varroa mites

It’s not about mites any more

By Xolani90 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

“If one more speaker starts yapping about Varroa mites, I’m gettin’ up and walkin’ out!” The grumbler sitting next to me in the audience didn’t know me and didn’t know I was the next speaker. And yap I did. My topic? Deformed wing virus.

Honestly, I can’t blame the guy for feeling that way. I too am tired of mites. But in spite of endless boring discussions, I think we are still missing the point when it comes to managing Varroa. Mites are nothing more than bad guys with hypodermic needles. The true demon, deformed wing virus (DWV), rarely gets a mention.

I should clarify by saying DWV rarely gets a mention outside of academic circles. Among scientists and researchers, DWV is demanding more attention and taking its rightful position as villain-in-chief. What I’ve learned has caused me to re-think the way I handle mites. By looking at Varroa-mediated collapse not as a mite problem but as a virus problem, I’ve been able to better manage my bees.

The dream team

Many researchers agree that the ultimate destroyer of honey bee colonies is DWV, not Varroa mites. Apparently, when the virus is not present, honey bee colonies can withstand fairly heavy mite loads over long periods of time. Of course, having mites is not an ideal situation because mites feed on bees, weakening them in the process. Still, quick and total loss of a colony is not the usual result from Varroa mites alone.

Likewise, a colony of honey bees without Varroa mites can harbor DWV without succumbing to the disease. It appears that healthy honey bees have a natural resistance to the virus when it spreads via normal channels. What is normal? Normal channels include vertical transmission from queen to egg, and horizontal transmission via trophallaxis from worker to worker or from worker to larva1.

However, when both Varroa mites and DWV are present at the same time, the virus is transmitted through the bite of the mite into the tissue of the bee. Compare this to other diseases. You can catch the flu by breathing air or eating food that is tainted with the germs, or you may be able to fight it off. However, if you are actually injected with the pathogen, you have a much greater chance of becoming sick.

Casual contact or injected dose

In a similar way, honey bees can get DWV from casual contact within the hive, or they can be injected with it, courtesy of the Varroa mite. You will sometimes see the term “vectored infection” when the writer is referring to pathogens transmitted by the mites. In biology, a vector is an organism that spreads a disease without contracting the disease itself. Just as an anopheles mosquito is a vector for malaria and a deer tick is a vector for lyme disease, a Varroa mite is a vector for deformed wing virus.

Another term you sometimes see is “covert infection.” Basically, covert means hidden. So, depending on the author, it may refer to an infection that travels from bee to bee without a vector (the infectious pathway is hidden) or it may refer to a type of infection that does not produce obvious symptoms (signs of the disease are hidden).

Timing can make a difference

As I understand it, when the virus is transmitted naturally within the hive—from bee to bee—it is less likely to produce deformed wings and shortened abdomens than when transmitted by a mite.

At least part of the reason may be timing. If a bee contracts the disease as an adult, she will not get deformed wings and a shortened abdomen because those parts are already fully formed. Other aspects of the disease will still result, including a weakened immune system and a shortened lifespan.

In practical terms, bees can be infected with DWV without showing obvious signs of the disease, even if the disease was transmitted by mites. I’ve heard beekeepers say they saw no sign of deformed wings in their colony, therefore it wasn’t DWV that killed them. We need to remember that when and how the bee contracted the disease affects the visible symptoms, so a bee may die of the disease without having obvious physical deformities.

Is the DWV getting worse?

Many beekeepers are finding that to keep their colonies alive, mites have to be treated more often than they used to be. Some who used to treat once a year are now treating two and three times a year. This increase appears to be related not to stronger mites, but to increased virulence of the DWV. In other words, the virus seems to have increased in potency such that a colony cannot withstand as many mites as it used to. Since a colony can succumb to DWV with a just a small number of mites, it becomes necessary to keep the number of mites per hive at a very low level, much lower than in the past.

Why this is happening is unclear, but it may simply be a matter of numbers. As the virus spreads, more individuals exist and a new opportunity for mutation occurs with each replication. So, basically, with more individuals you have more chance for change. Some of these mutations could have increased the virulence of the disease to its host, the honey bee.

Another cause could be migratory colonies. If you have a chance mutation in, let’s say Florida, and another in California, instead of those being local problems, they are soon continental problems as we—human beings—assist the DWV in spreading the mutations to more and more bees.

Varroa and DWV working together

Of course, there are most likely other explanations as well, but the fact remains that the disease appears to be getting more deadly. Right now, the only way we have of slowing the disease is controlling the mites that carry it, so we are in something of a bind since controlling the mites hasn’t gotten any easier. Worse, some research has shown that the Varroa mites actually do better in the presence of high viral loads, because the disease keeps the bees weaker and less likely to defend against the mites2.

Management choices

In my own apiary, I stopped thinking about managing mites and began to think about managing virus. This has helped me, especially with the timing of control measures. It also reminds me that killing the mites doesn’t kill the virus.

The most obvious case is the classic fall management conundrum. Most of us don’t want to treat colonies in August. Depending on where we live, it may be too hot, honey supers may be in place, winter is far off, the colony is huge and healthy, you’re hoping to pick up the fall flow, or you’re going on vacation. All of these reasons, and more, interfere with treating mites at the right time.

Instead of thinking about mites, think of DWV. Remember that here in North America, your long-lived winter bees will begin emerging in September and October. If they have deformed wing virus, they will not be able to care for the winter colony and, even if some survive the winter, they will pass the virus on to the early spring brood. So reducing the amount of deformed-wing pathogen must be completed by the end of August. Killing mites late in the year after the bees have already contracted deformed-wing virus, doesn’t help. By that time, the bees will succumb to the virus whether mites are present or not.

High winter losses

The scuttlebutt I’m hearing from beekeepers across the country is that pockets of high colony loss, up to 80 or 90%, are occurring in some areas. These losses are affecting commercial beekeepers, hobbyists, conventional, and natural beekeepers across the board. In other areas, sometimes relatively close by, losses are apparently at normal levels. What is going on? My own guess is that the heavily hit areas are hosting more virulent strains of DWV. I have no proof of this, but it will be interesting to see what happens next. Will these hard-hit areas recede and disappear, or will they expand?

As with many aspects of beekeeping, it is difficult to discern cause and effect. So when other factors come into play—exogenous variables like bad weather and poor forage—it is easy to assign colony loss to them. But throughout history, honey bees have shown amazing resilience when it comes to harsh environmental conditions like cold, snow, rain, heat, drought, wind, lack of forage, predation, and even viruses. But injected viruses? I just don’t know.

But even the classic signs of collapse by Varroa make more sense when you think of them as signs of collapse by virus. When a large colony collapses quickly in the fall or winter with plenty of food, a small and spotty nest, and practically no dead bees, it sounds more like disease than parasite.

Let me emphasize that much of this post is pure speculation on my part based on journal articles I’ve read and loss reports I’ve studied. You may come to different conclusions. Still, I think looking at the entire mite problem as actually a virus problem may help some beekeepers modify their management strategy. It’s time we evaluate the disease, not just the vector. After all, it was never about the mites.

1 Deformed wing virus and honey bee queens

2 Varroa, Honey Bees and Deformed Wing Virus – A Parasite-Pathogen Partnership

Honey Bee Suite

Honey bee with deformed wing virus by Xolani90 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Honey bee suffering from deformed wing virus. Photo by Xolani90 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,









  • Rusty, lots of discussion about winter losses and DWV on Bee-L and other forums. Peter Borst has provided lots of info on recent studies, scariest being ‘covert DWV’.
    Thanks for hi-lighting the real issue with Varroa, vectoring virus.
    Best to you,

    • Brain,

      Thanks. I think it’s a good sign that beekeepers/researchers are looking at the viruses as a distinct problem. I think it will speed up both our knowledge and our options.

  • Wow! I wonder if the viruses that plague honey bees can be isolated and some sort of antibodies can be developed and given to the honey bees. Maybe in sugar water or a drench. Of course, the dosage would have to be followed for the prescribed mount of time so as to prevent resistant viruses… this could get complicated.
    Not having studied this much, I do agree with your theory of the virus causing such harm. I look forward to the research done in the future on this. Like colony collapse disorder, the mite factor is more involved than just mites. There must be other contributing causes, like disease and viruses. Just my musing!
    Thanks for such a thought provoking subject, Rusty.

    • Thanks, Ken. It seems that these problems are always more complicated than we first imagine. Once we start looking, they get even more scary.

  • Rusty, thank you for a personally timely post. Installed purchased packages last April had low measured mite loads going into August, saw visible signs of DWV despite low mite loads, treated for varroa probably too late in the season and indicators are that I lost both hives this winter. Expensive lesson that I need to be proactive in my observations and treatments and that the old assumption that DWV goes hand in hand with high mite loads is just that…an old assumption.

    • Jennifer,

      That is exactly the type of report I keep hearing: low mites loads but lots of DWV. It seems like the “old” rules (two or three years ago?) don’t apply.

  • Very inciteful and thought provoking article . . . you lit the light of curiosity . . . I will be rethinking how I manage and be a bit more observant.

    Thank you for sharing

  • Rusty,

    I can only agree with you, however I believe that DWV is only one of a number of pathogens that are vectored by the same process.

    I seldom see DWV in my apiary, but when I do see it, it always gets my immediate attention.

    Congratulations on receiving your Univ. of Montana Master Beekeeper certificate.

    • Steve,

      That is absolutely correct. Last I checked there were something like 18 named bee viruses, and quite a few of those were vectored by mites. This particular one, though, is receiving a lot of attention at the moment.

      And thanks. The UM course was well worth the effort.

    • Steve, you don’t have to see DWV for the bees to have it. It depends on when they were infected with it. If infected during development, they could show deformed wings. If infected as adult bees, their wings were already formed and therefore, they don’t show deformed wings.

  • Terrific information! I would note however, that contrary to the sentiments presented here. Pathogens do not, and let me emphasize–do not–, want, desire, or benefit from their hosts dying or going extinct. Both the varroa mites, and the virus are utterly dependent upon having a population of bees. In fact, healthy populations of bees are preferable to sick populations of bees in both cases. And by preferable, I mean benefit.

    Bees have a generation time approaching one year. And insects generally seem to be terrific at evading all manner of pathogenic events from diseases to the most sophisticated of human poisons. Their numbers may dwindle to small, but let history reflect a robustness beyond common human understanding.

    Yes, bee populations are endangered. Yes, we need to be concerned. But I think we should also note this isn’t their first rodeo, and as much as we might like to believe otherwise, bees will most likely survive without us.

    • Charles,

      One comment. You say, “bees will most likely survive without us.” I say that bees absolutely without a doubt would survive without us. “Us” is the problem. If we humans weren’t mucking up the planet, bees and other life forms could get on with it, just as they always did. We are dependent on them, not the other way around.

      Whenever someone says, “Bees survived million of years without us,” I say, “Yes, but now they have us, and that is the problem.” We come with baggage: poisons, pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, acid rain, invasive species, plus we move everything into areas where it doesn’t belong. The list is endless.

      Long story short: I agree with you.

  • Makes a whole lot of sense looking back on how some of the hives I’ve lost in the last few years looked. I’m going to take a hard look at my program maybe incorporating a hard brood break in July.

    Thanks Rusty


    • Diana,

      That is not a stupid question; it is the most important question.

      Some researchers are beginning to look at controlling the virus rather than controlling the mite, and I think that is an important distinction. Be sure to read the comment by JoAnne (below) about the different types of DWV. I think something like that may eventually be brought to market. Imagine feeding the bees a supplement with the harmless type of virus in it. Perhaps it could prevent infection from the dangerous kind. That idea reminds me of the milkmaids in the past who were immune to smallpox after they had contracted the relatively mild cowpox. Cool idea.

  • Extremely helpful information. Good to remember that nature does not operate on a vacuum. Any thoughts about mite control for the fast coming spring season? I am going to try an oxalic acid dribble for the first time. I read that you should treat packaged bees before you install them. Thoughts? Also, can you reuse a huge hive that died this winter of mites and its disease. Mites may be gone, or are they?, but what about residual virus?

    • Sharon,

      I’ve read a lot of speculation on how long the virus can survive in used equipment. The mites certainly will be gone because they can’t survive without a honey bee host, so don’t worry about them.

      Most of the information I’ve seen suggests that there is some length of time that DWV can survive without a bee or a mite, but it is probably short, on the order of a few hours. At this time, I don’t consider it a problem. I always reuse my dead-out equipment without any special treatment after a colony dies of mites and, so far at least, I’ve not seen a problem with that.

  • Rusty,
    In your next to last paragraph you refer to “large colony collapses in fall or winter with plenty of food, a small and spotty nest, and practically no dead bees”. Isn’t this the same as absconding? And haven’t bees been absconding for mysterious reasons since long before the introduction of mites?

    • Leslie,

      No, absconding is totally different. When a colony absconds the entire healthy colony, queen and all, leaves its home to begin a new one somewhere else. It resembles a swarm except that the entire colony leaves, not just part of it.

      People often get confused when their colony collapses due to virus and they mistakenly believe it absconded. They have nothing to do with each other. DWV colonies are often empty, but that’s because the sick bees fly out of the hive to die.

      See “Absconding or death by Varroa?.” Reasons for absconding are explained here “My bees left: how to prevent absconding and “Absconding: when your bees move on.”

  • Thank you, Rusty, for another thoughtful post.
    Your list of reasons / excuses for not treating in August is spot on!

  • Your article is spot on and very important for beekeepers. Thanks again and again for using your observation skills, critical thinking skills, and great writing style to share important and timely information with beekeepers.

    We just heard Declan Schroeder a honey bee virus expert in the UK speak to our bee club and his research is astonishing. There are different types of DWV and type B (the kind bees don’t die from) prevents the bees from getting (and dying from) type A.

    Ron Hoskins has been breeding hygenic honey bees for nearly 20 years and his colonies survive with mites and he does not treat them at all. So Declan studied them and found that his bees had type B (the non-lethal DWV).

    • JoAnne,

      I’ve read about the two types of DWV and I think it is the most exciting news we’ve heard in a while. If we could replace A with B, perhaps we could live with Varroa mites. Maybe we could breed mites with type B, and release them into the environment to spread it around?

      Schroeder’s research basically proves that it’s the virus, not the mites, that’s the real problem.

      • Next step: Is there a test (accessible to beekeepers) for colonies/nucs/packages to see which DWV type is present? I would surely make my overwintering decisions, splitting decisions, nuc building decisions, and replacement purchases based on that knowledge. Our University researchers tell me the test costs thousands of dollars, but Declan is showing them how to do it. I encouraged them to try to develop a version that is affordable and/or encourage bee suppliers to invest in it to improve their stock.

        • JoAnne,

          A test could certainly take us in the right direction. I also wonder how we can encourage the B type over the A type; I wonder if some environmental or in-hive condition favors one over the other.

  • Fantastic article. Thank you. Hard realities that not enough beekeepers are acknowledging or paying attention to. We need more easy to understand educational information like your site!

  • Thanks for this very valuable information but as a hobbyist who treats multiple times in a year with the both ApiVar and MQS what else do you suggest.

  • Rusty,

    I lost my nuc–plenty of honey and stored pollen. Dead bees in the bottom and two clusters of bees in two frames, one around the dead queen. Dead mites on the bottom of the nuc. My mentor didn’t check for mites until late September and treated them once in mid October. Am getting a package of bees in late March or early April. Any suggestions on when to check for/treat for mites and with what (formic/oxalic?) for better success this go around? Should I use the queen that comes with them (I hear the bees don’t know her except for the trip here) or re-queen with a local queen???

    I live in Northern Virginia.

    • Liz,

      I think your mentor needs a mentor. In your area, October is way too late for the first mite treatment.

      As for package bees, I would probably treat them with oxalic acid. See the EPA label for oxalic, second page, under “Spraying Package Bees” for instructions on how to do it. Of course, oxalic is not the only option, but since packages are broodless, it works well.

      Spring build up of bees brings spring build up of mites, so you may as well start with a clean slate. More and more people are treating packages to slow down the process. I never used to do it, but if I bought packages now, I would do it as well.

      As for the queen, I would see how she does before replacing her. You never know, you may get a good one. But if build-up seems slow, you can replace her later in the season and provide your colony a brood break at the same time.

  • It is so disheartening to see the ground peppered in front of my hives with deformed dead or crawling and trembling bees and you don’t know what you can do for them to cure the problem. I do treat for Varroa but it hasn’t stopped the disease. Symptoms diminish over time but reappear later.

    Do supplemental amino acids, given in early spring and fall feeding, actually aid the honey bee’s immune system? I’ve seen products advertised but being frugal as I am I don’t want to waste money on something that does nothing.

    Just throwing this out there. Is it possible for the pharmaceutical industry to produce a vaccine from the dead virus to give the bees either orally in syrup or by the drizzle method or spraying on brood comb? Maybe even treat the mites with the vaccine so they could inject the bees with it or at least keep them from transmitting DWV. If a vaccine and delivery system is possible then it could probably be improved on by adding a cocktail of other virus vaccines.

    • Tom,

      My opinion is that someone will come up with something—either a vaccine or a form of harmless virus like the DWV type B—that we will feed to the bees to provide some immunity. I think that’s our best shot, at least for now. But who knows how long something like that would take to develop.

      One year I fed Amino-B-Booster to my spring colonies and I thought they did really well. But it wasn’t a controlled experiment, so I don’t know if it was the amino acids or the weather. If you have good and varied forage, it shouldn’t matter. But in years with little pollen forage, it might be worth a try. With so many variables, it is hard to evaluate.

      • Hi,

        Shouldn’t the conclusion be that humans should keep their cleptofingers out of the pie? That is, isn’t human shortcomings enough as it is. Just hate to see MORE hybris in “fixing” things. Beware of pharma.

  • Thank you so very much! Our first year as beekeepers is reaching full circle and we look forward to using your advise for an even better year this year!


    • Terry,

      When I think of a bee brain in comparison to my own, I find it embarrassing. Whenever I play mind games with a bee (like when I think I will trick it into doing/not doing something) I always lose.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I really enjoy reading your posts! Thank you!

    We are in Western NY and going into this fall we treated for mites. Despite a lot of dead bees around the entrance to the hive, our hives still had live bees a few weeks ago. We are supposed to get into the 50s this weekend so I am curious to see if any come out to stretch! 🙂

    When we were treating and even in the months leading up to winter, I just kept thinking I wish I could do something for the bees immune systems. Is there anything we can do to help? Does honey bee health do anything to help build immunity as it relates to this topic? I also would love to know if essential oils (heavily diluted) could offer immune support.Do you know of any resources that might be beneficial to read up on?

    • Sara,

      Any organism, whether it’s a plant, animal, or microbe, will do better with adequate nutrition. There’s been a lot written about this, although I don’t have a particular reference in mind. I’ll try to find one to recommend. Essential oils generally have thousands of components, so many people think that the inclusion of essential oils in the honey bee diet is probably a good thing, as long as you don’t overdo it. I often sprinkle anise oil or tea tree oil over candy boards or sugar patties so the bees can find the feed and also to give some variation in their diet. I’m not scientific about it, just sprinkle sprinkle.

      Some of the “bee vitamins” like Hive Alive and Amino-B-Booster seem to have a positive effect on my bees. I think the micronutrients probably help to balance their diet but, in any case, they seem to be good for their attitude! The best thing will always be a varied supply of fresh pollen, but during winter or during summer dearth, supplements may well have a positive effect.

  • Very interesting message to Sara. I have used essential oils as an attractant for winter prep and feed. We are going to be so excited to take a look at how they have handled winter. We are in Mid-Michigan.

  • Hi Rusty and fellow beekeeepers,

    Now I’m slightly confused. I came across info suggesting that hives are full of thousands of microbes and beneficial bacteria and these help keep a hive healthy. Then I read essential oils kill microbes making their use counter productive. But then I read of their benefits and so determined to use them like medicine, not daily vitamins. Like when you take antibiotics and kill the infection but also the good digestive bacteria in the intestines, now you have to eat yogurt to replace the good bacteria. I feed essential oils in spring for a week because winter confinement is hard on them, and also in fall to ward off gut diseases like nosema and dysentery. I also use them after a varroa treatment but then, after any of these uses I replace microbials with an application of Super DFM. Always using oils in syrup doesn’t seem right.

    One other thing, someone said they treat 3 times a year, what more can they do? I was wondering if the more is a brood break before treatment? Everything I’ve read about treatments says it won’t work on capped varroa except the MAQS. But using them full strength is bad for queens so do we know they permeate the capped cells in reduced strength? I think treatments are half hearted if you don’t go the whole hog and cage the queen to make a brood break. Of course you dont have to do it when it occurs naturally in the late fall. Ok, tell me where I have it wrong… thanks.


    • Lisa,

      First off, all living things harbor collections of microbes both good and bad. There is nothing unique about honey bees or humans in this regard. By eating a balanced diet of nutritious food, we can help the microbes stay in balance. Usually.

      My opinion is that we can’t micromanage the microorganisms. We have to let our immune systems do their thing and we can help by watching our diet. I apply this principal to bees as well.

      I think we place to much stock in essential oils. Bees most likely get all the essential oils they need from pollen. Oils can be used sparingly as a feeding stimulant or vitamin supplement. I repeat, sparingly. Remember, as with all substances, the dose makes the poison. A little may help, but a lot may kill.

      None of the mite treatments are good for bee health outside of killing mites. We make do. There is not a perfect mite treatment because they are all hard on the bees. Which one you choose, if any, is up to you and your particular circumstances.

      My opinion based on your email is that you need to back off a little. Give your bees some breathing room. I like to do as little as possible but as much as necessary to help my bees. In other words, just enough, not too much. No one is advocating that you do every single thing that can be done, but that you do the ones that feel right for your particular bees. We have choices to pick from, but none of us knows what the right choice will always be. And what’s right will change from time to time and from hive to hive.

      No one can give you a recipe. There is no set of instructions that will always work. You have to feel your way through it, learning as you go.

      Relax. Read a book. Sip some tea. Eat chocolate. Listen to music. Watch your bees. Let them mesmerize you. But above all, let them alone whenever you can. The micromanagement has to go, or they will.

      Other viewpoints encouraged…

      • Agreed! It can be hard to find a balance but there can be too much of a good thing. Just like with people, what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. How do you find out what works for you and your bees? Try it, In moderation, experiment, keep real good notes and review them often. Soon you will find what works and what doesn’t in your case. And always expect the unexpected and the exception to the “rules”. You are working with living things here, just do your best. This is far better than doing nothing. Who knows, maybe you will be the one to find the closest solution. At least in your specific circumstances.

  • Thanks Guys,

    I guess I would feel just as bad to have a colony fail because I did too much as I would if I did too little, although I might learn more from the something I did rather than the nothing…I think. Anyway I appreciate the perspective.


  • Rusty, or anyone that has relevant information,

    Has anyone ever used sulfur to control Varroa mites? I know they have used sulfur to control other types of mite in animals but I don’t know what affect it would have on the bees. Just wondering. Also in a unrelated subject, we have been having freakishly warm temperatures in our area for February, I know it will more than likely become seasonably cold out again before spring. Should I do anything other than the normal February food inspection due to the week plus temps in the 50’s and mid 60’s. Thanks for any insight.

    • Jeffrey,

      1. I don’t know anything about sulfur and varroa or sulfur and bees.
      2. Just check for food like you said, and maybe add some pollen supplement if they are raising brood.

  • Rusty,

    I seem to have found an answer to my question, but thoughts are still appreciated.

    Quote from, “Sulfur is considered non-toxic to bees. In studies on ecological effects involving honeybees, sulfur has been shown to be practically non-toxic to the species tested. Thus, although there is potential for non-target organisms to be exposed to sulfur, little hazard to these species is expected to result. Two beneficial insect studies demonstrated that sulfur (98% dust and 92% wettable powder) is low in toxicity to the honeybee through contact and ingestion.”

    I may try a dry powder walk through for the bees this year and see how it effects the Verona mite count, or possibly a sulfur block inside the entrance for them to walk over. I’m just afraid I might hurt my bees if left it in too long, I need to look into it a bit more first. I’ll let you know what happens.


  • Hi, I was considering uncapping some brood to check for mites; is this worth doing? and will the workers reseal these cells? thanks

    • Ross,

      Most people open only drone cells because that is where mites are most likely to be. You need to pull out the pupa and look at it, which will also destroy it.

  • Rusty, Great thanks for the wonderful explanation. As I am a new beekeeper I am not pretty sure when to plant friendly honeybee flowers to attract the bees into my garden. Your response in this regard will be highly appreciated.

    • Mokisha,

      Unfortunately, I know nothing about the bee plants of Ethiopia. Perhaps a local farmer or gardener would be a good person to ask, or another beekeeper.

  • Second year beekeeper planning to treat with the OA dribble method this fall. Should I treat in August every year as well with the other method? Or do you feel one OA treatment will suffice to not lose colonies?

    • Luke,

      The mite loads are different depending where you are and how many managed and feral colonies live near you. You need to do a count at twice a year, and maybe more. Some people can treat once a year, others treat as much as three times per year. The only way to know for sure is to count them.

    • Luke,

      The mite loads are different depending where you are and how many managed and feral colonies live near you. You need to do a count at twice a year, and maybe more. Some people can treat once a year, others treat as much as three times per year. The only way to know for sure is to count them.

  • Hello there,

    I am a new beekeeper and life has been tumultuous so I haven’t treated for mites yet! I live in Olympia, Washington and never got around to doing a mite count. Do you think I should still do something? My two hives appear very healthy. I am running a bit scared because I had a full body reaction last month with one sting. Got myself an epi pen, but quite cautious. It has been illuminating reading your article, and comments!

    • Jean,

      If you were not allergic, I would say definitely test for mites because even a healthy-looking colony can collapse quickly from the viral diseases carried by mites. But on the other hand, I don’t want you to get stung. You should go with what makes you comfortable. Yours is a scary situation.

    • Jean,

      I wound up in the ER from an allergic reaction and NOBODY there told me this, I had to look it up on my own:
      Get yourself a good allergist.

      If you have decent health insurance, get yourself a good allergist and start the Bee Venom Immunotherapy.

      Even if you don’t have decent health insurance, the whole course of immunotherapy will probably be cheaper than one ER visit, especially if you include the ambulance and EMTs.

      As far as I can tell, based on how little I now react to stings, it really works.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I was wondering about the vertical virus transmission. One of my two hives gets high mite counts and the other has not, so far at least. It’s going to be in the mid 60’s here in the Bay Area tomorrow, so I plan to inspect and sugar roll both hives. The hive that seems to always have mite numbers climb back up is currently showing visible DWV. I expect the mite count to be high again.

    I guess my question is: if the queen is passing the virus to the eggs, would it make sense to treat for mites, and immediately after re-queen the hive with a (hopefully) uninfected queen? Could timing those two things control the virus, or would the new queen just get immediately infected due to trophallaxis?

    The two hives are only a few feet from each other. Should I expect that eventually the other hive is going to have the same problem if I don’t move one to another location?

    Thank you for your time.


    • Paula Ellen,

      Once a colony exhibits visible signs of DWV, it is hard to save. Even if you get rid of the mites, the bees are already infected with virus.

      I don’t suspect vertical transmission from queen to egg is the real problem. In any case, like the article said, a colony can pretty much live with viruses at low levels. It’s the injected form you have to worry about. You’ve said the hive has high mite counts, and I suspect that is the real problem. You can always replace your queen, but I doubt it will help.

      You can’t eliminate the spread of varroa from one hive to another very easily. Some people estimate that as many as 40% of the bees in any hive originated in another hive. That seems high to me, but even it it’s only 5%, that’s enough to move varroa around. Remember, honey bees can easily fly and forage in a five-mile radius from their hive. That makes a circle of over 50,000 acres. Being in the Bay Area, I’m sure a zillon bee hives are in that area.

      Still, keeping hives a little further apart does slow down the rate of transmission. Just bear in mind that it won’t completely stop it.

  • This is interesting. I lost my bees 100% this year (2017-2018). I got them ready for winter better than I ever had and treated for mites properly. September rolled around and my strongest hive was just gone. Not dead (but dead, it’s September in Michigan), but totally just split. (They were on year 2, this was going to be their second winter.) In October, 2 more hives died. (Packages installed that spring.) This time they died, dead bees everywhere. In November, hives 4 and 5 died. (Also spring packages.) The last hive, a swarm that showed up a couple of years ago, also the most gentle and I think most strong, made it through the winter, but about mid-Feb I started to see more dead bees in front of the hive than I was good with, but it’s really bad weather so there is no getting a good look. I am checking them many times a week, listening, making sure they have plenty of food, quilt was working as it should, they were still buzzing. By mid-March that hive went silent. We got a day long break in the weather so I opened the hive. The quilt worked as it should the hive was dry. They had not touched the fondant, although there were about 12 dead bees around it. The hive had a lot of capped honey on it, so I ruled out starvation. I don’t know. Maybe this virus???? I am going to try again this year, but I wonder. The bees that we buy in packages up here in north country are from the deep south and I wonder about their ability to adapt to this climate. But I also wonder about other things in the hive. I wondered about toxic build up in the wax and wonder if this is why hive 1 left, why the swarm died too? I am wondering if I should use comb from these dead outs or if I should really start totally fresh, supers and all, if toxic build up is the case. I am puzzled. Also, I decided to use only one deep super to see how that would work out. I am getting too old to wrestle around all this heavy stuff. I am not so sure. When I opened up the hives: crowded, honey bound, rogue comb everywhere all full of capped honey. So, OK, ladies, clearly you need more space, so I added another deep and they filled it up on no time flat. I am considering long hives this year just for the sake of my back, but man….this is a whole lot of (expensive) equipment. Anyway, that’s my story. Not the one I wanted to tell.

    • I don’t know what to tell you, Sharon. I know it’s getting harder and harder to keep bees alive. The viruses are getting worse, there are more diseases and parasites, the forage is not as nutritious. I often think the fun has gone out of it and now it’s just work. Oh yes, and money.

  • I’m a bit confused by this article. I’ve been reading/hearing about this for a number of years. Not just with DWV but with several other diseases as well. I had thought that varroa being a disease vector was common knowledge.

    Personally, I’d think that a three pronged attack may work well: Treat for the diseases, treat for mites and reduce viral loads (as well as pesticide loads) by removing older comb from the hive. I know that removing the drawn comb will reduce honey production but I’ve come to the conclusion that the benefits out weigh the costs. Any thoughts on this?

  • Just found out yesterday that my bees have DWV. My mentor says to give them miticide. Once they have the virus, is miticide goung to help? Also, would you combine a hive with DWV with a healthy hive? Most of the bees look healthy. They are also queenless, hence the question about combining.

    • Marty,

      Once a bee has the virus, there is nothing you can do. The miticide will only kill the mites, which are the primary vector of the virus. But the virus can also move between bees via trophallaxis, so you don’t want to combine sick bees with healthy bees whether they have mites or not.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I wrote you a while back about an overload of Varroa. I treated with Apivar in August and had an overload of mites in Oct. I treated 3 times with OAV and still had mites. So I treated one more time Jan 7th 2019 with OAV and finally got those buggers under control. I also treated in Spring 2018. Start date was March 29 with Apivar. You mentioned that you heard the mites are getting resistant to Apivar. I talked with an Apivar Rep and he felt there could have been a large Varroa mite overload that was too much for the Apivar to handle. If that is correct I’m curious how there could be such an overload when I treated on a regular basis. So now my Big important question is when do you treat in the Spring? What month, what part of the month and what do you treat with? I would like to get a honey crop this year but how do you fit that in with the Varroa treatments and honey flow timing. I’m leary of Apivar now. I am a little frustrated. Thanks Linda

    • Hi Linda,

      The reason we all have so many mites even with constant treating is because new mites are always entering your hives. Nearly 20 percent of bees in a hive came from somewhere else. Often these bees arrive from untreated hives and they bring their mites with them. Many times bees leave a hive because the mite load is too discouraging for them. They leave to get away but, of course, they can’t. Anyway, as long as some people don’t treat, there will be constant flow of mites into your hives. It’s worse with many beekeepers nearby. As for spring treatment, I try to use something that you can use with honey supers, such as formic acid.

  • Hi again Rusty

    I was thinking about Mite-Away Quick Strips but will need to read up on it. So this is what I need to know most of all. What month do you treat in the spring and what part of that month do you treat? Beginning? end? I have never used anything except Apivar and OAV. I checked one of my very busy hives this AM and they had 10 mites over a 25 hr period. They are also bringing in a lot of pollen. I wonder what is blooming? I am trying to decide if I should hit them with a shot of OAV right now or wait until spring and treat with all the hives. Also what is considered early spring in Washington. Feb? March?….Thanks Linda

    • Linda,

      I can’t answer because I don’t have a rule for it. When I check the hives, I will look at the situation and then decide. It is mid-April and I still haven’t treated for mites. I will soon, but it depends on mite load, temperatures, etc. I look, do a count, make a decision. I never keep bees by the calendar.

  • Just wanted to add that when neonics are present, even in the smallest trace amount, the DWV is (super-charged) by a factor of 1000. This is what the research shows. Amazing number- 1000! I think that if you are keeping bees in an area where they are exposed to neonicotinoids, it’s going to be a tough, uphill slog at best. I lost all my bees last year when it went to 10 below zero F in mid November and bought two over-wintered nucs for this year. It’s June 15th now and my bees have DWV. The nucs came from a place that has organized agriculture and I’m guessing that they have been exposed. I have never seen DWV in the 25+ years that I’ve kept bees and now these new bees have it. I think they will be fine after while because I live in a remote place where no agriculture takes place but I have to watch them very closely. I think people need to know about the DWV/neonics connection because it’s a game changer. If I lived where these chemicals were being used I honestly would give up keeping bees. Period. Talk about a waste of time. Unfortunately, by the time things get so bad that the almond growers are not able to get their almonds pollinated, because of a shortage of bees, it will be too late. Some large beekeeping operations are already warning the almond growers about a bee shortage in the not-so-distant future. If we as a nation, are not willing to ban this systemic pesticide as many others have already done, we set ourselves up for disaster. Right now, there are at least 600,000 acres in our country being treated with neonics- and this stays in the environment for years being transmitted from plant to seed and on to generations after the original plant was treated.

  • Can you help me identify the tiny bug I’m seeing in my honey supers? It is a small tan colored creature I often see running on the top of frames and sometimes drinking honey from a cell. They are about 3/64 of an inch long and 1/64 wide, and have the appearance of a tiny cockroach. The hives are located in a rural midwestern (Ohio) agricultural environment, mostly corn, soybeans and hay.


  • Hello Rusty,

    I am in the Bay Area California. I lost my hive last year to varroa mites. I am planning to try again this year with a new nuc. I started last year with a 5 frame nuc. I cannot find any retailers that sell apivar or hopgaurd or really any mite treatment option. Online retailers will not ship to my house. Do you have any idea where I can get a treatment option?

    • Vanessa,

      Have you tried a local beekeeping club? I’m sure the members would be happy to tell you where they buy supplies. Since I don’t live in California, I know nothing about their restrictions.

  • I must chime in on this thread. I’m no golden thumb beekeeper, but I’ve been doing it off and on for the last 20 +years. Personally, as a family we don’t do doctors, we are our own doctors using natural, mineral, plant, and such applications for our health. All that said, at least ten years ago a commercial beek friend of mine “Brian McDonald.” made a comment, that” we need to raise healthier mites” to keep our bees from getting sick from the virus (which he was aware of the virus problem back then).

    My natural reaction was to add (CS) colloidal silver to my sugar water. I was already adding a bit of 3% hydrogen peroxide (1 cap full to a gallon of sugar solution) to their sugar water, and the colloidal silver is a natural antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial (do some reading if you’re not familiar with CS). I use a colloidal silver that is around 21ppm. and I add a couple of ounces to a gallon of sugar solution. It’s just distilled water with silver particles suspended in it at approx .001 micron particle size.

    (AS a side note: We, my family, personally consume colloidal silver both orally and NEBULIZE with it to kill off pulmonary/respiratory/ sinus infections…it will kill off pneumonia and ANY other nasty virus you can get in your lungs. We have been nebulizing with colloidal silver as the base and then adding other medicinals in with the colloidal silver base when we are sick. Asthmatics nebulize with albuterol. We use the nebulizer for delivering natural healing elements deep into our lungs to inhale and kill viral and bacterial lung/bronchial/sinus infections for over 20 years. )

    So, I know the power of colloidal silver first hand using it on myself and my family for a couple of decades. We have not seen a doctor or used antibiotics for any infection or lung virus for the last 20 years! 3 kids and my wife & I.,Zero antibiotics! And when we do get sick, by nebulizing we cut the recovery time by at least half of what everybody else takes to get over, and they are using antibiotics to boot!

    I’ve killed off X-ray-proven pneumonia that my german shepherd got from inhaling food into her lungs nebulizing colloidal silver.

    I continue to add colloidal silver to my sugar-water feed. How much to use? 2 oz. CS/gallon sugar water. I have never done any “experiments or studies” on how effective it may or may not be on the DWV, but I’m pretty confident it’s helping to reduce the viral load on the colony..and without hurting them! I’m pretty confident that it helps to keep nosema at bay. It’s said to kill “protozoa Paramecium when exposed to 2.2 PPM Silver, as well as the protozoa Varicella at 5.9 PPM Silver.”
    I don’t know what strain of protozoa the nosema is, but CS cant hurt in my mind.

    Anyway, I had to inject those thoughts, I have never noticed any problems with my bees taking that syrup or any sign of the sugar solution being problematic (with added silver and peroxide) I guess I do add a tad bit of homemade HoneyBhealthy.

    I would be interested if anybody else has used CS and or did any comparative studies on its effectiveness in the hive. My thought is I take for my viral loads and it works for me…should also work for my girls!

  • Hi, Rusty, good thread.

    I have thoughts around infection paths.

    I have been quite away and on my own for 5 yrs now. Last year and this year I have had mite fall counts of 2-3 mites per day. No DWV seen before this week. Now seen like 3-4.

    Well, beekeeping has been hyped here in Sweden for some years, so I’ve got a newbie as a neighbour with a colony from another area with much higher rates of both mites and DWV.

    Now my colony with the DWV is a nuc with a queen that mated this spring. The new neighbour’s hive is 300m direct south, and thus I guess in direct mating flight path. Would I have reason to consider blaming neighbor’s drones? Or even workers. Could I have been free of virus before, or was it just not manifested?

    Any ideas.

    • George,

      It’s possible to have varroa without DWV, but I don’t know how likely it is. I supposed it depends on how much DWV is in your area. A colony can pick it up from drones and drifting workers. Apparently, it can be transferred on flowers, too, because mites can transfer that way; they just jump off one bee onto another. But can you tell if something came specifically from one neighbor and not from an unknown feral colony? I doubt it.

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