A Mitey Problem

Wingless workers were walking willingly west. This alliterative observation of mine prompted me to treat the hive for varroa, as dozens of wingless bees means a heavy mite infestation.
I had D as helper, as well as a student who chose bees for his nature study project.

On opening the hive, the top box seemed a little light on bees, but very heave on honey. I found a caterpillar about 3 mm long, up in the top box – possibly a wax moth, and another sign my poor hive has trouble.
The lower box was fairly full of bees, and the frames I pulled had a mixture of honey (a nice semicircle), pollen, and grubs/capped pupae. There were some bees which seem to have died before chewing their way out of their cells, or were resting very very quietly. I was able to spot quite a few mites on bees, and many, many bees missing wings – dozens. This is a very bad sign, very bad indeed. The mites are so small, and the bees so many, that being able to see any indicates a huge infestation. I am feeling quite emotional about it all – anger at those filthy blood sucking disease carrying good-for-nothing parasites, and sadness for my girls.
I could not find the queen, but seeing a number of 3-4 day old grubs lets me know she is OK.
I put the queen excluder on, with some absorbent pads and butyric acid (44%, 100ml). I decided to put this in the middle of the hive this time, to get better coverage – so the excluder went between the two hive boxes. The outside temperature was about 16˚C, but the hive was in sunlight, so the hive was nice and warm. The girls were very passive, and didn’t mind me delving too much. There were no drones – must have been evicted for the winter.


On the face of it, all is healthy. On delving deeper, big problems were evident. A varroa mite may be seen on the bee on the second bar up, far left edge, middle bee.

Unfortunately, as I was delivering a biology lesson on the life-cycle of bees to my student, my gardening neighbour overheard, and so has discovered a bee hive just over the fence from his house. I had to be rather tactful and encouraging, as he was a little fearful – a pottle of honey in the letter box may be another encouraging effort on my part. I value good neighbours.
The treatment was left in for 2 days, instead of just one. I also used a sticky board, to gauge the effectiveness of the treatment.

Sticky Board

Sticky Board showing the lines of detritus and dead mites from the between the frames

Varroa mites on the sticky board. Each little oval is a mite.

Varroa mites on the sticky board. Each little oval is a mite.


A close-up of a mite on the sticky board. His leg were still waving around. Ewww.

In removing the treatment today, my helper was E, who is desperately trying to overcome her fear of bees. She did a good job, and I am mightily proud of her.
The sticky board was covered in mites, hundreds of them. It was with a sick feeling that I examined it, feeling like a neglectful parent – I do not yet rank as a bee-keeper, just a bee-haver. The hive was in a dire way, and would not have lasted the winter like that. I have decided to break with my organic resolution and buy some bayverol strips, for a further treatment. I just need to get them healthy before the queen stops laying.

3 comments on “A Mitey Problem

  1. Hi! I’m a beekeper in Switzerland with more than 20 hives. Mites are still a problem but with a combinations of organic resolutions (70% formic acid or more twice after honey harvest, oxalic acid just before winter and drone brood removal in spring) most of bees hives survived the winter. But depending on the countries the situation/reactions can be very different.
    I would to suggest you following link especially the article about the “Coordination in Europe of integrated control of Varroa mites in honey bee colonies” in http://www.agroscope.admin.ch/imkerei/00316/00329/04435/index.html?lang=en.
    I wish you good luck with you bees and a lot fun!

    • Thanks for the comment. There is some very good information on that site. I hope in time, the research comes up with a nationally coordinated attack on them, with support from all beekeepers.

  2. I hope as well!
    The problem seems to be a combination of factors: mites, virus (causing the deformation of wings), pesticides, bacteria and much more.
    Beekeepers have to stay together and treatements should be coordinated in order to reduce reinvasion of the mites. That’s a big challenge!

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