- 29 Oct 2018
A notifiable pest, the small hive beetle (SHB) belongs to a family of scavenger beetles known as the Nitidulidae. It is indigenous to Africa, where it is a minor pest as native African bees have natural defences, but has now been found in places such as Australia, Canada and the USA. In 2014 SHB was detected in a bee colony in the South of Italy, where eradication and control measures are currently being implemented.
The beetle mainly lives and breeds on its primary host the honey bee - in colonies, stored comb and beekeeping equipment - but it can also survive and reproduce on certain types of fruit, particularly melons. The beetles multiply to huge numbers, their larvae tunnel through comb to eat brood, ruin stored honey, and ultimately destroy infested colonies or cause them to abscond.
Signs of small hive beetle in a colony include:
- small black beetles running around the comb or hiding in small dark crevices of the hive
- larvae burrowing through the brood combs, consuming brood and stores
- larvae clumping together in corners of frames or combs cells
- clusters of small ‘rice grain’ eggs in cracks and crevices of the hive
- honey fermenting and dripping out of cells
- combs becoming slimy or smelling of rotten oranges
How small hive beetle is spread
Small hive beetle is spread by movement of package bees, honey bee colonies, swarms, honeycomb, beeswax, soil and fruit. Adults can survive for two weeks without food and water, 50 days on used comb and several months on fruit. Adults can fly at least five miles to infest new colonies. Weak colonies are at the greatest risk of infestation. Strong colonies will actively remove larvae, but are not able to deal with adult beetles due to their hard exoskeleton and their defensive behaviour.
Human health implications
There are no human health implications because the pest is not zoonotic.
How to control the pest
The SHB cannot be eradicated once well established, therefore beekeepers will have to put in place measures to control infestations. There is no simple way to control this bee pest and an integrated pest management system will have to be used. To control infestations it is necessary to disrupt or prevent the life cycle of the beetle.
Beekeepers are encouraged to undertake heightened vigilance, good biosecurity measures and hygiene procedures, as these are two key actions that beekeepers can take to help control this disease. Useful information is available to beekeepers on the SBA website and BeeBase.
Further information on how to legally import and export bees is available from Beebase.