How to save your hive from hive beetle slime out

by Flow Hive 18 min read

Today’s livesteam was all about small hive beetles. When a colony is vulnerable, how to recognise the signs of a hive beetle problem and how to deal with a slime out. Cedar answered your questions on hive beetles and pest management. 




Video Transcription

Good morning and thank you for joining us. The topic of discussion today is small hive beetle and how to save your colony from slime out. So slime out is like the end stage where these little black beetles get into your hive, they lay their eggs down the cells. They might lay 30 eggs in a cell, or even in just a part of a comb or in the pollen. Then what happens is those small hive beetle eggs, they hatch, and the larvae then start to worm their way around all the combs. And if left unchecked and the hive beetles get the upper hand. It all turns into a big slimy mess and if you don't do anything about it, the colony will die out. Now, usually a colony that's strong will keep the hive beetle under check. I do almost nothing in all of my hives.

We're in a very hive beetle-y area. It's humid here. This is the time of year when it's hot and wet that the hive beetles really do thrive. Now, many continents in the world have the hive beetle. Let's have a look, we actually should be trapping them down in the bottom tray here. And look, you can see a few running around here. I'll just pick one up. There we go. There's a small hive beetle. That's what they look like. The little black round beetle. You get them in the compost heap. You get them just everywhere around in nature. They came to Australia about 20 years ago and they're in most continents of the world as well. So in the wet humid areas, they really do take hold. Now this hive is on the rebound. It lost its queen. They got very thin on the ground. The numbers are starting to come back now, which is good. But even so, being a weak colony trying to recover, we ought to be catching some of those hive beetles in whatever way we can. We have the pest management tray down the bottom. Interestingly enough, last week we were talking about chalkbrood in the hive, and here we can see some of the chalkbrood mummy's falling through, which is a good sign that they're cleaning out some of the chalkbrood. And we're gonna need to keep an eye on that. But back to hive beetles, what you need to do in order to help trap those hive beetles is put some cooking oil in the tray down here, and you're simply just covering all of the surfaces. You don't need to fill up your tray.

You're just putting a bit in each segment like that. You're sliding the tray back in, and that works quite effectively for a lot of beetles because the bees will chase them around the hive. And they'll fall through the screen mesh bottom board at the bottom, down into the oil. Now we're just going to close that back up. But what we're talking about today is the latest stage where you're trying to save your colony from slime out. So it's a horrible thing when it happens, but I have successfully saved a number of colonies from totally losing them when the hive beetle slime has really set in and here's what to do. So first of all, you need to have a look. If you look in the tray and you're seeing lots of wiggling maggots, now a couple might be normal. You might see a few wax moth larvae down there.

You might see the odd hive beetle larva, perhaps the beetles have even laid some in the tray and they've emerged in there. So it's not necessarily when you see a couple that you're at a late-stage emergency hive beetle situation. But if you start seeing lots and you remove them and they're coming back, then you really need to get in as soon as possible and inspect your hive and see what's going on. Now, if you get in there and there's patches of the comb that have what looks like slime over them. And if you look closely, you'll see the hive beetle larvae, like little maggots wiggling around. Horrible sight, right? Then what you need to do is give your hive the best chance.

Those adult hive beetles have laid their eggs, three to six days later, they're now emerging all over the hive. Your colony hasn't been strong enough to stop the hive beetles laying. And all of a sudden, you've got these maggots and slime on a lot of the Combs. So what you're gonna need to do is remove the honey super. Now that's important, because a colony that isn't strong enough to cover all the frame surfaces, won't be able to keep the hive beetles at bay. So you'll need to remove the honey super and put that into a freezer for at least three days, that'll kill any eggs and hive beetle larvae in the Flow Frames. So that way, if they're not too badly affected, you can put them back on later. Next, you've got your bottom box open.

On the edges you typically have honey and pollen - take it away. It's a bit counterintuitive because you're trying to nurture your colony and you don't want to take away their food, but if you leave them too much area and they're at a late stage slime out, then what's going to happen is they won't be able to keep it under control. And it'll turn into a maggot nest instead of a beehive. Which is unfortunate and messy to clean up. So what you'll need to do is take away these frames. Now your colony is small. Ideally, you have some frames to replace it with. So you could just, if you're using naturally drawn combs, just chop out the honey and the pollen from the edges, the stuff that's been affected by the hive beetles and leave just a centre brood nest only. You can replace these with empty frames or chop it out, or in this emergency situation, you can just leave it blank. Now, try not to do that for too long, because as they get on their feet, they're gonna start to build random comb on the edges where there's no frames. But if you just give them a small amount of comb area to look after, they will likely be able to get on top of that and bounce back. And that's a method I've used a lot and it's worked very well for that situation where you're just about to lose your colony to small hive beetle.

As the colony builds back up, you'd follow the same procedure as when you're supering. Make sure all the frames are built out again, make sure the hive is strong, and then you put your super back on again. So at this time of year we're here in Australia, it's really wet and sweaty and muggy and the hive beetles are going crazy.

We're hearing some stories of people losing their colonies. That's sad, better luck next time. And sometimes you just get bad luck where a really strong colony will go down for whatever reason, but it's pretty unusual. All of these hives here are in an extremely high hive beetle zone and they're fine when they're strong. Just focus on the weak ones. When the numbers are dropping, you're looking in the window, you're not seeing very many bees, make sure you're staying onto trapping the beetles and make sure you look out for any signs of a lot of larvae coming out of the combs, because that's when you really need to get in there and fix the situation. And hopefully this hive is okay. I can see the numbers building, it's got the chalkbrood issues. It's a prime candidate of a hive to look after and nurture back into a thriving honey producing hive.

Hive Beetle Questions

I would like to know a bit more about the tray and in particular, how it allows you to prevent small hive beetles?

So this tray is made for a number of things, but the one related to small hive beetle is this pest management tray. Now we've got two types of trays, this has since been upgraded to an injection moulded yellow one. This is one of the older trays. And this is where you can get a bit of a reading of what's going on in your hive. This is where you can see if there are small hive beetle larvae dropping out of the frames and down into the tray. And you're also checking for actual hive beetles, which we did see one earlier. There it is there and we've just put the oil in. So we should expect to catch 50 to 100 hive beetles in this tray over the next few days,

How come we're not seeing bees fly out when you take the tray out?

So if bees are flying out, when you take this tray out, then you've got an issue that needs fixing. This pushes all the way forward and seals against the front. Now, if you look under there, what you'll see is a screened bottom board, which allows the bees to chase those beetles around. And you'll get a whole bunch that go right through that screen as they try to get away and they drown in the pest management tray. People also use this tray for counting varroa mites and things like that. We don't have those here in Australia, so lucky for us, but many continents have that. And there's also ventilation control. So you can take the tray out altogether if you want a whole lot of ventilation, you can put vents up for the hot times or you can put vents down to limit the ventilation if you really want to slow that down in the colder times. Bees will be fine even in the snow with an open mesh bottom board. So it's you don't necessarily have to switch this around in the colder times. You can let plenty of ventilation go through.

What about rodents getting attracted to the oil in the tray?

It's a sealed area. So if rodents were to get in there it means they would've chewed away all the woodware. And I haven't heard of that, but I guess it's possible. So you'd keep a look out for the woodware or the tray being chewed by rodents. It's not something we see here, but let us know if that's happening for you.

What's the best thing to put in the ant guards to stop them crawling up?

So these ant guards are made as an ant barrier. You can see how we're not using it now, we don't have an ant problem. Ants seem to come and go as an issue. These little ant guards that come with a Flow Hive 2+ and also retrofit to the Flow Hive 2, are made so that you lift this top up and then you can put either cooking oil or some grease in there. You can use Vaseline or white grease that's not so messy. And you can put that in this area here. Grease will last longer than the cooking oil. The cooking oil tends to wash out after some time in the rain. But the idea is this lid helps stop the wash out because you put it down over the top of the oil. So sometimes it's good to have a little, you know those oil bottles - the typical old ones you use to put a bit of oil on your sewing machine or your bicycle chain with, those are neat for using to fill up this area. You put your oil in there and then next thing to do is any foliage that's touching the hive you'll need to cut away because the ants will use that as a bridge. So you need to create this ants moat, if you like, on each leg and then you'll need to lift up the roof and get all the ants out of there, dust them out of behind the covers. And you might need to do that a couple of times and then you'll find the ant problem will go away for some time.

Will ant guards work for the hive beetles also?

No, it doesn't help because hive beetles can fly. So they can actually fly 15 kilometres, which is a long way and they will follow scents on the breeze, looking for compost bins, beehives, any kind of nice warm, humid organic home. And what they do is they'll just fly and land on the hive and they'll find a way in. So they'll walk in the entrance and ideally the bees chase them down through the screen. But some of them will go up into the hive as well. So you'll see them when they get bad, you'll see them in empty cells. If you get empty cells here and you might see heaps of hive beetles in them. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing. If there's enough bee numbers that can keep them in check and stop them getting around the hive and laying in your pollen and the honey frames. So if you see that and your colony is strong, your beehive is likely still fine. But it's a sign you should start trapping some of those beetles. Typically you'll get times of the year in this area where there's not much honey in there, and the bees will be using those areas to hold the beetles in jail. The Flow Frames are good for that because they've got parts that the beetles can't chew through and the larvae can't chew through either. So they kind of get contained in an area.

You mentioned you can put some Vaseline or grease in the ant guards. Can you do that in the pest tray as well?

That's not something I've ever done, it's just so much Vaseline. I think the cooking oil is a better one for there and it's an organic thing that you can wash away with a hose into the corner of your garden and it's a good way to clean it. Whereas the Vaseline then is a petrochemical product, which you wouldn't want to use that much of, I think all the way through your pest management tray. Some people use detergent and water. Detergent actually clogs the exoskeleton pores that insects breathe through and it kills all types of insects, including bees. So detergent and water can kill hive beetles as well.

I took my tray out because of extreme heat. What will happen then? Will the bees just chase the hive beetle out and the hive beetle will come straight back in again?

If the colony is strong, don't worry about it. The colony will keep the hive beetles at bay. When it's weak, activate your pest management tray, catch those beetles. Give them a better chance. Hive beetle slime out is 99% of the time, a secondary problem where you've lost your queen and the numbers have dropped, the hive has swarmed, something causing the colony to shrink in size and not being able to stop those pesky little hive beetles from laying.

How quickly if you're doing regular inspections, can you detect a hive beetle problem? Can a slime out occur quite suddenly?

It can be quite sudden, it really depends a little bit. So normally the hive is really strong. It's keeping the beetles at bay. They're not able to lay very many eggs. So when there are a few larvae, the bees just eject them from the hive and away they go, they've got it under control. If for whatever reason, the colony numbers drop, then what can happen is the hive beetles will take advantage of that. And if there's lots in your hive, they can lay 30 or so eggs in one little cell and they can lay thousands in a day. Three to six days later, those hive beetles will emerge as tiny little grubs first. So that's their larval stage and they'll worm their way through the combs, making a mess. If they're in the brood comb they'll go right through the larvae, through the pupating bees' heads and things like that. That's another sign of hive beetle slime out coming is damaged brood being ejected from the hive, where there's a white half-metamorphosised bee with bits of its head missing and things being ejected out the front. That could be hive beetle damage as well. So you could get into a situation where it happens very quickly. If suddenly the beetles have been able to lay thousands of eggs around the hive. So at that point, you'll need to jump in and do what we talked about earlier. Take away everything except for the centre brood frames and let the bees just manage that, get control and build up again from there. The frames go into a freezer that will kill hive beetle eggs and larvae. If you don't have a freezer and you've got frames to deal with, then you can drown them, but that's a lot more messy than freezing. So you put them underwater, submerged with the weight on top, and that will also drown the hive beetle larvae and eggs. So you'd leave them under there for three or four days. Then you'd go through a cleanup phase after that, getting it all ready to start your colony again.

Is there any difference for people using seven frame hives or double brood boxes or extra supers in terms of managing small hive beetles?

It's pretty much the same either way. You're trying to size down the size of your hive. So if you've got more supers or more brood boxes, and then the colony really shrinks down, then you're at risk of a slime out from the hive beetles, if you've got a lot in your area. So again, you're going to need to reduce the size of your colony right down. And you might find that if you had four, reducing it to two boxes is enough. And you've still got heaps of bees covering the surfaces of all the frames. So it's about sizing, the amount of work the bees need to do for them. So if you've only got a small cluster of bees left, then you need to only save a few frames for them to work with and all the rest you need to take away. If you've got big colony and they're looking a bit thin, but there's still lots of bees in there, then take a few boxes off and reduce it down. So it's the same principle.

What should you do if you get like over a week or two of rain and you can't get in to manage the hive beetles?

So a week or two of rain is what we're getting at the moment. And what you'll need to do is just clean out your tray more often than you normally would and some more oil in it. What'll happen in rain is that you'll get driving rain blowing in the entrance and washing out some of your oil eventually. So pull the tray out, give it a bit of a wash with a hose, put fresh oil in there, tray back in, and that's about all you need to do. Just keep an eye on bee numbers. You really only need to really activate and start rescuing your hive from hive beetles when the bees are looking thin on the ground.

Can you use diatomaceous earth in the pest tray?

The issue with diatomaceous earth in a tray is when the rain comes, it's gonna get wet and then it won't work anymore. So for that reason, I'd use oil. Or you can experiment with detergent and water as well. Now I probably wouldn't use detergent and water in the colder times because you'll get a lot more condensation all around the hive. But in the warmer times, by all means, try detergent and water. It's a bit less messy to clean out each time. And it does work also.

I pulled out my pest tray and there are hundreds of bees hanging on the bottom of the metal vent. What's going on there?

It could be a few things. Each time you take out that tray, have a little look before you put it back. If you've got bees under there and you put your tray back in, then you'll end up with a lot of bees trapped in there. They'll die in the oil, which isn't good. If you brush those bees away with a bee brush or some foliage, you might need your smoker to get them out of the way, or just wait till they're gone to put the tray back in, perhaps early in the morning, when a lot of those bees are back in the hive, then you seize that moment to put your tray back in when there's no bees under there anymore.

And the next thing to do is really make sure this vented cover is pushed up tight. That's the seal. If it's sitting out a little bit like this, maybe these L-screws are wound out and your cover's sitting out a bit like that. That'll create enough of a gap between this and the tray to allow bees to come up from underneath and explore that area. Now, if it's really hot, your hive's really healthy, there's bees all over the front of the hive and they're all around underneath as well, then they'll find their way up into there. So that's the first thing to test. If you do all that and there's still bees emerging in there, then you might have an issue that needs fixing. Sometimes where the screen bottom board meets the wood at the front, they've chewed away a little bit, and they've made a little tunnel into that area. Or there could be another issue that's allowing bees to get into that area. Ideally, no bees can get into the tray.

When trying to reduce the size of the hive, can you fill the space with blocks of wood or something?

Yes, you could. That's something I haven't done for a very long time, but there's no reason why you couldn't take up some physical space to reduce the size of the box. However, if you're just saving your colony from hive beetles, you probably won't need to, they're gonna take a while to build back up. You're gonna have time to prepare some frames to put back in there. If they are still a strong colony, there's lots of bees and you have reduced them, make sure you're putting empty new frames in the edges, because they'll quickly start to build on those. You don't want to get into the situation where you went through that process, you left a gap at the edge, you came back three months later and all of a sudden you've got this natural Wonderland of comb that's unserviceable. So you have to then chop that out and it's a bit of a pain, but it happens when you forget.

My bees are just starting to build into their Flow super so there's all of that empty space. And there are a few hive beetles in the empty space in the Flow Frames. Would you recommend putting a couple of extra hive beetle traps at the top of the Flow Frames or something to help them at that time where they haven't filled the frames yet?

If the bees haven't filled the frames yet, then there's nothing the hive beetles can do. They won't lay in them. It's not really an issue, the bees are using them as a jail. Some people say that Flow Frames are bad for hive beetles because you can see them all down the cells. The difference from this hive to a conventional hive is that we can see it, a conventional hive doesn't have the windows. If you pull out those frames in a hive that's got an equal amount of hive beetles look down the cells, you'll see the bees are cornering the beetles down in the conventional frame cells as well. There's a few things you could do if the bees aren't using the box yet. You could take it off again and wait for a flow. But as far as trapping them up the top, I never usually worry. I rely on the beetle trap down the bottom. However, there is a myriad of different hive beetle solutions and traps out there. And by all means, try and see what works for you. It's all about experimenting, trying Flow Hives, conventional hives, top bar hives all sorts of different beetle traps. It it's all about learning and enjoying the fascinating journey.

How do the hive beetles get in there in the first place?

So the hive beetles typically will go through the front door. So here we have the front of the hive, the beetles are flying in the entrance and they can fly 15 kilometres. So they'll follow the scent and they love the humidity. They take advantage of that and they'll prey on a weak hive and just come in through the entrance door. And the bees typically chase them around the hive. In a wet humid area like this you'll have hundreds in one hive and that's normal, but your bees will keep them at bay.

How do you use the pest management tray alternative with a Classic Flow Hive? And can you adapt your Classic to have the Flow Hive 2 tray?

You can. We have made that available by popular demand. You can get just the base. So it comes as a whole base with the tray and you can then put your Classic on top of that to gain those features.

If you want to make a hive beetle trap with the corflute slider, there'sa video showing you how to make a fluff trap. So that's one way to catch hive beetles. You can make that kind of trap with this kind of tray as well. Another alternative is you get a Tupperware container and somehow put it up under your hive so that it's against the mesh. It will probably have to be quite a thin one, put some oil in it. Bees can lick to about seven millimetres through the mesh, so you're gonna want your oil sitting below seven millimetres from the mesh, or they might actually get a taste of that oil, which I guess is not nice. So there's a few options there and there's a myriad of other solutions out there by other people that you can put traps in between frames. A bit more labour intensive, because you've got to take your box off to check them and so on. But nevertheless lots of people like those kind of traps as well.

I have filled my pest management tray a couple of times and there has been about 50 hive beetles in it each time. Will they just eventually die in there? Is there a chance if you discard the oil and the hive beetles just bounce back out of it and back into your hive?

Once they still and not moving, they're dead. The oil is clogging up their pores and they're gonna die pretty quickly if there've been submerged in oil for any length of time. So this one here we threw in there earlier and it's already curled up and died. So that's that's working well there as a hive beetle trap.

Thank you very much for all your great questions and sorry to hear a couple of you out there have lost your hive to the hive beetle. So hopefully this video helps a few of you out there save your hive when it gets in trouble, but otherwise if your colony is healthy and strong, you've got lots of bees then you shouldn't really need to worry about it. Thanks so much for tuning in us. Know what you'd like us to cover next week and we'll have something interesting to talk about.

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