Varroa Mites in Honeybees

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch

Many still question, what is happening to the honeybee population? One issue that affects honeybee colonies is the Varroa Mite. The insect pest has been a major issue in honeybee colonies since the 1980s.

Varroa mites are external tick-like parasites that feed on adult bees and developing bee larvae. The best way to describe what a varroa mite looks like is simple. Looks just like a tick that you would find on your pet, just a bit smaller. Varroa mites are flat, oval shaped pests with a reddish to brown color. Just like your pets, varroa mites attach to the bee and/or developing larvae to begin feeding on their blood. In return, they also can inject the bee and/or larvae with viruses that can kill the bees.

With bees being very social, this can increase the spread of mites throughout a colony and apiaries (bee yards). In order to monitor for varroa mites, beekeepers have to keep a check on all of their bee hives throughout the year. Late summer into fall is one of the optimum times to check hives for varroa mites.

Beekeepers have several different methods they use to monitor hives for varroa mites. The first method and most often used is the Sugar Shake Method. Supplies needed for this method include one clear pint jar with lid made from one-eighth of an inch hardware cloth, approximately 200 bees from a frame with emerging brood, two to three tablespoons of powdered sugar, a white or light-colored flat container (frisbees work well for this part). Now, with bees in jar add sugar and gently shake the jar to coat the bees with sugar. After a few minutes have passed, shake out the sugar onto the flat surface. Once the sugar is out, you can return the bees back to the hive. The bees are not harmed during this method and they get to enjoy a nice sweet snack of powdered sugar. Pour a little water over the powdered sugar to melt it away and you should be able to notice tiny black dots on the surface. If 10 or more mites are found in this sample, then beekeepers will prepare for treatment applications to get the mite infestation under control.

A few other methods to monitor for varroa mites, include using a sticky board in the bottom of the hive. With this method, beekeepers would need to use screened bottom boards, so the mites fall through onto the sticky board. Beekeepers can also inspect the drone (male bees) brood by uncapping drone cells and inspecting the larvae for mites. However, this method is not always as reliable as some others previously mentioned.

If you are interested in learning about beekeeping, please feel free to visit the Sampson County Beekeepers Association Meetings, which are held on the 2nd Thursday of every month at the Sampson County Livestock Facility.