I’m a real beekeeper now.

By which I mean: I’ve found my first adult small hive beetle in the colony.

The small hive beetle, Aethina tumida, is an invasive species from sub-Saharan Africa, first identified in the U.S. in the late 1990s. Since then, it’s become recognized as a significant pest of honey bee hives in its introduced range. They’re particularly prevalent here in the southeast, because while their eggs are vulnerable to dessication, our nice, humid climate generally keeps the eggs from drying out. Female hive beetles lay their eggs in honeycomb or other crevices within the bee hive, and when the larvae hatch out, their favorite food is bee brood. In addition to weakening the bee colony by reducing reproduction, the larvae can ruin honey by spreading a yeast they carry on their skin, causing the honey to ferment. (You can find more information on small hive beetles, and make disgusted noises over some truly unpleasant pictures, here.) The larvae exit the hive when they’re ready to pupate in the soil, and then the adult beetles emerge and the cycle begins again.

Have I mentioned that insects are weird? I find that one of the most interesting things about small hive beetles is that honey bees will chase them across the comb and into small spaces where they then actually post a guard bee and imprison adult beetles. Sadly for the hive, the honey bee prison system is not a terminal sentence: Small hive beetles know how to stimulate their captors to regurgitate food for them, so they don’t starve in the pokey. This ends up simply being a manpower (beepower?) drain on the colony.

Finding these beetles in your hive is not an if, but a when, so now that I have joined that regrettable club, I feel like I must be a real grown-up beekeeper! (However, I will entertain counterproposals that I have to wait for my first varroa mite to hit this benchmark.) In my last post, I mentioned squashing what I believed to be a small hive beetle larva, so finding an adult isn’t really a great surprise. The good news is that the beetle I found was dead, caught in the fibers of one of the Swiffer pads sophisticated beetle traps I installed. Hopefully, having beetle traps in place now will help me keep the population down. The bad news is that where there is one, there are bound to be more.

I never realized I could instantly hate something so tiny.

Most colonies host small hive beetles, and a strong colony that is well managed will tend to keep beetle populations low on their own. The greater danger with these beetles is that their effects can combine with pressures on a colony from viruses, pesticides, and other pests like the varroa mite (another invasive species in the U.S.), which together can very rapidly cause a colony to collapse. (One might even call this colony collapse…. a disorder. Heh. See what I did there? One popular hypothesis about the much-publicized Colony Collapse Disorder is that it is not the result of one mystery virus, but compounded pressures from increasing stressors that honey bees face in the modern world.)

So that happened. Otherwise, the colony seems to be doing well. They’re building comb a little more quickly now, though they have still not completely built out both bottom boxes. I find they are very reluctant to bother with the outer frames, so I’ve continued to checkerboard them, which I hope isn’t a mistake — I will definitely stop in the fall so they can situate themselves for the winter. So far the bees seem to be responding well, and most every frame has at least the start of some comb construction going on. I haven’t found any more queen cells during my last two checks (yes, I’m behind on reporting again*), and the bees seem to be very zealous about putting away honey right now. It makes me happy to see things like this!

Do you maybe want to wait until the comb is completely bui–no? Well, okay.

On the grounds that the comb in the bottom boxes is about 75% pulled out, I went ahead and added a honey super to my hive. This may be premature — I’ll find out soon — but the bees appear to want to fill entire frames with honey, rather than just storing it around the edges of the brood box. This sounds great in theory — more honey, yeah! — but if they’re storing honey in cells, the queen can’t lay eggs in those cells. A hive in which the queen has no room to lay is termed “honey bound,” and it’s not a good thing. So I went ahead and added another box on top that can be used exclusively for honey storage, and should stop the workers from filling up all their free space in the brood box with nectar.

In my last entry, I mentioned that queens normally move up to the highest box they can reach. There are three things that will keep a queen from doing this. Well, at least three. Probably, there are more, but these are the three I know about right now:

  • A queen excluder: A wire or plastic grid insert that the workers can pass through, but that is too narrow for the fat-bodied queen to slip past (in theory… I mentioned that bees don’t read books, right?)
  • She’s still busy laying in the bottom box. (Give her a minute, okay? She’ll get there.) Beekeepers who manage their colonies without queen excluders rotate the boxes regularly to keep the queen down out of the supers.
  • Queens typically will not move up past a honey barrier – a layer of honey that extends horizontally all the way across the hive. Once you have a full super of honey, the queen will typically stay beneath it.

Predictably, some beekeepers swear by queen excluders, and others just swear at them. It’s one of those things beekeepers enjoy fighting about. For now, I am opting for the technological solution:

You just stay in there and think about what you’ve done!

My hive is getting taller!

That moment when you realize you should have stenciled the long edges of the box, too…

So all of that has happened since I last posted here.

The most exciting thing that happened during my most recent colony check, though, is that the bees and I also had a welcome visitor – our very first! I bought a spare jacket (which I may start using myself soon – it’s much cooler than my full suit) and my best friend came over and let me hand her a bunch of bees! She didn’t seem nervous at all, which is far more than I can say the first time someone handed me a bunch of bees. In addition to adding the honey super, we found the queen, and looked at eggs and larvae. The bees were very good and polite hosts. (We may also have cooed at them, but they’re used to that from me.)

Please note the lack of running and screaming. Bees aren’t scary! Come see them!

So I’m pleased to say bee visitation hours are on. I really look forward to having more guests visit the bees. I love interacting with the colony, and I’m excited about sharing that experience!


*I have a good excuse for my lateness: The bees ate my homework. Well, WordPress ate my homework. Sort of. It turns out that WordPress has an image storage quota that I have been inadvertently chewing through by uploading very high-quality images, which I assumed were being resized for upload, but nope! I was out of image space. I’m working on a more elegant solution, but for now, I’m taking the brute-force approach. …You know. MS Paint.


Edit like it’s 1999.

1 thought on “I’m a real beekeeper now.”

  1. I want to come play with bees!

    So, if these Bad News Beetles can muck up both reproduction and honey, how long would it be before you’d realize they are making an impact? Would you just suddenly BAM know that a bunch of bees aren’t hatching because they’ve been eaten? Or is it more subtle?

    And as for the fermented honey bit, would the bees stop using it if they know it’s fermented? For that matter, when you say fermented do you mean “rancid and unusable” or “turning into beer to make the bees become Drunken Bees”?

    Feel free to answer these questions much, much later. I’m going to set off on a Google search now :p


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