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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Hive beetles

There are a number of types of hive beetle; essentially large and small. The small hive beetle has recently been accidentally introduced into temperate regions from its native Africa. It has become a significant pest in some circumstances and this has generated research interest and regulation issues. In its native location, Africa, the small hive beetle is only a minor pest. However, even in African bees, a few minutes observation of the bees' behaviour indicates that they can be distressed when beetles, both large and small, are present in the hive.

The small hive beetle is a member of the family Nitidulidae  - a family of mainly scavenging beetles. It has a huge reproductive capability with one female beetle producing up to 1000 offspring and the beetles can live for several weeks away from the bees. It spreads primarily by the movement of honeybee colonies, swarms and the workers accompanying queens being sold. Bee products such as unrefined wax can also aid the beetle's dispersal.

To reduce problems from beetles take note of the following points:          

  • Weak colonies are at greatest risk; keep colonies strong so bees can repel hive beetles more easily.
  • Small entrances form a physical barrier to a number of larger bee pests. Entrances should be no more than 2 cms high (try using the end of a 'Bic' biro to measure the entrance).
  • Methods of installing hives using suspending wires may also reduce the ability of these beetles to infest hives.
  • Good bee husbandry, good beekeeping hygiene practices (e.g. sterilising the hive by using a flame gun, a burning brand or over a fire before using the hive again after bees have absconded) and good clean apiary management are important to help control the various life cycle stages of beetles.
  • Small hive beetles like to hide in cracks and will run into the grooves of corrugated cardboard. The beetles can be caught by putting corrugated cardboard (with the layer of paper removed from one side so the corrugations are exposed) in the bottom of the hive with the corrugation side placed downwards on the floor of the hive. The beetles will hide in the corrugated cardboad which can then be removed and destroyed. It is unlikely that this could from the basis of a full control method as the hive would have to be opened very often - and this can cause African bees to abscond - but it may help to reduce populations.
  • If queen rearing is done then select for bees with lower beetle populations, as these are likely to be more resistant.
  • The weak point in their life cycle is pupation which occurs in the soil. Keeping soil around the hive entrance clear helps natural predators to control this pest. The larvae emerge from the hive to pupate in sandy soil below the hive. Keeping the soil clear of vegetation around and below the hive will help natural predators kill the beetle's pupation stages.
  • In extreme cases, where the beetles are causing significant losses, insecticides can be applied very carefully to the soil under the hive to kill the pupae in the soil - but this must be done with extreme care as these insecticides can also kill the bees.

A badly infested colony can be transferred into a new hive with the worst combs removed and destroyed. Scorch old hives with fire before reuse to kill eggs and larvae hiding in the cracks of hive. If using mudded hives - remove the mud, clean out well and then replaster.

The use of movable comb or movable frame hives will make all pest and disease problems much worse especially if combs are moved between colonies for management purposes. The total removal of comb at honey harvesting helps to reduce some problems. Absconding is also beneficial for the bee's health because they move to a good clean nest site or beehive.


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