Potential pitfalls to swarm trapping

Trap15 along with a very nice group of bees had some nasty stowaways. SHB.

Last weekend I found myself in a funk.  There was an event that made me realize that swarm trapping along with all of its positive aspects may also have some negative consequences.  Trap 15 had been hanging in one of my best trapping grounds.  It was in the same tree that I caught two awesome colonies last year.  1106 one of  my very best hives, came from that very tree last year.  The bees in Trap15 were numerous and had built 8 frames of comb, many filled with unsealed brood.  After I removed the last frame I saw something move in the bottom of the box.  I did a double take.  It was a Small Hive Beetle (SHB).

Luckily I had taken it to a new hive site which is 15-20 miles from any of my other colonies.  I had a plastic trash bag which I put the trap in once emptied of bees.  As soon as I got home I put it in the freezer (See:  Killing Small Hive Beetles).  Unfortunately I am beginning to see a trend.

I am painfully aware that sooner or later I am going to be dealing with those little buggers everywhere.  The source is about 15 miles from one of my hive sites that has strong colonies currently unaffected by SHB.  Since I just began dealing with them I know very little about what their presence is going to mean for my bee operation.  At the last Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association meeting I went to, many of the beekeepers present were reporting that SHB effects in our area would be similar to the wax moth.  I am apprehensive of that opinion because I have never seen a wax moth or wax moth larvae in an occupied swarm trap, nor have I ever had wax moths in any hives except dead-outs.

I already have two hives at a site affected by SHB.  I been watching and waiting on those two colonies to see how they respond.  They have continued to build well this spring and appear very strong.  I have not gotten into them since March to see if I have larvae are crawling around on the frames.  I am going to wait until I am almost done trapping before I check them.  I have read that frequent hive visits can free adult beetles from propolis prisons that the bees make for them.

Before I do anything I want to see what happens if I do nothing.  My first year in beekeeping I had a colony go queenless.  I  observed the demise of that colony not because I hate my bees, but to learn from the experience.  There was much to learn from that experience, I only wish I had a video camera at that time.  When I figure out what the consequences of SHB at that site I will need to make a decision on how to deal with them.  Maybe the people at the association meeting are right.

This is going to force me to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to the LetMBee philosophy of allowing bees to be bees.  I owe it to anyone wanting to trap bees to know some of the potential risks of swarm trapping.  Along with SHB there are other pests and diseases that could potentially come along for the ride with a new swarm.  I have read on beesource.com that some people in California claim to have picked up foul brood diseases from trapped swarms.  My only hope comes from the fact that I am catching swarms in areas where SHB are present.  Everything I currently understand about swarming behavior indicates that western honeybees normally swarm if the colony is fit to do so.  To my limited knowledge Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) routinely abscond from their hives as a way of dealing with SHB.  I am currently unaware of Western Honeybees acting in this way.  So perhaps the bees in that area are able to deal with them in some way.  During the next several weeks I will be brushing up on the biology of the SHB.

As things develop I will be writing about it.  I am currently pondering removing my traps from the SHB areas.  I hate making quick decisions, because they normally result in a bad outcome.  So I will be pondering what the next step will be.  I suppose I could just as easily pick up SHB on a swarm call.  I have read of beekeepers getting them with ordered packages as well.  I cannot tell others to trust in the bees if I don’t do the same.  All of these factors are being weighed.

If you have any advice or questions please leave a COMMENT.

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16 Responses to Potential pitfalls to swarm trapping

  1. Anita says:

    I do not have SHB yet, but I do have wax moth. I didn’t even know I had it until I did a mite count and found the dead larvae on the board. The bees do a great job keeping the larvae out of the hive ( I have never seen one inside the hive) and a strong colony can manage wax moth just fine without any treatments. Weak colonies will have a harder time. It’s the dead outs and stored comb without bees that have the biggest problems with wax moth damage. A quick vacation in the freezer will take care of that problem, at least temporarily. Good luck with your SHB. I’m interested to see how you decide to manage it.

    • Jason says:

      Anita I have been freezing my honey supers for several years IN contractor grade plastic bags. Tied off of course. AFter 48 hours you can remove them. Doing this I have stored them every year until needed the following spring WITHOUT any wax moth damage.

      I am trying to figure out just how large those larvae are… I am wondering if they can fit through the mesh on my screened bottom boards. I know that they MUST crawl out to get into the ground to complete their life cycle. If I determine they cannot get out through the mesh I may have an idea to at least stop the larvae from reaching the ground. More on that later.

      • Anita says:

        My guess is they can fit through it. The wax moth larvae is pretty large and they got through no problem to the mite count board. I also noticed the adult wax moth hanging out on the side of the hive and cocoons under the screened bottom board. I think that is one way they were getting inside the hive. I’m sure SHB does the same.

        • Jason says:

          Back to the drawing board for that idea. Now I am wishing I had all of my colonies on a HOT ROOF! That way the sun could just bake those larvae. With my current mindset I would probably be on that roof with a magnifying glass frying larvae!!! The neighbors would be shaking their heads saying, “He has really lost it this time!!” 🙂

          AT most of my hive sites I seem to have fairly strong colonies. I am going to see how the bees handle them. I have been digging though all of my junk and found some slim jewel cases for CD/DVD’s. I am going to modify and place a couple of those in some affected hives WITHOUT ant-killer inside to see if the bees will round adult beetles up and propolize them in.

          My two hives that are most affected seem to make a TON of propolis. This may be yet another reason to leave my hives closed unless I absolutely need to check on something. I have been reading that bees will attempt to propolize beetles inside crevices so they cannot get out. When the beekeeper comes along and breaks things apart they free the beetles. As I have said before, you read a lot of stuff on the internet. I don’t now know valid that observation is. I will be testing it and trying to observe evidence of it myself.

          • Sam says:

            when you say “most affected” what level of infestation are we talking about, do you have pictures (kinda grim I know, I have a few pictures of a major infection of chalk brood that I never posted :)?

          • Jason says:

            Nothing like cases I have seen on YouTube. I have seen as many as 20 running around on top of the inner cover. Like I said before. This is new to me. Seeing any of them was a surprise. I may just be getting all fired up about nothing. When I get done chasing traps around I am going to take a camera to that site and assess. I will have a camera and I will post the pics. LetMBee.com is a full disclosure website. :).

            From time to time I will be disclosing my mistakes and follie.

          • Anita says:

            Hahaha love the visual of the mad beekeeper on the roof with a magnifying glass. “Just fry them all! (Insert evil laugh here).” 🙂

            Yes, I’m hoping the hot roof gives me a leg up on SHB. If I see any up there I will step on them – much easier than chasing them with a magnifying glass. My neighbors think I’m strange enough already.

            Good luck with the CD cases. I have 100’s of those in my basement. If it works and you need any let me know and I can send you some.

            I don’t know if I sent this to you but I did read on an Ag Extension site that the bees corral the beetles into a spot, then the beetle tricks the worker bees into feeding them to stay alive because the beetle uses it’s mouth parts to mimic the drones begging for food. Smart little buggers. Don’t want them around but you have to respect them for being able to do that!

            Here it is

          • Jason says:

            I read that earlier today from a different source. I am already planning on getting my hives ready for winter well before they kick the drones out. We shall see then what the girls do in response to “drone begging”. I hope they will ignore it and let those beetles starve in place. Even better, I wish it would illicit the “pit-bull” response that causes workers to rip the wings off of drones in the fall tossing them off of the bottom board to starve! I need to figure out a way to test it as a hypothesis.

            I know beetles need to eat too, but they need to go somewhere else.

            Thanks for the article.

  2. Sam says:

    From what I have read shb is rated as minor bee pest, similar to wax moth. I think since most operations store huge amounts of comb (honey frames) this pest can cost thousands (drawn comb is considered a commodity), and of course given a huge feeding ground they would become much harder to keep out of ones hives. I have read they do not like sunny locations, and keeping your hives off the ground helps a lot. They can’t “travel” with a swarm the way vorroa can, so swarms are a much cleaner way of getting bees then packages (shook bees) or nuc’s (small colonies). So the ones you found in your bait hives probably ended up there before or after the bees being drawn to the dark comb. This year I have seen a few wax moth larve outside a couple of my colonies, I even saw a bee wrestle a wriggling one out and fly off with it. I imagine in the spring some parts of a colony are unused allowing moth to get into that area. Both shb and wax moth are scavengers that eat dead stuff so I’m thinking that they survive even without bees by scavenging on other things. Otherwise the only avenues for infection are bee related (I don’t see how wax moth could fly 30 miles from one apiary to another). Just my $0.30 hope some of it can help.

    • Jason says:

      Same your $0.30 are worth a lot when it backs me away from the cliff. 🙂 As I said before they are just new to me. I have read the information about them NOT liking sunny locations and I am taking steps to make sure everything is in full sun. I do have one site where there are a couple of hives getting shade a lot of the day. I am going to get them moved. As I said in the post. I am going to see what happens. If they do turn out to be a minor pest then I will be feeling better. Do not worry. I will be posting about what transpires here.

      Thanks for the level headed comment. I needed it!!!

      • Sam says:

        lol your welcome, I have been hearing rumours for a while about shb getting up here were I live, apparently they are just across the border in new york. I guess it depends on how strong your hives are + location, have you ever seen http://www.backwardsbeekeepers.com? They are based in LA so they already have shb, some one on the yahoo forum might be able to give you hands on advice about them.

  3. Mil says:

    When I read shb, I said “Oh s—t” out loud. We visited an apiary on the Big Island of Hawaii and they were dealing with a double whammy–shb and varroa. It gave me the shivers!

    As for wax moth, I make sure to give the hive boxes some time out in the wind and sun. That seems to keep the boxes clean, so far. My teacher makes a frame and box stand. If you are interested, I can send you his plans for this stand.

    • Jason says:

      If you can send plans without having to do too much work I would appreciate it. I know you are busy right now. I have varroa, but haven’t treated for them since I just couldn’t bring myself to put powdered sugar on my bees anymore. It just couldn’t take how miserable they all looked on top of the frames crawling around when I did it. I saw none this year on any of the sacrificed drones when I did spring inspection. I know they are probably in there, but the hives seem to be managing.

      Hope your copy/paste sessions are nearing completion.

  4. Randy says:


    Last year I did an inspection and saw at least 20 SHB! ordered online new bottom boards with SHB traps in them. The first week my trap killed at least 250 SHB in that hive I saw 20 in! Not so bad this year, yet. My hive out in the sunny field had at least 50 wax moth larva in the trap, tiny little worms, fed to the chickens. No larva was seen on Friday, it’s a bitch raising bees in the south my friend.

    • Jason says:

      What type if any damage have SHB done in your honey supers? I have watched videos from that Georgia-bees guy and was about to lose my mind a couple of weeks ago.

      What percent of your bees overwinter? 50%, 60%, 70%?

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