The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom – March 2024

- March 1, 2024 - excerpt by Jamie Ellis

Q  Bees chewing wood
I have had a weird behavior in which I am not sure what the bees are doing. Hopefully you can see from this picture (Figure 1), the bees are chewing the woodenware along the inside edge. I have seen this once or twice before. This particular box is new woodenware and has been wax dipped but I do not think this is a contributing factor, since I only exclusively use wax-dipped equipment and have used 100+ boxes and have only seen this a few times. Any thoughts?

Regina Rhoa
Pennsylvania, January

Worker honey bees occasionally chew wood, likely to smooth out the rough areas in certain locations around the nest. In your image, the edge of the right side (the outside wall) of the box is not straight. I do not think this is due to bees chewing the wood, as the bees would be less likely to chew wood in this area of the box, given it is outside the hive and away from the hive entrance. Instead, this could be normal wear and tear on the box, or evidence of hive tool use in this area when prying here to remove a super or lid that was located above this box. It could even be a milling mistake, in which the outer edge was not cut straight.

I also see small, boat-shaped divots etched in the box toward the top side of the wall. When placed on a hive, these divots would be between this box and the lid/box placed above it. This is a good area for wax moth larvae to spin their cocoons, which they do prior to pupating. The larvae will excavate divots into woodenware anywhere they construct their cocoons. That is what the upper edge looks to have in this image. I am not saying it is wax moth damage, but that it is at least consistent with wax moth damage. Mice can chew wood as well, though I suspect it is not a mouse in your case.

Honestly, though, I have not really seen the chewing activity of bees significantly alter new woodenware, so I usually default to another reason (normal wear and tear, hive tool use, wax moths, etc.) to explain any wood alteration that I find. You specifically mention “inside edge,” which I take to mean the upper left surface of the wall shown. I can tell that the woodenware is rounded here, possibly be due to wood splitting upon assembly, errant saw cuts, etc. Even still, bees can and do chew wood. In fact, they will often chew anything that they consider a nuisance. This is why they will remove paper/cardboard from hives, etc. It is entirely possible that the bees are responsible for what you see, even if we currently do not know why they would do it.

Q  Small hive beetle control
I have read Eleanor Schumacher’s excellent article in the Jan 2024 ABJ issue on small hive beetles (SHBs) a couple times at least and underlined half of the article because it is so informative and helpful. One thing I want to ask about is written in a paragraph near the end recommending coumaphos [strips in traps on the bottom board or inner cover]. I have heard bad things about coumaphos remaining in comb for years. Is coumaphos okay after all? Or, is this not a concern with this trap setup? Earlier she writes that SHBs can carry boric acid in and out of CD cases [or poison from roach traps] on their dorsal hairs, carrying the toxin around the hive with them. What is the difference in these two scenarios with one being a harmful thing to do (and illegal) and the latter being okay (and legal)?