February 2019 DMBB – Thermal Mite Treatment

The Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers (DMBB) February meeting was about thermal mite treatment. Thermal mite treatment is a varroa control method which takes advantage of the honey bee’s high tolerance to heat. It was discovered by beekeepers who observed that feral bee colonies that lived in metal roofed sheds having high daytime temperatures had a higher resistance to varroa mites.

One of the main advantages of thermal mite treatment is that it treats varroa mites on all stages of honey bees. This includes the varroa mites in capped brood. No chemical treatment can make this claim. Thermal mite treatment does not contaminate any wax or honey. The treatment can be used during a honey flow if needed. There is also minimal risk to the operator. The bees cannot be harmed by thermal mite treatment if the process is well controlled. Another big advantage is that thermal mite treatment seems to be effective on Small Hive Beetles as well as varroa mites.

A disadvantage to thermal mite treatment is that the process is slow. The treatment takes several hours per hive to complete. There is also an equipment expense that is much higher than buying a chemical. Because the treatment is powered by electricity it may be difficult in remote locations.

Thermal mite treatment works because when the temperature reaches roughly 102 – 106 degrees Fahrenheit the surviving varra mites lose the ability to reproduce. If the temperature reaches roughly 115 – 118 degrees Fahrenheit the varroa mites die.

The whole hive should be heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough that the heat soaks through the brood comb. This takes about three hours. This ensures that the entire colony is treated. Thermal mite treatment can even be done at night to ensure the whole colony is treated. Hives should be treated more than once a year. The most critical treatment is in August.

Thermal mite treatment systems can be bought but they are around two hundred dollars a piece! They can also be made, but making them takes some skill.

Thermal mite treatment is a very interesting topic and could become a leading way to treat for varroa mites.


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