The small hive beetle, Aethina tumida, is a scavenger and parasite of honey bee colonies. The beetle is native to Africa, but was introduced to other countries through commercial movement of bees. The small hive beetle has become a major problem in introduced areas. It has caused considerable damage and colony losses in the Southeast United States.
The adult beetle's appearanceAdults and larvae of the small hive beetle are found in active bee hives and stored bee equipment, where they feed on honey and pollen. The adult beetle is small (1/3 the size of a bee), oval-shaped, have broad, flattened bodies which is covered with short, fine hair. They will initially be a reddish-brown color for a short period after hatching. As they mature they will darken into a dark brown or black color. Caution must be taken not to confuse SHB with closely related Nitidulidae beetles. This is especially true for Cychramus luteus, which might be easily confused with not fully mature adult SHBs (Neumann and Ritter, 2004,
The eggs of A. tumida are pearly-white and about 2/3 the size of a honey bee egg and can usually be found in typical egg-clutches (Lundie 1940). A. tumida eggs are mostly deposited in clutches that can be found anywhere within the hive. Females appear to prefer crevices or cavities for oviposition (Neumann and Härtel, 2004), however, eggs can also be found on combs or underneath sealed honey combs (Neumann and Hoffmann, 2008) or directly with the honey bee pupae underneath the cell cappings (Ellis et al., 2003f; Ellis and Delaplane, 2008).
Larvae appearanceA. tumida's larvae are creamy-white and emerge from the egg shell through a longitudinal slit at the anterior end (Lundie, 1940). They look very similar to the wax moth larvae, but the legs of beetle larvae are larger, more pronounced, and restricted to near the head. Beetle larvae also don't spin webs or cocoons in the bee hive. All stages of larvae may be found crawling on and in the combs where they especially pierce the cappings and side walls of rather fresh combs. They will tunnel through combs, killing bee brood and ruining combs. Larvae can heavily damage delicate, newly drawn-out comb. When infestation is heavy, the bees may abandon the hive. A. tumida have rarely been reported outside of hives, apiaries and other apicultural facilities (e.g. occasionally in fruit buckets, Buchholz et al., 2008).
A. tumida lays its eggs on or near beeswax combs. As eggs hatch, beetle larvae will eat the pollen, comb, eggs, and young larval honey bees. On completion of the larval stage, they will crawl out of the hive and pupate in the nearby soil outside of the hive. The beetles are more attracted to areas with sandy soil.
TransmissionSupering colonies, making splits, exchanging combs, or use of Porter bee escapes can spread the beetles or provide room for beetles to become established away from the cluster of protective bees.