When Time Magazine put out an issue dealing with the modern plight of bees, one of the topics discussed was hive collapse due to beetles. The problem is international and intensifying as weather events provide favorable conditions for the little invaders in places that were less hospitable in the past. In south Mississippi, a beekeeper with an inventive mind has created a solution which is both creative in its approach and elegant in its simplicity.
For Haynes Haselmaier, the problem became personal. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he saw Mississippi hives suffer with incursions of small hive beetles (Aethina tumida). His own hives showed telltale signs. With a century of beekeeping experience in his family, Haselmaier didn’t want to give up on his hives. He tried many of the commercially available remedies at the time. As he points out, no three of the available methods combined kept him from losing hives.
One day in January 2013, he was cleaning the parts he could salvage from another failed hive when he realized how unsatisfied he was with the results of the available products. He got plain old mad about losing hives every year.
That’s when his inventive nature took over. In his observation, many of those remedies waited until a hive was infested to begin poisoning or trapping the beetles present in the hive. At that point, the beetles may have already begun laying eggs which will compete with bee larvae for the available food stored in the hive when they hatch. He wanted to keep the beetles from getting established in the hive in the first place. The result? The Beetle Baffle™ – a tongue-twisting name for a beautiful piece of ingenuity.
Haselmaier studied the body structure of the invaders and developed a product which allows the bees to freely enter and exit but keeps the beetles from getting into the hive. Any beetles which were already in the hive can be driven out by the bees and will be unable to reenter.
“It’s a one-way barrier. The bees can chase them [the beetles] out. They’ll come spilling out of there like water. When they try to come back in, they can’t make the turn underneath.” Because of the angle of Haselmaier’s barrier, the beetles cannot get back into the hive, while the bees are unimpeded.
By preventing the return of the beetles, Haselmaier’s Beetle Baffle™ allows the bees to defend the hive rather than fleeing it. The configuration takes advantage of their natural tendency to drive intruders out of the hive by herding them to the bottom. He used the physical differences between bees and beetles, coupled with normal bee behavior, to design a simple method to exclude the beetles.
His laboratory is his own hives. Before he went forward with marketing his product, he tested it on his those hives. He placed five hives, set up at the same time in the same way and the same location, with more room than the bees needed. Haselmaier refers to the situation as being “over-supered,” not a recommended practice because it encourages beetles, he says.
“We did everything we could [to encourage beetle infestation],” he continues, including buying packets of bees from areas where he knew beetles were present. They introduced the packaged bees to the new hives on May 18. They put the Beetle Baffle™ on two of the hives and left three unprotected as controls.
The bees investigated the baffle, apparently judged it to be inedible but of no threat to the hive, and went on about their business. The hives without baffles became infested; the protected hives had a pile of expelled beetles on the ground outside, but none within.
Haselmaier doesn’t claim to have the final answer to small hive beetles, but he does have an effective and inexpensive one. The simple installation process requires only basic tools the beekeeper most likely already has on hand. Once installed on a hive, the baffle works without a lot of maintenance.
Handling the Beetle Baffle™ has grown into a family business operated out of the Haselmaiers’ south Mississippi home. An entrepreneur with an engineering heart has turned a problem in to a positive.
Oh, that buzz you hear is the sound of bees freed to make honey instead of having to defend the hive.
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