LETTER TO THE BIG ISLAND
Considering the hive beetle invasion on the Big Island, Cary Dizon, BIBA President, asked me to
write some of my observations and ideas on your blog. As with all beekeeping, nothing is written
in stone. I’m open to any suggestions, corrections and constructive criticisms you may have.
Email:email@example.com Phone:870-853-2412 Web Site: http://freemanbeetletrap.com
SMALL HIVE BEETLE CONTROL
By Jerry Freeman
Our area in southeast Arkansas also has a major hive beetle infestation. It got to the point we
simply could not keep bees due the beetles. We tried all the traps and chemicals available on the
market, but none were able to control the beetles so they did not destroy our hives. We
developed the Freeman Beetle Trap out of necessity.
Everything is written in the first person ‘I’ because it’s easier, but the trap would not have been
possible without my partner, Clyde Hammil. I can make observations and develop concepts, but
Clyde is the one that puts everything together and makes it work!
Our studies, observations, experience and feedback from beekeepers using our trap have led us to
several important conclusions.
1. Hive beetles must be killed in the hive before they produce larvae.
The life cycle of a hive beetle is:
a) The adult beetles mate and the female lays eggs – hundreds of them!
b) The eggs hatch into larvae.
c) The larvae immediately begin to feed on bee brood, pollen and honey. They are
particularly attracted to the brood and pollen as sources of protein. As the larvae feed
through the combs, they defecate almost continuously. The feces generate yeast that
ferments the honey and creates the slime associated with hive beetle devastation.
IT IS THE BEETLE LARVAE THAT DESTROY OUR HIVES!!
d) As the larvae mature, they move toward the light at the entrance so they can drop to the
e) The larvae then bore a few inches into the ground, pupate and emerge as adults.
Efforts to control or reduce the hive beetle population outside the hive such as using ground
drenches, baited traps or lime on the ground may be helpful as part of a long term plan, but it
will not protect your current hives. We must kill the adults inside the hive.
2. Small traps inside the hive kill only a few beetles.
Even if the small traps are completely full of dead beetles, it will not be enough to control a
heavy infestation. The problem is not the number of beetles in the hive, but the number of
beetles in area. Even a small trap would eventually clean the beetles out of a hive - if no
more beetles came in! You have only to watch the entrance of your hive at sundown to see
the daily invasion of beetles. A trap capable of killing thousands of beetles is required.
(I will note later where the smaller traps are indeed useful in protecting your honey supers!)
3. The size of the oil pan is critical.
One of the oil traps we bought slid into the front of the hive and had about an inch space
around it. The beetles began laying eggs and producing larvae in that space around the trap!
We were raising more beetles than were being killed. This is why a full sized tray is
4. The bottom board screen must also be full size and have no ledges.
While developing the trap, I would often open a hive, take a few frames out and literally sit
in a chair and watch. I noticed that not all bees chased beetles. That makes sense because the
bees have different jobs and different ages. Young nurse bees may even feed the beetles!
At that time, most screen bottoms had an inside ledge to attach the screen. What I saw
repeatedly was guard bees chasing a beetle down the inside of the hive body. The beetle
would run through a group of house bees, make a 900 turn on the inside ledge and escape
from the guard bees.
Side Rails for Hive Body Hive Body Wall
Inside Ledges House Bees
I made a trial screen bottom without ledges. Instead of turning 900 and running along the
ledge, I saw the beetles scramble through the screen to escape the bees – and fall right into
the oil pan!
5. Bees must chase and control the beetles.
Since the beetles have hard shells, the bees cannot kill them. The bees must control the
beetles through harassment and confinement. I heard Dr. Collison explain this at a
conference at Mississippi State.
A strong colony will literally ‘herd’ the beetles into several groups throughout the hive. They
guard the beetles and keep them ‘in jail’. I don’t know if the beetles are not allowed to mate
or if the bees simply remove the beetle eggs. Either way, the bees do not allow the eggs to
hatch into larvae. Again, it is the larvae that destroy our hives.
6. Bees to Comb Ratio – defining a ‘Strong’ Hive.
A strong hive has enough bees to cover at least 80% of the combs. Item 5 explains why a
strong hive is our first defense against beetles. The secret is knowing what makes a ‘strong’
If we do the math, we discover that even the most prolific queen cannot produce enough bees
to cover 80% of the combs when honey supers are added!
For the purpose of controlling hive beetles, it is not possible
to have a ‘strong’ hive when honey supers are on the hive.
HIVE BEETLE NIGHTMARE - True Story!!
* Saturday AM: I checked a hive with 2 honey supers to see if the honey was capped. Both
supers were only about 50% capped so I put them back on the hive and left.
I did not know the bees had the beetles herded into group ‘jails’.
I did not know this really strong hive needed enough bees to cover 80% of the combs.
When I opened the hive and scattered the bees with light and smoke, the beetles got out of
jail! The beetles immediately began laying eggs by the hundreds – maybe thousands.
Not having the 80% bees to comb ratio, the bees were not able to herd the beetles in the
honey supers back into groups nor were they able to remove enough of the beetle eggs. The
nightmare had begun!!
* Monday AM: In warm, humid weather beetle eggs can hatch into larvae in less than 2 days.
By Monday morning, beetle larvae were feeding through the hive on bee brood, pollen and
honey. As explained in item 1 part (c), their feces would soon begin fermenting the honey
and sliming the combs.
* Thursday: I had no idea the honey was fermenting and beginning to swell in the combs.
* Saturday AM: I opened the hive to see if the honey was capped and ready to extract. Honey
was not yet running out the entrance, but I knew immediately something was wrong! The
hive smelled bad even through the smoke and, of course, I found the combs leaking honey
and many were already ‘slimed’.
IN ONE WEEK, THE BEETLES HAD DESTROYED MY HIVE!
As mentioned in Item 2, using the small, in-hive traps in the honey supers may provide some
degree of protection for the upper part of the hive. They will not be sufficient by themselves. A
bottom trap that kills the majority of the beetles in the hive is absolutely necessary.