2018 Beekeeping Class: Week Six – Honey Bee Diseases, Parasites, and Nest Invaders

Week six of the beekeeping class was on honey bee diseases, parasites, and nest invaders. This is a very important topic because the list of diseases, parasites, and nest invaders of the honey bees has grown hugely in the last few decades. This class was taught by a special guest speaker, Pat Ennis.

A hygienic queen is one of the best ways to prevent diseases. A hygienic queen is a queen that produces offspring with the tendency towards cleanliness. Being careful not to spread diseases will obviously help prevent diseases. Good queens will help prevent diseases. Good queens are queens that have not been made by supercedure or emergency cells. Good queens are also well fed. Another way to help prevent diseases is to rotate treatments in order to help prevent resistant strings of diseases and pests. Keeping clean equipment and being careful when transferring frames between hives helps prevent diseases from spreading. Apiary inspections done by the state apiarist also help to catch diseases in their early stages.

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) is a direct cause of varroa mites. The signs of DWV are unusual looking wings. Preventing varroa mites is the best way to prevent DWV. I will talk more about how to prevent varroa mites later in this post.

Chalkbrood was one of the first diseases he talked about. Chalkbrood kills brood before they are capped. At first, brood that has died due to chalkbrood are hard and white. They look like chalk which is why it is called chalkbrood. After a while, the dead larvae are grey or black. A hygienic queen will help prevent chalkbrood. Moisture can be a cause of chalkbrood. Worker bees are able to tell when sickness is in the hive and they usually remove any carrier of the disease. A way to prevent chalkbrood is to be careful not to spread the spores. One can do this by not making splits from a hive that has had chalkbrood and by not reusing frames. Requeening can help stop chalkbrood from continuing in a hive.

American Foul Brood (AFB) is one of the absolute worst diseases honey bees can develop. Signs of AFB is sunken, perforated caps, ropiness in dead brood, a random brood pattern, and the appearance of scales in cells. To test for ropiness in dead brood a  tooth pick or a small stick should be inserted into the cell that contains the dead bee.  If you can pull a rope of dead bee with the stick, it is probably AFB. There is no good treatment for AFB. Terramycin and Tylon can be used as a preventative. When purchasing an established hive or a nuc you should always, always get the equipment and bees inspected by your state apiarist. If you do have AFB, the only method to completely get rid of the disease is to burn the equipment and bees. Some states even require everything to be burned.

European Foul Brood (EFB) is a disease that is similar to AFB but not as bad. Signs of EFB is yellow, twisted dead larvae. The larvae die before they are capped. Terramysin and Tylon can be used as a preventative. To prevent EFB, one should keep the apiary clean, isolate the infected colonies, and requeen with a hygienic queen.

Nosema is an intestinal disease. Everything the bees do can spread the disease. Nosema reduces the bees longivity. Well-selected wintering sights and strong winter bees can help prevent Nosema. Flumagillan can help prevent nosema. A hygienic queen will help prevent nosema.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is when bees just leave the hive. Sudden death, lack of adult bees, plenty of food left in the hive, a remaining queen, and delayed robbery and nest invasions are all signs of CCD. Replacing older combs with fresh frames or removing foundation is thought to help prevent CCD. Frames should be replace after three to five years of use. Sanitizing hive tools by sticking it in the smoker for a short amount of time may help prevent CCD. Keeping clean gloves and a clean suit may help prevent CCD. It is also important to be careful what frames you transfers between hives.

Wax moths are moths that eat beeswax, honey, brood, and the pollen the bees store. Wax moths go after weak hives. Storing equipment properly will help prevent wax moths from destroying colonies.

Small hive beetles also go after weak hives. If small hive beetles are in your hive something else is probably wrong with your hive.

Varroa mites are one of the worst pests to honey bees. Varroa mites are really hard to see on honey bees. They first attach themselves to larvae and pupae. Varroa mites spread diseases such as Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), Kashmir Bee Virus (KBV), Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV), Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV), and sacbrood to name just a few. One sign of a high varroa mite level is bees with DWV. These bees wings are shriveled up or misshaped. If you see lots of varroa mites on your bees, the varroa mite level is extremely high.

This picture shows bees that died from varroa mites before they were even born. You can see little holes in the cappings of the cells. These holes are where the vorroa mites crawled chewed through then crawled out of the cells.

There are a couple ways to check for mites. One of the ways is to check any brood cells that are between the frames for mites. To do this you rip open the cells and just look at the larvae to see how many mites are on the bees. Another way to check for bee is to buy a screened bottom board. A screen bottom board is a bottom board that is wire. Under the wire is a tray. To test for mites, one spreads Vaseline on it. After a couple days a mite count can be taken. This number tells the beekeeper if he needs to treat and how he should treat. The most common way to check for mites is to do a alcohol, lighter fluid, of powdered sugar roll. The way to do this is to put some alcohol, lighter fluid, or powdered sugar in a jar. Then a half cup of bees (about three hundred) is added to the jar. The bees are then rolled in the substance. Finally, the bees and mites are poured out and the mites are counted. The beekeeper then knows how to treat the bees. The more mites there are the more likely the beekeeper is to treat for the mites. A mite count should be taken in spring and fall and before and after treatments are used. Treatments should be only used when the honey supers are off the hive unless the treatment states otherwise. The varroa mite population in a hive doubles every seventeen days. Some common treatments for mites are Apigaurd, Apivar, ocalic acid, and Hop Gaurd 2. Some treatments may not work for all beekeepers. One of these treatments did not work for one of my mentors hives.

Understanding what causes diseases and knowing how to get rid of pests is very important subject for every beekeeper to know.


Mom and Miriam smiling for a picture with Abigail photo bombing.



Doyle beginning the class.




Miriam was excited about the cappings scratcher we won.



Olivia reading the bee book and our littlest sister trying to avoid the camera.





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