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 despoil 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/package.
“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.”
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.
“It is important because it allows bees to move to move in and out of the hive as they please, but beetles can only cross it in a downward direction. Once below the barrier, they are unable to return to the sensitive parts of the hives where they do great damage. Simply put, the Beetle Baffle gives bees a fighting chance against the SHB. Even heavily infested hives can frequently be saved by adding our selective barrier system.”
To manufacture his invention, he selected a company in California that specializes in metal fabrication, precision manufacturing, has a flexible manufacturing schedule, and a large production capacity. He would prefer to have it manufactured in South Mississippi, but has been unable to find a company that can do the same type of manufacturing for the same price. The parts are then shipped to him where they are inspected again and packaged into sets with the instructions and optional cypress spacer strips made in Star, Mississippi or Moultrie, Georgia.
The Beetle Baffle, which was featured in the October issue of Bee Culture magazine, begins to work immediately and Haselmaier said simple field trials have established that the barrier does not harm the bee colony and that it does reduce the numbers of SHBs in the hive significantly.
“The good news is that our product uses a very common sense approach that works very well,” he said. “One does not even have to understand it or operate it a certain way for it to do its job. We are not aware of any case where the Beetle Baffle has not done what it is designed to do.”
They have sold about 600 Beetle Baffles to the two distributors they use, and another 200 sets from their e-store (www.beetlebaffle.com) or at various shows they have attended.
Haselmaier’s marketing focus is on getting the product in the face of the beekeeping community in a venue where they can touch and feel the product, ask questions about it’s design and function, and how to install it on their particular hive equipment.
“Because our system is the only one of its kind, there is nothing in the mind of the potential customer to compare it to,” he said. “That makes conventional ads in publications at this time pretty ineffective. As the product becomes more familiar to more beekeepers, conventional advertising will be very beneficial. Until then, we will take every opportunity we can find to go, show and share information about our barrier.
We find that each time we are able to share directly with beekeepers in that way our product is well received and sales reflect that. We are seeing evidence that this approach is working thus far as traffic on our website and Internet sales are increasing.
Word of mouth among beekeepers is clearly vital to our growth at this time.”