Hive beetles are the bane of many a beekeepers’ existence outside of sub-Saharan Africa but the relationship between these ‘freeloaders’ and their hosts in the African context is more fascinating than first understood.
Scientists at the Social Insects Research Group from the University of Pretoria are looking into how the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) has evolved in tandem with African bees.
The researchers have figured out how the hive beetles are able to trick the bees into supplying them with food rich in protein by mimicking bee feeding behaviour.
In turn, African bees have developed a way to contain and control hive beetles by chasing them into gaps and cracks and enclosing them in a ‘prison’ of wax and plant resin. By prompting feeding even while in captivity, the beetles are able to continue their cycle of life, and the bees are able to contain the damage they could do.