One of the keys to maintaining a healthy, productive bee colony is controlling Varroa Mites, an annual parasitic nuisance. These little hitchhikers can cause damage and harm to your beehive if left unchecked; and it’s not a question if they get in, but when they get into the hive.
The first step to controlling Varroa Mites in your beehive is regular observation and identification. What are Varroa Mites? How do you check for them, and how can you treat an infested bee colony?
What are Varroa Mites?
Varroa Mites are tiny, red-brown external parasites that suck the hemolymph (a blood-like substance) from honey bees. Mites weaken the immunity of bees and spread diseases that can lead to death and hive collapse.
Honey bees allow Varroa Mites free access to the hive throughout the summer, and drones are the largest carrier. As drones visit other hives, the mites will move from bee to bee and colony to colony.
Varroa Mites become a problem when the population jumps to dangerous levels, usually around August. Check mites several times a year and treat when populations increase to keep the mite population under control.
How to check for Varroa Mites
Generally, a beekeeper should inspect the hive for Varroa Mites at least four times a year, beginning when the bee colony increases in population in the spring. Effective mite control will reduce colony losses and prevent the spread of infectious disease. If you notice the bees hatching with deformed wings, it’s a mite problem.
There are several ways to check for mites. Here are two of the most common.
- Dust the hive with powdered sugar and the mites will drop off to an installed mite board. Use a magnifying glass to see the mites, the tiny red dots on the bee. Do not perform the powdered sugar test in high humidity or during strong nectar flow because the dampness will cause the sugar and mites to adhere to the bees.
- The other method is an alcohol wash. Capture one-half cup of nurse worker bees in a jar (be careful not to include the queen) and place a disc of No. 8 mesh over the top. Next, pour rubbing alcohol over the bees and roll the jar for 60 seconds to ensure all the mites have died. As the mites die, they fall off the bee. Shake the jar like a salt shaker for 60 seconds and empty the alcohol and mites into a tub where the mites can be counted. Dispose of the dead bees.
If you want to avoid killing bees, substitute powdered sugar for alcohol and after shaking off the mites, the bees can return to the hive.
Based on a scale of 2 to 5% mites per 100 adult bees, if your mite levels are below 2%, that’s acceptable and no immediate control is necessary.
If the results show mite levels between 3-5%, further control efforts may or may not be needed. The beekeeper may give it a week before taking another sample.
If mite levels are above 5%, you should apply mite control immediately.
How to control Varroa Mites
Because mite populations can double once per month in colonies with brood, beekeepers should have an IMP (Integrated Pest Management) plan ready to regularly monitor and manage the mites.
An IPM is a set of proactive, non-chemical and chemical methods that help beekeepers control Varroa Mites. This will ensure that your colony’s mite level remains 2-5%.
Mite-Away Quick Strips and Apivar mite strips are two common methods for treating mites. It’s important that you read the instructions and follow cautiously and carefully. Some treatments can be made while honey supers are on the hive but most cannot.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for Varroa Mite management. Each beekeeper should select the control methods that are right for them. It may be worthwhile to experiment with various methods. In fact, we recommend not relying on one chemical or non-chemical control because it will hasten the development of resistance in mite populations.
Whichever control methods you select, we recommend repeat sampling after treatment to confirm your treatment was effective.
Be attentive and monitor your beehive closely. It’s a crucial aspect of beekeeping that will ensure you’ll receive a healthier bee colony and a better honey harvest.
For more helpful advice and tools to keep your bees healthy and productive, visit your local IFA Country Store. We’re always happy to help.
Information for this article was provided by Matt Bangerter, Assistant Manager, Logan IFA Country Store; and Leonard Hulet, Lawn & Garden, Turf & Ornamental Dept. Manager, St. George IFA Country Store.
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