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Beekeeping 101: Common Bee Diseases

May 3, 2012

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This is the last installment of our Beekeeping 101 series. Your hives should be humming along now.  But did you know that bees can get sick? "Bee kind" to your bees. Learn about common bee diseases and how to prevent them in your apiary.

Varroa Mites

These parasites attack both adult and larvae bees. They suck the blood of honeybees, weakening them and shortening their lifespan. If your bees display signs such as missing legs or wings, it is possible you that have varroa mites. The mites seem to prefer drone brood, so inspection will help to prevent them. Apistan seems to work best on them, although disinfecting medicines should not be used during honey flow or if honey will be shortly harvested for human consumption.


American Foulbrood is caused by Bacillus larvae that kill sealed broods of honeybees. European Foulbrood is slightly less disastrous but will still deform and kill larvae. To prevent foulbrood, spray a disinfecting medicine in the spring and fall. Terramycin is commonly used, although any disinfecting medicine should not be used during honey flow or if you plan on eating the honey in the hive at a future date. If it is too late for prevention, you will need to destroy the colony and possibly the hive.


It is undeterminable what causes colony collapse disorder (CCD), although researchers have suggested that it is the presence of both the fungus Nosema ceranae and the virus invertebrate iridescent virus (IIV) in the hive. Currently, there is no solution to this problem other than burning the hive once the colony has been infected.

Wintering Your Bees

You can wrap your hives up for the winter, although sometimes this is not recommended, as wrapping could literally trap the bees. Help your bees defend their entrances from mice and other creatures that may be looking for a winter home. Entrance reducers are available to buy, although as long as the opening is about 3/8 of an inch high and 3 to 4 inches long, you should be able to keep everything out. This will also help them in the spring, as stronger colonies may try to steal from weaker ones.

Of course, there are other diseases and ways to prevent them. What are some that you have heard about?

Additional Resources

This Beekeeping 101 series is just a primer—a honey-sweet taste of what beekeeping is all about! If you'd like to learn more, the following resources may be useful reading and research before investing in an apiary.

The Hive and The Honey Bee published by Dadant’s & Sons provides a textbook understanding of honeybees.

The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture is an encyclopedia of various beekeeping topics.

The Beekeeper’s Handbook

The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum

The Honey Bee Hobbyist by Norman Gary

Also, contact local beekeeping clubs in your area to find personal advice and likeminded souls. Look in the phone directory or contact your local cooperative extension services office.


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I would like to know what

By karl nailling

I would like to know what other bee keepers are using for the non pesticide control of ants. I can count 6 different species of them trying to invade my apairy. Please advise.thanx

Have you tried borax, a

By kinring

Have you tried borax, a 'green' pest management co. I know uses this in a trap of sorts.mail me and I'll send a pic. Jim

Please see NYBeeWellness.org,

By Pat Bono

Please see NYBeeWellness.org, a USDA funded website to help beekeepers recognize & diagnose honey bee disease.

A note on CCD: check out

By Johnnyappleseed

A note on CCD: check out www.vanishingbees.com. CCD has been linked to pesticide use. Big surprise I know. Great documentary on it, also available on Netflix. Keep our bees healthy!!

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