The entomologists at K-State have confirmed that I do indeed have Small Hive Beetle, one of the first confirmed cases in KS it turns out.
The question now is what do I do about it, and after a lot of initial panic, I think the best answer may be “nothing.”
I’ve seen less than a half dozen beetles in each hive, and they’ve always had a bee chasing them. I’ve seen a couple of larvae, both being wrestled out of the hive by the bees. I’ve seen no damage to comb or slime from the larva in my inspections. So, it appears that the bees may well be on top of the situation without my help. The best thing I can probably do is just quit disturbing the hive, which gives the beetles the opportunity to out maneuver their bee guards and lay eggs in the comb where real harm may be done. With fall approaching and weather turning colder I’ve already decided it is time to quit opening the hive because I want to give them the chance to seal things up for the winter. I added a couple of top feeders (little more than plastic bins with some holes drilled in them and attached to a top bar) so I can feed them in the colder weather without opening the hive proper.
At some point I have to decide how dedicated I am to the whole “natural beekeeping” idea. I’ve already broken down and started using a smoker, though that was a practical decision. If the bees became hyper agitated whenever I opened the hive and became a threat to the neighbors, my beekeeping activities wouldn’t last long, and hundreds died stinging me (fortunately only about a score penetrated my protective clothing). So smoke is a tradeoff that keeps things a bit under control. Some colonies are able to deal with Small Hive Beetle on their own, and the proper thing to do may be to simply let nature take its course. If my bees can keep them in check then great, if not, it might be better to let them die out rather than perpetuate the problem. That sounds harsh, but considering how many pests and parasites have been able to take hold in the North American bee population due to poor breeding and overuse of chemical treatments, it may be the best course of action.
Assuming the hives make it through the winter I may re-evaluate at that point. I’m still considering the use of beneficial nematodes to feed on the larvae since it doesn’t appear that insects develop resistance to nematodes like they may to insecticides.