Bee and Hive Problems

Keep your Honey bees healthy by learning about mites and other problems that infest bee hives.

by Deb Brandt-Buehler
Varroa mites on bees

Courtesy Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Varroa mites are parasites that attach to bees and spread viruses throughout the hive.

Honey bees provide sweet rewards while challenging beekeepers to manage their health risks. Today’s Honey bees have been hard hit by parasitic mites and disorders that compromise overall health. Greg Hunt, bee specialist with Purdue University, and Kathleen Prough, chief apiary inspector for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, identify parasitic mites that beekeepers should know.

Varroa Mites

These tiny, fast moving parasites attach themselves to both adult and immature Honey bees. The mites puncture the bee’s body, sucking fluids, weakening the bee and spreading viruses. Although visible to the naked eye, Varroa mites are often overlooked.

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Commercially available or homemade sticky boards enable beekeepers to assess the level of Varroa-mite infestation in their hives. A simple sticky board can be made using white poster board and cooking spray. Cut the poster board so that it can easily slide under the screen bottom board. Apply a thick layer of cooking spray and slide it under the hive’s screen bottom board. Leave it in place for 72 hours. Count the number of mites stuck to the board after each 24-hour period. If there are 50 mites or more per day (150 total) for the three day period, the hive needs to be treated.

Commercial products containing thymol as the principle active ingredient will kill mites. Powdered sugar treatments are a non-chemical solution for addressing mite infestations. Beekeeping journals and supply catalogs discuss the advantages and disadvantages for a variety of control measures.

Trachea Mites

These microscopic, internal mites live inside the breathing tubes of Honey bees. Trachea mites feed on the bee’s body fluids by puncturing through the walls of the trachea. They are not visible to the human eye without dissecting the bee.

Bees infected with trachea mites may develop trouble breathing and flying. Trachea mites also reduce the bee’s life span and ability to keep warm during winter months.

Vegetable shortening patties mixed with two parts of powdered sugar are a non-chemical treatment for trachea mites. Patties can be placed on the top bars of frames on wax paper. For best results, patties can be kept in hives from spring through fall. The vegetable shortening appears to prevent trachea mites from infesting young-adult bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder

Honey bees have been in the media spotlight because of sudden decline dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. From determining bees’ access to enough pollen and nectar to understanding the impact of pesticides and mites, researchers are examining what is causing the loss of healthy Honey bees.

“I think that Varroa mites continue to be the main problem facing Honey bees,” Hunt explains. “We’ve been breeding for resistance to Varroa mites so that mite populations won’t grow as fast. Breeding for resistance is an important part of reducing pesticide use in beekeeping. Russian bees and bees with sensitive hygienic behavior (grooming to keep mites off), seem to have more resistance.”

About the Author: Professional writer Deb Buehler grew up on a hobby farm in central Indiana where she gardened, made applesauce, tapped sugar maples and cared for an array of animals. Today she and her husband, Craig, live in Indianapolis practicing a sustainable lifestyle that includes expanding an urban vegetable garden, buying locally, keeping bees and caring for dogs Abby and Tucker.

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