Once a honeybee hive is populated and fully functioning, beekeeping is relatively simple. You should be checking up on your bees about every other week. The most important reason for these inspections is to make sure your bees are protected against pests and diseases. There are a number of common bee diseases and pests that you should be looking for each time you inspect, like Varroa Mites, Nosema, Chalkbrood, and more. We will go over the signs of these bee killers and the best way to fix the problem before you lose your buzzing buddies.
Dangerous Honeybee Pests
Varroa Mites are blood-sucking parasites that look like small red/brown ticks. They are especially attracted to drone brood, and can usually be found on the thorax of the bee. If your bees display damage to their legs or wings (missing wings/legs), your hive could be terrorized by these mites.
There are several medicines and treatments that can be used to get rid of Varroa Mites and some natural remedies as well. If you plan on using medications, make sure you don’t use it during the honey flow, while there is honey for human consumption attached to the hive, or shortly before honey harvest. The bees’ supply of honey will not be affected.
Acarine (Tracheal) Mites:
Acarine Mites cannot be seen by the naked eye. They infect the airway of honeybees and can generally only be diagnosed by dissecting a bee and examining it under a microscope. If your bees can be seen crawling out in front of the hive, your colony might be infected. However, this could also be a sign of another disease.
To prevent these parasites from taking over your hive, you can either use sugar and grease patty treatments or menthol crystals. Follow the instructions for using these miticides at least once a year and you should have a healthy honeybee colony.
Small Hive Beetle:
If your beehive becomes infested with hive beetles, your bees will eventually leave. Hive beetles try to take over the hive, fill caps with their own larva, and eat your bees’ food. You will know if hive beetles have gotten into your hive by seeing small black/brown beetles crawling around alongside your bees.
During routine inspections, destroy any small hive beetles that you see. If you see more and an infestation starts, there are medications and other products you can use to get rid of them. Generally, products that stop ants from getting into the hive will work for these beetles. Some beekeepers also use diatomaceous earth around the hive to disrupt the hive beetle’s lifecycle and prevent breeding.
Wax moths don’t attack your bees directly. Instead, they feed on the beeswax that is used to build up honeycomb. The destruction of the comb will contaminate honey storage and may even kill bee larvae. These moths usually aren’t a problem for strong, healthy colonies or in colder regions.
If you start to see signs of wax moth damage, you should scrape out the combs affected. Your bees will replace the comb, but the moths and their young won’t survive cold temperatures so just freezing them out can fix the problem.
If the Wax Moths get to be too much for your hive to handle, there are chemicals that can control them. Naphthalene mothballs should NOT be used, as this can kill bees and contaminate honey storage.
Nosema is an infection that is normally seen only when bees cannot leave the hive to eliminate waste. They develop a form of dysentery and can die off if you are not careful. Nosema can be prevented or minimized by removing much of the honey and replacing it with bee feed in late fall. The refined sugars in the bee feed have lower ash content, which reduces the risk of dysentery.
If you notice brown diarrhea spots on the combs and exterior of the hive, your bees most likely have Nosema. Increase the ventilation of the hive and use some medication if the problem is severe.
American and European Foulbrood (AFB, EFB):
American and European Foulbrood is the most widespread and destructive brood disease. It is caused by spore-forming larva and is highly infectious. Larvae up to three days old become infected by ingesting spore presented in their food. This disease only affects bee larvae, but if you are unable to contain a foulbrood outbreak, you may need to destroy your colony and possibly your hive.
Some characteristics of this disease are uneven brood pattern, sunken or darkened cell cappings, and an unpleasant sour odor. If you think that your hive could be infected, get a test kit before treating. Once you are sure, you may use medications (not during honey flow or around honey used for human consumption).
Chalkbrood is a fungal infection that attacks the gut of bee larva. This fungus will eat the larva’s food from inside, causing it to starve. Once the larva has died, the fungus will go on to consume the rest of the larva’s body.
You might notice Chalkbrood in the rainy Spring season. The larva’s body will appear white and chalky, so if you start to see a white-looking brood, it is time to medicate. You can usually prevent this disease by increasing ventilation throughout the hive.
Other Pests and Hive Problems
With chilled brood, it is the beekeeper that is the pest. Chilled brood occurs when the brood is exposed to cold temperatures and becomes chilled, deforming or even killing some of the bees.
You can usually prevent chilled brood by never opening your hive when the temperature is under 55ºF and by being conscientious and quick during inspections. However, chilled brood can also be caused by a sudden drop in temperature during the spring as the colony is trying to build up its numbers. This drop in temperature might catch the nurse bees off guard and they will not be able to keep the entire brood warm.
The reason that the honeybee population is so low is mostly due to pesticides. Bees are vulnerable to many of the chemicals used to kill other common pests. Your bees forage several miles for pollen so they might be bringing in pesticide ridden pollen into the hive.
If you suddenly notice a large number of dead bees around and in front of your hive, pesticides might have poisoned your hive. Because pesticide label instructions must be followed precisely to protect pollinators, your single best defense is simply to increase awareness of responsible pesticide use in your neighborhood.
Way to “Bee”
This is just a list of some of the common pests and diseases that your honeybees can come in contact with. There are others out there that you should look into if you notice anything strange during your inspections.
The first step to being a beekeeper instead of just a bee “haver” is to educate yourself and continue learning about your new hobby. Try finding a beekeeping community in your area to learn more and share the knowledge you gain with other beekeepers.
To learn more about beekeeping, bees, and honey keep checking our bee blog category. Also, make sure to visit our YouTube channel for informational videos on beekeeping from Rural King and Harvest Lane Honey.