JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — There is worldwide concern about the decline in populations of honeybees that not only provide honey but pollination for many crops. Insects are responsible for pollinating about a third of the world’s crops, and honeybees do about 80 percent of that.
One major problem with the decline in bees is Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been linked to the pesticide neonicotinoid, leading to that class of pesticides being banned in the European Union.
Another serious problem is predation by the small hive beetle (SHB). The SHB larvae eat bee eggs, larval bees, pollen and honey, said Haynes Haselmaier, who has 12 beehives and about 500,000 bees on his property in Pearl River County.
The SHB eventually de-spoil the hive so badly that the bee colony flees the hive to seek a new home.
“The beetles remain and continue to breed and lay eggs until there is nothing in the abandoned hive that represents a food source,” Haselmaier said.
“The damage frequently includes the loss of a viable bee colony as well as ruined frames and foundation on which the bees build wax comb. The comb cells are the chambers used to store pollen, honey and new bees until they complete pupation. Beetles lay their eggs in many places inside the hive. Sometimes some beetles join the leaving bees, so there is almost no escape from the SHB pestilence.”
Fewer bees means fewer plants will be pollinated and less honey produced. The cost of a package of replacement bees — a new queen and about three pounds of workers — has grown to nearly $100.
“The cost of domestic honey will increase as supply decreases,” Haselmaier said. “Many beekeepers have already chosen to do something else with their time and resources because they have lost too many hives to the beetles.
“In only a few years after the SHB was discovered in this country in 1996, some commercial beekeepers reported losing thousands of hives and much equipment. Many beekeepers are no longer beekeepers chiefly due to the SHB problem.
“Devastating perfectly describes the consequences of SHBs becoming established in a hive. They have a huge reproductive capacity and the bees cannot kill them. Even the strongest hives, without effective intervention from the beekeeper, are likely to fail eventually. Some hives have gone from highly productive to zero bee population in as little as two or three weeks.
“Devastating also accurately describes the financial impact of beetle infestation on the beekeeper, both small and large. Those who have not yet had misfortune due to the SHBs eventually, almost certainly, will,” Haselmaier said.
After having lost several hives to beetle infestation and trying many of the commercially available mitigation approaches without much success, Haselmaier decided to observe beetle behavior in his hives on his own and with an open mind. He recalls looking at one of his queen excluders, a type of selective barrier that keeps the queen in the brood chamber (nursery) and out of the honey supers where honey is produced and stored.
His idea was that if a selective barrier could do this, why couldn’t a different type of selective barrier allow a much larger bee to go where it needs to, but effectively block access to a very much smaller SHB?
“The theory was simple,” said Haselmaier, who has been a beekeeper for 30 years and comes from a family that has been in beekeeping for about 100 years. “Install a barrier in the hive below the area where beetles can do damage that does not represent a problem for the bees.
“I took a few measurements of bees and beetles, as well as a comparison of their anatomy and made some prototypes that have performed far beyond my original expectations.”
The result is his invention, the Beetle Baffle, the only selective barrier for the SHB. He said it is not a trap but functions 24/7 to thwart movement of the SHBs within a hive.
- Beetle Baffle give bees a fighting chance against a major threat, the small hive beetle (adoptahive.wordpress.com)
- Honeybees on the Verge of Extinction (adoptahive.wordpress.com)