Last Updated on January 15, 2022
In this article, we look at small hive beetle larvae vs wax moth larvae. In European races of the honeybee, a small hive beetle infestation can be a major problem. We look at how to treat small hive beetle, and once you have your small hive beetle infestation under control, the best methods of hive beetle control.
In the early 1990s, I was working as a student bee researcher in South Africa, for the renowned American honeybee Professor Randal Hepburn. We would look in hives and see these little beetles running around, and he said “That’s Aethina tumida, the small hive beetle.”
I belonged to a few early internet chat groups at the time. When the small hive beetle was first seen in the US, a lot of people asked me a lot of questions about what it did.
Now, many years later, this pest is well established across the USA and causes infestations. An understanding of its natural biology helps us kill and control this pest.
Small Hive Beetle Larvae Vs Wax Moth Larvae
What Is A Small Hive Beetle?
The small hive beetle is a honeybee pest indigenous to Africa. It preferably lays its eggs in brood or pollen, but will sometimes lay eggs in honey or nectar as well.
The beetle is a quarter of an inch or so long, black, and scurries around on the top bars and over the combs in a beehive. It naturally runs into little crevices and you can see it is up to no good just watching it. It has a mannerism very similar to a porch pirate pinching Amazon parcels.
Small Hive Beetle Lifecycle
A female can lay 2000 eggs or more in her life. The egg hatches and the larvae easts for just over two weeks, slightly longer if the brood is not warm (dead hive) and then it wriggles out of the hive, finds a spot in the soil, and burrows down.
Once the larvae are buried in the soil, it makes a smooth-walled chamber and pupates. It emerges as an adult beetle after a month or so. After mating, the hive beetle enters the hive and hides in crevices where it tricks the bees into feeding it and then lays eggs, and the cycle repeats.
In African bees, the bees are excellent at controlling the beetle and hardly ever let hive beetles get out of their crevices, or get anywhere near pollen or brood. The bees actively remove larvae and dump them far away from the hive, and generally try as hard as possible to inhibit the beetle from reproducing.
In European bees, the bees have no instinctual knowledge of how to defend themselves against the beetle, and hence it can lay a lot of eggs, and infestations build up killing or severely damaging the hive.
An infested hive will turn into a seething mass of larvae and fermented honey and is quite an unpleasant sight. The larvae will then move out into the ground and pupate and suddenly you have thousands of females laying 2000 eggs per hive and it becomes a catastrophe.
In order to compare the effects of small hive beetle larvae vs wax moth larvae let’s have a quick look at what a wax moth is.
Read more about Small Hive Beetle Treatment
What Is A Wax Moth?
The greater wax moth is an entirely different type of pest from a small hive beetle. It is normally a pest of weak hives or empty hives. Bees will generally keep this pest under control. If a hive is weak, the wax moths will find a corner where they can lay eggs. These develop into larvae which eat the wax, pollen, and bee silk in combs that have had brood in them in the past.
Larvae spin little strands of silk as they go, and a common symptom of wax moth infestation is that your combs will be full of strands of “spider web” like silk.
Holes Made When Pupating
Once the larvae are fully grown, they find a spot in the hive, burrow a hole in the wood and spin a cocoon. A while later they emerge as adult moths.
Controlling wax moths in beehives is really just down to good housekeeping and keeping your bees strong.
When comparing how we control small hive beetles vs wax moths it is important to keep the very different lifecycles of these two pests in the forefront of our thinking.
A wax moth infestation is a symptom of weak bees. A hive beetle infestation will affect strong healthy hives. We need to apply the correct management strategy to prevent a catastrophe.
How To Tell The Difference Between Wax Moth Larvae and Hive Beetle Larvae
Hive Beetle Larvae
Hive beetle larvae have a sour smell to them. A heavy infestation normally manifests as an apocalyptic mass of larvae emerging from brood combs. The larvae have spikey protrusions and are very hard. Take a larva and try to squash it. It is like a grain of wriggly rice and very difficult to squash.
There will also normally be adult hive beetles around helping you with your identification. In the event that the bees overwhelm the hive, there will be a strong sour smell of fermented honey and beetle excrement in the hive.
Wax Moth Larvae
Wax moth larvae are far less wriggly and are smooth on the outside. They tend to be found away from the brood nest if there are bees. In an abandoned hive they will be found in the brood combs, as these combs have some good food in them.
The hive moth larvae always leave tell-tale silk behind it and smell a bit like urine. It does not have the sour smell of a hive beetle. Normally with a wax moth infestation, there will be no honey in the hive.
Numerically a hive beetle infestation will always be way more overwhelming than a wax moth infestation.
Small Hive Beetle Treatment
Once you have identified small hive beetles there are a number of steps to take.
Genetics Of Your Bees
Check your genetics – what queens do you have? Do these bees have hygienic behaviors? Bees with hygienic behaviors are more resistant to hive beetles. Check with your local queen breeders which strains they have, and which are more resistant to hive beetles. Generally, bees which propalize more are more resistant to hive beetles.
Africanised bees are naturally resistant to hive beetles.
Maintain good honey house hygiene – do not leave brood unattended. Any brood from bee removals should be fed to chickens.
Supers with pollen in will produce hive beetle larvae. Store these in your honey house. If you live in an area with cold winter temperatures, hive beetles are killed by freezing. There are few places in Africa whichever freeze and hive beetles are from Africa. Cold kills them.
How To Split Hives To Reduce Risk
When splitting hives split only strong hives. Weak hives can have become a bit demoralized and not have enough resources to police against hive beetles. I have seen this even in African bees, and far more so in European bees.
Hive Beetle Control
It is important to coordinate and educate bee removers and exterminators. If hives are fumigated or poisoned, the brood combs remain in situ. These dead brood combs will produce huge flushes of hive beetles which can overwhelm hives in the surrounding areas.
The residents of the house will normally be furious as their house is overrun by larvae and stench from this. It is relatively easy to find one or two of these disasters and sensitize fumigators to the risk of angry customers.
Hive Beetle Traps
Commercially Available Traps
As we have mentioned, hive beetles enjoy hiding in little dark places. If we make a trap, that is a little dark place, and put it in between the frames, the beetles will go and hide there, and drown. This is an example of a trap using this method.
For a bottom of the hive, bottom board type trap, the Australians are always masters of ingenuity, living in the middle of nowhere. This trap is an excellent example of this ingenuity.
You can make your own simple hive beetle trap out of an old CD cover.
There are poisons and other methods that can be used. I am firmly against the use of any poisons in a beehive. They always get out, get into honey, and so on. Rather explore poison-free options for hive beetles as these can be controlled without poisons.
We hope this helps you answer questions about small hive beetles and wish you good luck controlling these pests. Please share with friends so we can get this pest under control. If we all work together, we can keep them under control.
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Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.