Beekeeping 101: Common Bee Pests and Diseases

Keep An Eye Out For These Problems in Your Hive

March 15, 2019
Bees on Beehive Frames
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A very important part of successful beekeeping deals with honey bee health. Learn about the most common bee pests and diseases and how to manage them in your apiary. 

This is the last installment of our Beekeeping 101 series—your hives should be humming along now! 

Common Bee Pests, Diseases, and Problems

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)

During the winter of 2006, beekeepers began to report much larger than normal losses of bee colonies. These colonies would fail suddenly, with most of the workers disappearing from the hive, leaving the queen and a handful of young bees to fend for themselves. This phenomenon came to be known as “Colony Collapse Disorder.”

The possible causes of CCD are still being debated today. Researchers agree that the disorder stems from a combination of problems, but continue to search for a definitive answer.

Varroa Mites

Varroa mites attack both adult and larval bees, feeding off the bees. This weakens the bees and ultimately shortens their lifespans. In fact, Varroa mites are the #1 killer of bees worldwide due to their ability to spread bee viruses and diseases.

You can not prevent your colony from Varroa infection, but you can save your colony from failure. There are many approved mite treatments available for use in the war against Varroa. From approved synthetic chemicals to softer organic miticides, several treatment types are available. ApiVar, Api-Life Var, Apiguard, Hopguard, Formic Acid and Oxalic Acid are just a few of the choices. 

Bee with Varroa mite
A Varroa mite on the back of a bee.

Each type of treatment has its pros and cons. Find the best method that fits your climate and your beekeeping philosophy. Then, monitor the mite levels in your colony. If your hive needs treatment, do it as soon as possible to reduce the infestation.  

Pesticides

Pesticides are effective at killing insect pests, but bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects are susceptible to many of the pesticides that our culture depends on, too. Unfortunately, these pesticides sometimes end up in our soil and water, and the contamination is having an effect on our pollinators. 

Debate continues over the true extent of the impact of pesticides on bees. To protect your colony from harm, avoid using pesticides on flowers and crops that the bees may come into contact with—or, if pesticide use is necessary, avoid using them when plants are in bloom. Also be sure to read the pesticides’ labels and follow the given usage guidelines to avoid unnecessary bee deaths.

American Foulbrood Disease (AFD)

American Foulbrood is caused by the Paenibacillus larvae bacteria, which kills the sealed broods of honey bees. This disease is highly contagious and can easily spread throughout a hive and from one colony to another. 

Spores from the bacteria can live in beekeeping equipment, such as frames and supers, for years. For this reason, buying used equipment can be risky.

There is currently no surefire cure for American Foulbrood, though antibiotics have been shown to slow down the disease. However, due to the persistence of the bacteria, this is not a long-term solution. Some states require the destruction of infected colonies outright. 

If you suspect that your colony has been infected, contact your state’s Apiary Inspection Service for management advice.

Bee brood
A bee peeks out from a brood cell.

Winterizing Your Bees

The amount of preparation required for winter depends on your climate. A strong, healthy colony with proper winter food stores can survive the season without issue in most regions. Make sure that your colonies are well fed before cold arrives with sufficient food stores for your area. Close off most of the hive entrances to keep out cold drafts and mice.

If you live in a region with bitter cold, you can wrap your hives up for the winter. However, note that ventilation is very important for bees—even during winter. 

This is where the local component of beekeeping plays a big role. What type of winter preparations do other beekeepers in your region use? Do they face problems with other diseases or pests? Consulting with them will be a big help in preventing problems with your own colony.

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 and Sons provides a textbook understanding of honeybees.
  • The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture is an encyclopedia of various beekeeping topics.
  • The Beekeeper’s Handbook by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitable
  • 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 like-minded souls. Look online or contact your local cooperative extension services office for advice.

Online Beekeeping Class! 

beekeepercharlottelogo.jpgA thank you to Charlotte Anderson, Master Beekeeper from South Carolina, who consulted on our beekeeping series! 

Charlotte runs an online beekeeping class! An informed new beekeeper has a much greater chance of beekeeping success.

Check out Charlotte’s class to get off to a Buzzin Start!

About This Blog

Would you like to raise honeybees in your backyard? Welcome to our free Beekeeping 101 series—a beginner’s guide in 7 chapters. In this guide, we talk about how to get started raising bees, the clothing and equipment needed, different hive styles, collecting honey, and common bee diseases. If you like the idea, consider an online beekeeping class to learn more!

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Beekeeping 101: Common Bee Diseases

An update to this article:

I am a beekeeper of 3 years. Unfortunately, there are a few incorrect facts in
this article. The article is from 2017 and much has changed since it was written.

First: American and European Foulbrood are similar but with a very important difference.
American Foulbrood (AFB) cannot be cured. And it will quickly kill a hive. This stuff is nasty. You MUST destroy the hive. Or more importantly, your state Apiarist must destroy the hive. Yes, most states have a state apiarist. You should never, ever destroy a hive until you have had a professional (the state Apiarist) diagnose the real problem. (I have known of beekeepers that have destroyed their hives thinking it was AFB, it usually is not, only to find out later that it was an issue they could easily correct.) The state Apiarist must know when there is a problem with American Foulbrood as it can spread quickly if not detected early. They must, by law, quarantine all beehives within 6 miles of the affected hive. Bees can travel up to 5 miles to forage, including robbing from weak, AFB infected hives.

European Foulbrood, on the other hand, can be treated. And the hives do not need to
be destroyed. Contact your state apiarist. Due to changes in law by the Federal
Government, Terramycin and other antibiotics can no longer be bought “off the shelf” for treating any livestock (yes bees are considered livestock). Veterinarians must now be involved in the process.

Second: Conventional wisdom now states that you should never use an antibiotic in
your hive unless a problem has been diagnosed.

Third: Verroa Mites (Verroa Destructor): This is an old article and does not incorporate
new research revealed last year. The author is correct in that the mites do destroy bee
larvae. But the new research shows that the mites do not feed on the bees blood, but
on the bee’s belly fat that contains most of their antibodies. Once the fat is
compromised, the bees succumb to viruses normally present in their bodies. We prefer
formic acid to Apistan to treat for Verroa. We use Mite-away quick strips as a once (or twice) a year mite prevention. When applied at the correct time of the year, it keeps the mite load down to
acceptable levels. Very difficult to achieve a mite-free hive in the U.S.

Anyway, pretty neat research. If you are interested, you can look his video up on youtube - Varroa Does Not Feed on Hemolymph by Samuel Ramsey . It is 1 hr and 14 minutes, a little long. Watch as much as you like.

Dr. Samuel Ramsey is from the University of Maryland. Dr. Ramsey determined how
Varroa actually feed on honeybees and the problems it causes in honeybees.

OMG. I just had FRESH honeycomb!

I'm hooked on fresh honeycomb! I am definitely interested in buying my own bee hive and producing my own fresh honey just for my family.

I would like to know what

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

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,

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

A note on CCD: check out

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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