Are we obsessed with Varroa mites?
Those treasured folks who comment on my site often force me to re-visit an issue. Sometimes they alter my thinking, sometimes they reinforce it, and sometimes they send me in new directions. The careful re-inspection of an issue can be both illuminating and humbling.
In an earlier post called “Absconding bees or death by Varroa?,” I wrote that “I don’t know why beekeepers are unwilling to believe or admit their bees died of mites.” A beekeeper named Bryan responded with the following observation:
I have no problem placing blame on Varroa if that is the cause. However, the obsession with [this parasite] needs to stop. Bees are supposed to be the obsession. Varroa cannot drown out all other conversations. Beekeepers dismiss being told it’s Varroa because they are told it’s Varroa nearly every time they bring up a loss. A continued conversation becomes a broken record. Club presentations and discussions are infested with this myopic view. . . .
Though it is a problem, I don`t like seeing it portrayed as THE problem.
Whoa! This caught me up short. Bryan’s perspective is drastically different from my own, but I immediately realized that the amount of emphasis given to Varroa could vary wildly depending on your club, your reading material, and those beekeepers you associate with.
My own myopic view
I agree that honey bees should be the main attraction and that discussions of Varroa should not preempt all other conversations. But I find that beekeepers—especially newer ones—tend to sweep the discussion of Varroa under the table. Most beekeeping books list Varroa destructor as an “also ran,” usually buried in a section that lists other parasites and diseases. If anything, I think meaningful discussions of Varroa are lacking.
In my view, the most overworked topics are feeding and swarming. Seriously, how many different ways can you explain how to make 1:1 syrup? How many times can you explain why honey bees swarm? It’s mind numbing, but beekeepers need to know these things so it is logical that they ask.
Truth be told, I often worry that I don’t say enough about Varroa mites. Furthermore, I believe Varroa is the problem, and I think most people who kept honey bees before Varroa would agree.
Finding the true culprit
The point of my previous post was that collapse by Varroa is often mistaken for absconding. But Varroa mites—or more accurately, the diseases they carry—are responsible for a wide array of maladies that are often mistaken for something else. When we don’t see physical evidence of mites—that is, when they are not parading across the bottom board with flags and banners—we tend to blame the something else, whether that something else be absconding, queen failure, starvation, cold, moisture, Nosema, or yellowjackets.
Although they exist, none of these other ailments is as common as infection by Varroa. Bryan observes that, “Beekeepers dismiss being told it’s Varroa because they are told it’s Varroa nearly every time they bring up a loss.” That dismissal is sad because, most likely, it is Varroa that caused their loss. If the answer is dismissed, the problem will not go away. If that beekeeper doesn’t change his management methods, the same will occur again.
Two for the price of one
As I’ve said in previous posts, every beekeeper is also a mitekeeper, and the second most important thing a beekeeper can learn after honey bee biology is Varroa destructor biology. Once you understand those two things, you are ready to become a successful keeper of the bees.
At that point, you will also be ready to decide how to handle the mites—whether you will use commercial methods, so-called natural treatments, or start your own breeding program. Those personal decisions are up the individual beekeeper, but they can’t be made wisely without an understanding of both honey bees and Varroa mites and how they interact.
Your opinion, please
In case I’m missing the point, I would like to hear your opinion:
- Do beekeepers obsess needlessly about Varroa mites?
- Does the average beekeeper know enough about mites to make good management decisions?
- If Varroa mites are not the major problem, what is?
- If discussions of Varroa are drowning out “other conversations,” what conversations are missing?
- Do you want to see more or less about mites here on this site?
Thanks for anything you can share, and a special thanks to Bryan for his thoughts.
Honey Bee Suite