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Diseases and Pests

During the last two decades there has been a tremendous increase in the spread of bee disease around the world. This has been brought about by the movement of honeybee colonies and used beekeeping equipment by people. There are few remaining regions without introduced honeybee diseases, and as a rule used beekeeping equipment should not be imported.

Honeybee colonies, or even single queen bees, must never be moved from one area to another without expert consideration of the consequences.

There are numerous pests that will disrupt a beehive and prey on your bees. Wax moths are almost universal, ants a very common and persistent hazard, and honey badgers a serious nuisance in Africa. It is best to talk to other local beekeepers about what the most common problems are and take their advice about appropriate defences.

Honeybee Disease

The identification of honeybee disease such as Nosema is an essential part of apiculture, as is pollen identification. Brunel Microscopes offer a range of low budget stereomicroscopes and high power compound microscopes ideal for all applications.

Pests - Varroa Mite

Also know as the Vampire Mite, Varroa Mite, Varroa Destructor and often mislabeled as Varroa Jacobsoni.

The Varroa Mite is a parasitic mite that can cause serious trouble to the beekeeper and their bees alike. This tick like mite, around the sized of a pinhead, does its damage by feeding on the bee’s hemolymph fluid (akin to bee blood). Mites attach themselves to foraging workers in order to spread themselves from one hive to another. This mite can severely weaken a hive through vampirism like action and through the spread of disease and bacteria. An unchecked mite population will almost certainly lead to the premature death of a honeybee colony.

Within the United States, Varroa Mites have the most pronounced impact when compared to other pests within the beekeeping industry. The Varroa Mite is also nearly completely responsible for the decimation and loss of feral honeybee colonies. Some beekeepers have resorted to reverting to small cell beekeeping and many hobbyist are moving towards top bar hives in an effort to fight against this aggressive foe. Others are attempting to use mite resistant races of bee with some success.


The Varroa mite was discovered in Southeast Asia in 1904, but now unfortunately spread mostly worldwide. More recently Varroa was discovered in 1987 within the US and in 2000 in New Zealand.


Varroa is approximately 1.00 to 1.77 mm in length and 1.50 to 1.99 mm. Its body closely resembles that of a tick, it has eight legs and the apparatus to both pierce the epidermal layer of adult and larval bees in order to feed. The mite is red-brown in colour and wide and plainly visible to the naked eye when on brood, and can be more difficulty spotted, on some occasions, on the adult bee.

Life Cycle

Within a hive mites can reproduce on a 10-day cycle. The female mite, after detaching from an adult bee, will enter the cell of an uncapped brood. The mite shows preference for the drone brood, but will select what is available. Once the cell is sealed, the female will begin to lay eggs and then expire. As the young bee develops, so will the mites. As soon as the new bee is able to leave its berthing cell, the mites attach themselves and start the cycle anew. The life cycle of the Varroa mite is dependant on the existence of brood within a colony.

Symptoms & Detection

Possible signs that a mite infection is underway may include, but is not limited, to the following:
* Mites obvious on brood, emerging bees, or foragers
* Deformed bees
* Discarded larva
* Spotty brood pattern
* Apparently sudden death of colony
* Dead mites found near the entrance of the hive

If Varroa infestation is suspected, there is often nothing major lost by examining. However, a colony may be doomed if left unchecked. Checking for Varroa should be part of a beekeepers regular regiment. The following methods are some common ways to detect a possible mite infestation.

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Replies to This Discussion

Ether Roll

The ether roll test is the grandfather of the sugar roll test. Though effective it is not always the best method, as tested bees will die as a result.

1. Using a wide mouthed jar, such as a mason or pickle jar, collect a sample of bees (not the queen) and fill the jar about 1/3 full.
2. Using ether, such as that from a can of carburetor starter fluid, apply a small amount to the bees (approximately a tablespoon worth). The inside of jar should be slightly moist with all bees at the bottom.
3. Place the lid on the jar and roll bees for about 20-30 seconds.
4. If done quickly, the jar may be opened and some of the bees may escape alive, though this is doubtful and the ones that do survive will be ready to sting.
5. Examine the sides and bottom of the ether filled jar. If you count one or more mites, it is advised that you begin some sort of treatment. If you count around a dozen mites, it means you have a significant infestation, and should immediately begin treatment. If you find more mites than you can easily count, your hive is in serious trouble
6. Dump remaining dead bees and clean the jar before next use.


1. If you can do the either roll, there is little reason not to do the sugar roll instead, as it is not lethal to the bees and is just as time consuming
2. Soapy water or 70 percent isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) can be used with varying success instead of ether
Sugar Roll

The sugar roll method, also called the sugar shake method, is a technique that can be used to fairly reliable determine if bees have an infestation. Unlike the ether roll or drone culling however, when done properly there is no bee mortality.

1. Using a wide mouthed jar, such as a mason or pickle jar, cut a large hole in the lid and affix a rigid mesh in which bees can’t escape, size 8 hardware cloth serves this purpose well.
2. With the jar open add 2 to 3 tablespoons (approximately) of confectioners sugar to the bottom of the jar.
3. Scoop the jar about 1/3 of the way full with bees (or 100 to 200 bees), being sure that you have not captured the queen. Quickly seal the jar with the lid you made.
4. Covering the lid, so as not to loose the sugar, vigorously give the jar several shakes. The more the better, to a point, this will surely aggravate the bees but should not cause them any serious harm.
5. Shake the sugar (and mites) out of the jar on to a piece of what paper or something with a similar white background. Set the jar of bees aside in the shade.
6. If you count one or more mites, it is advised that you begin some sort of treatment. If you count around a dozen mites, it means you have a significant infestation, and should immediately begin treatment. If you find more mites than you can easily count, your hive is in serious trouble.
7. Allow your recently jarred and shaken bees ten to fifteen minutes rest before returning them to the hive. This is mainly for the sake of the beekeeper, as the bees for obvious reasons may be ready to sting. Although, some of your bees are now covered in sugar and appear to bee little ghosts, don’t worry, their sisters are more than up to enjoying the task of cleaning the sugar off of them.


* Some keepers choose to use a modified sugar roll technique on entire packages of bees, but be sure not to do so to the queen. This technique is only useful when there is no brood, so it may similarly be stretched to include recently captured swarms.
* Although it is not often recommended to use powdered sugar in conjunction with bees, due to anti caking agents that may be present, it should not be a problem with this technique to the little exposure actually obtained.
Drone Culling

Unfortunately, the drone culling method kills drones to determine if there is a mite infestation. Despite this fact, culling drones is a quick and reliable method to check levels.

1. Select a frame (or comb) with a large patch of capped drone brood. Gently remove adult bees from the frame and locate it to an easy to work area.
2. Using a capping scratcher to remove the cappings from the selected brood cells. The drone brood within unfortunately must be impaled during this step.
3. Mites will be plainly visible on the pupae as they are removed from their cells. Two to three mites on single pupae indicate a serious problem. Two to three mites per 50 pupae indicate a low to moderate infestation.
4. Remove the culled brood, especially if heavily infected, or allow the bees to clean up after returning the frame to its original hive.


* Capped drone brood can be differentiated from capped worker brood as it has larger cells with slightly domed shaped capping.
* When returning the frame be sure to return it to its original hive, unless you are absolutely sure it does not carry any disease or mites.
* The sugar roll method for detection is a little more time consuming, but no bees must die for it to succeed.

I have recently read an article about treatment of bees from a fellow homeopath, sent to me from UK. The article talks about the work of Ann Procter of Somerset developing Varroa remedy and other vulnerabilities to bee viruses.

Ann used Varroa 30 initially and later with Bee virus 30 fortnightly available from Helios. She put about ten drops of remedy into top of colony down the feed hole. Remedies were not diluted in water or sugar. She counted a natural drop of varroa mites regularly and numbers remained low. Remedies were administered in winter opening the hive. Although these remedies are based on isopathy this method was still effective.

There is a remedy which is THE herd and hive remedy - Pulsatilla. Clarke says it is the sheep's remedy. I say it is good for all herd and hive animals. I have seen it work on the epitome of cuddliness - the kangaroo. The young hang around the pouch for a year before they are getting anywhere near being independent. The kangaroo is also a herd animal. When mothers are killed by trucks, the young are unconsolable and refuse food and drink. Within 5 minutes after the remedy they all start drinking and eating and come to you as the surrogate mother.

Pulsatilla works to bring strength to the hive. It will make the hive work more compact as a unit, and give the strength to fight of varroa on their own. It keeps foul brood at bay and helps in keeping pests and diseases at bay. Pulsatilla is the most approriate remedy for the constitutional treatment of the bees. If a follow up remedy is needed, Silicea is the remedy - strengthens exoskeleton and makes it less impervious to parasites.

Speaking about the latter, another remedy that comes to mind is Staphysagria, which was used to remove headlice in the past. It is an excellent remedy for most external parasites, such as ticks in sheep, flies in horses and cattle and the associated pink-eye, which also can be cured with Arsenicum iodatum..


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