproduction. 

Some of the strategies include:

  • Maintaining strong, healthy colonies with young and productive queens.
  • Uniting weak colonies to form stronger ones, or boosting weaker colonies with a frame of capped brood from strong colonies.
  • Removing excess comb to ensure that the bees do not have too much comb relative to colony size.
  • Minimising cracks and crevices in the hive and using high-quality equipment to prevent bee access to certain areas.
  • Keeping the bottom board of the hive free of debris or using a slotted base designed for beetle prevention, with agricultural lime or diatomaceous earth in the trays. Clean weekly and replace if itgets wet as it’s only effective as dust.
  • Taking care when re-queening to avoid hive stress and manipulation that can create conditions suitable for SHB reproduction.
  • Avoiding the use of combs and equipment that are infested with any stage of the SHB life cycle.
  • Maintaining good hygiene around the apiary to reduce the attraction of SHB.
  • Using blue chux dishwashing cloths (only blue coloured and not impregnated with antibacterial additives) within the hives as an effective trap for beetles. Mix 50/50 white sugar and water (doesn’t need to be exact) and soak then wring the chux to avoid dripping. The bees will suck on the chux, pulling the fibres apart slightly to “fluff-up”, creating the trap. Place the ⅓ folded chux across the tops of the frames and tuck down between frames (or staple to frame) to ensure the bees can’t pull it down between the frames, possibly causing blockage of the entrance. The beetles will get stuck in the chux, but the bees don’t. Replace every 2 weeks. This is also a great visual guide as to the current population of beetles. Simply lift your lid for a quick check. 
  • Using beetle baits, which are readily available for purchase for only $5, and can be replaced every 2-3 months.
  • Placing the legs of the hives into cups of oil to create a barrier against SHB. Also effective against ant invasions.
  • Spreading used coffee grounds under and around the hives to create an acidic soil environment that is unfavourable for beetle breeding.
  • Making DIY beetle traps by following this video tutorial.

By following these preventative measures, beekeepers can protect their hives from the damaging effects of the SHB and maintain healthy, thriving colonies.