The SHB is a scavenger beetle that has been known by beekeepers in South Africa for tens of years. It thrives in damp conditions and eats pollen and honey. It is regarded there as less damaging than the large hive beetle, Oplostomus fuligineus which also consumes brood.
In 1998 SHB was first found outside Africa in Florida where it devastated the honey industry. It has since spread across the US to Canada and to the east coast of Australia. It has been found in isolated consignments of imported queens from Texas in Portugal and France. So far as we are aware all infected stock has been destroyed, but it remains a continuing danger and major points of importation for food crops are subject to particular surveillance.
For beekeepers it is another major pest. It reproduces in huge numbers. A single beetle can lay up to 1000 eggs in clusters, each egg about two-thirds the size of a honeybee egg. Eggs are laid randomly in cells and crevices – particularly in corners of hive parts. Eggs hatch in 1 to 3 days (24 hours in hot weather) and the larvae immediately feed on pollen and honey, defecating over all, making the stores unusable for both bees and beekeeper. Heat generated by clusters of larvae eating bee stores is reported to have melted combs, causing them to collapse. Gorged larvae make their way out of the hive burrowing into the soil around the hives where they pupate. Adult beetles hatch in the soil and make their way back to lay eggs. The life cycle is about 6 weeks.
Stored honey supers are particularly at risk. South African beekeepers extract honey on taking it off. They seal their hives with sticky tape to make joins between boxes airtight. A well-ventilated hive in a breezy apiary makes for a less favourable environment for SHB to breed.
If you suspect you have found Aethina tumida: Small Hive Beetle you MUST report it to the NBU.