Moving from Beetle Blasters to Beetle Jails: Small Hive Beetle Management

Small hive beetles are a pest and a terrible nuisance, but as we learned oh so painfully, they can destroy a weakened hive if they become established and do as they are wont to do:  reproduce prolifically.  I’ve never had a sadder (or more disgusting) moment in beekeeping than dealing with that lost hive. As such, we are working to become better managers of varroa and small hive beetles, the jerks.

We’ve been using Beetle Blasters, which are disposable plastic trays that you place in between the frames on top of a brood box. You bait the blaster with a vegetable oil, and the small hive beetles will scurry inside either to hide from the chasing bees or because they like scurrying inside places or because they want to see what the smell of oil is all about. The small hive beetles become trapped and die, and you rejoice when you remove the trap.

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My husband and beekeeping partner holds up a Beetle Blaster with a few dead beetles in it.

We have used Beetle Blasters for the last year, and they do kill small hive beetles. Still, I don’t entirely like them for a few reasons. For starters, they’re disposable and no recyclable. My bleeding heart hates throwing away things that I think should be recyclable. Although they’re generally pretty cheap, you do have to replace them regularly because the oil goes rancid or you accidentally cracked one while trying to pry it up from the propolis-sealed frame. You can’t really remove the oil and the dead beetles, so it’s not reusable. Lastly, and this is where my own stupidity and human idiocy may come into play, I keep checking to see how many small hive beetles are in them so I can gloat over their demise… and accidentally pouring out oil onto myself, the ground, and the hive. You have to keep them level, or the oil spills out. When you have two beetle blasters on each of your brood boxes, and you’re inspecting the whole brood box, they get in the way and are difficult to set aside.

At my local beekeeping organization’s fun day, which is an informative day filled with presentations, workshops, and demonstrations, I attended a presentation on small hive beetles (as my inner monologue repeatedly chanted never again!). The presenter discussed using Beetle Jails with pollen as bait in a separate compartment and pickling lime as the killing agent instead of oil in the main compartment. This eliminates the problem of the oil going bad or spilling everywhere, and the jails are reusable. The beetles can never get to the pollen and instead are trapped and die.

Reusable?! No oil?! Dead small hive beetles?! Where do I sign?!

I purchased the jails in June, and they’re not that much more expensive than the blasters. They were about $3.75 compared to about $1.85 for the blasters. So, yes, they’re more expensive, but for $12, my hive should be solid on small hive beetle traps because they’re reusable. We’ll see how well they hold up to all the propolis! For various reasons, including delayed shipping, forgetting to buy the pickling lime, and a two-week not-a-vacation vacation in July, we finally put the jails in this week during our inspection of the hive. (It’s looking great, by the way!)

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A Beetle Jail. The middle compartment is filled with bait and then sealed. The side compartments can be filled with pickling lime (or oil) and shut; the top has the openings that let the beetles get into the jail. Just like the blaster, it sits on top of the frame bars. The top of the jail is open in this picture, so you can see how the beetles enter the jail.

I’m optimistic that they’ll work just as well as the blasters do but be better than the blasters in the ways I don’t much care for the blasters:  reusable, no oil, more level. In fact, the manufacture states you can set jails set down and have them remain level, should you be using oil in the traps.

If you have a favorite small hive beetle management tip, let me know!

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