Although the small hive beetle is only 5 mm long, it is one of the most feared bee parasites because, with a heavy infestation, it can destroy an entire colony within a very short time. Compared to the African subspecies, which have developed control mechanisms as the original host of the hive beetle, the European subspecies are unlikely to achieve this.
The small hive beetle came originally from Africa, south of the Sahara. Since 1998, it has been unintentionally introduced to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, Australia, and Cuba, and has spread and caused tremendous damage there. In 2004, the beetle was first discovered in Europe, in Portugal, during delivery of queen bees and it was successfully destroyed. Unfortunately, the small hive beetle reached Italy in 2014 and has rapidly spread there ever since.
In its original homeland of Africa, the small hive beetle is considered a rather harmless pest. African honey bees have developed defense mechanisms. Compared to their European cousins, they find infested brood cells faster and clean their stock more thoroughly, before they swarm. This takes away the bug’s basis for nutrition and multiplication.
AREAS TO WHERE THE BEETLE HAS SPREAD LIVE HIVE BEETLE
After the beetle was able to enter the beehive, it lays his eggs in a protected hiding place, which cannot be accessed by the bees. After two to six days, the hatched larvae feed on honey, beeswax, and pollen, and destroy the structure of the comb: The honey spoils and is no longer edible. Some bee colonies even leave the infested hive in an emergency swarm.
The pupation of the beetle takes about 3-4 weeks and takes place in the soil below or near the hive. Since the pupation is highly dependent on the temperature and humidity of the soil, the duration can vary significantly.
Other things that make this quickly-multiplying beetle dangerous for colonies: It can fly very well, and travels distances up to 20 kilometers, allowing a rapid spread. Currently, there are almost no control methods available.
The most important protective measures to keep the beetles as well as other dangerous pests and diseases away was the introduction of strict import regulations for honey bees from abroad. Nevertheless, if the beetle shows up in Europe, there is currently only one solution: The beekeeper must report the parasite because, in the EU, the small hive beetle is by law a pest that must be reported. This means that the beehives must be closely monitored. Because in the case of a plague, there is only one chance to eradicate the beetle: catch it early enough. It cannot be done once it is well established.