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Bee Pests and Parasites Explained

Every living animal in nature has an enemy. The honey bee is no exception. It has its share of pests and parasites that attempt through every means possible to invade their territory. Humans have contributed greatly to the increase in honey bee pests and parasites. This has come about through the importation and export of bees to and from countries all over the world. In the US, bee farmers have been affected greatly by the prevalence of bee pests and parasites. Irrespective of the widespread infestation of bee pests and diseases, these enemies of progress can be kept at bay through various practical measures.

Varroa Mites

Varroa Mites

Varroa mites are regarded as the number one parasite affecting honey bees all over the globe. They mainly thrive through feeding on the blood of the adult honey bee. They also propagate its offspring on the honey bee pupae. They are a serious threat to bees and they mainly weaken the bee and spread viruses and other harmful pathogen. They mainly spread between bee colonies through robbing and drifting.

The Varroa mites are difficult to manage since they are highly productive and grow and spread at a rapid speed. They mimic the growth cycle of the honey bee and that explains why no single treatment strategy on its own is effective against the mite. For instance, when there is no brood rearing in the colony, the varoa mites do not reproduce; instead they remain on the adult bees.

Some of the symptoms of Varroa mite infestation include decayed or deformed abdomen and wings. In terms of behavior the bees are disturbed and they become susceptible to pesticides.

To mitigate this pest, chemical control is the the most optimal method, but it should be done with care as it may contaminate the honey or even intoxicate the bees. However, you should apply chemicals to the hives after honey harvesting.

Tropilaelaps Mites

Tropilaelaps Mite

This pest is similar to Varroa mites but it is in most cases it is much more serious. In fact, studies have shown that the prevalence of this mite can inhibit the multiplication of the Varroa mite. In terms of size , they are smaller than Varroa mites and when present in large numbers in a honey colony they move around rapidly. They live and grow within the brood cells all through their immature stages.

Some of the symptoms of their attack on bees are reduced abdomen size, shortened life span, and wing deformation. Those bees with deformed wings can be seen crawling within the hive entrance and on the surfaces of the comb.

This parasite is quite a headache to control. Chemical control is effective but it has to be applied within the recommended dosage. Colony manipulation is another effective mitigation strategy. This is where the comb frames are temporarily removed; both sealed and unsealed. This will starve the mites. This strategy works best during heavy pollen-flow season.

Tracheal Mites

Acarapis woodi

Also called Acarapis woodi, this dangerous mite infects the queen’s, drones’, workers’ and adult bee’s tracheal system. It is an extremely small mite, which lives and breeds with the tracheal system of the bees. They are difficult to notice and have no clear symptoms of infestation. However, there is a clear difference between an infested colony and a healthy colony. The lifespan of infested bees is greatly shortened since they lose strength and end up dying during the cold seasons.

The Tracheal mite can be controlled by employing chemotherapeutic methods. Formic acid and ethereal oils perform an excellent job of controlling the Tracheal mite.


Small hive beetle

Also referred to as Aethina tumida, this is another invader that devastates a honeybee colony. It came into the US in 1998 and is now a common parasite thatstretches as far as Canada. It mainly invades weak colonies and storage combs. They are prevalent mostly during honey extraction. It usually lives and multiplies within and outside the bee colony. However, it deposits most of its eggs in the honey colony. Its larvae survive on honeycombs and pollen. The adult beetle is dark, black to brown.

The major symptom of a beetle infestation is the change of honey taste and color. Its larva is mostly found in the honey combs. They are quite easy to differentiate from the wax moth. They have longer legs and their backs have spikes.

To mitigate a beetle infestation, remove weak colonies and maintain only the strong ones. A chemical treatment also works on the beetles.


These are the most common predators of honey bees. They normally live as social insects and when they invade a colony they take everything – honey, dead/alive bees, queen and brood. They can also attack the beekeepers themselves. Colonies under ant attack tend to be aggressive and those bee colonies that are weak abandon their hive.

One of the most effective ways of dealing with ant infestation is by searching out their nests then destroying it by burning. Another strategy is by raising the hives with 30 to 50 cm posts that have been treated with grease or oil. Another alternative is place the hive stands on plastic containers of a tin that is filled with oil or water.

Wax Moths

This is another parasite that causes huge losses to beekeepers globally. It not only destroys the bee colony but it also damages thee bee products. The wax moth destroys the combs, pollen, wax and the comb foundation. One of the most telling signs of a wax moth infestation is where the emerging adult worker bees and drone are unable to leave the cell since their body is trapped by silken threads.

The wax moth can be prevented by building a stronger bee colony that is able to secure its territory by sealing cracks and crevices on the beehive. Some chemicals are also available for controlling the pest on living honey bee colonies.

A Final Word

There are so many pests and parasites that attack bee colonies. Some of those not discussed above include: the lesser wax moth, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and many others. A better understanding of these invaders and how to control them will go a long way in ensuring a stronger and healthy bee colony is built and maintained.

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