Honey Bee Pests

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Keeping honey bees involves not only caring for the bees but also dealing with many honey bee pests. Some pests are minor problems that cause no great harm for the colony. Others however, can have devastating consequences on the health and productivity of beehives. As beekeepers, we must learn when to worry and when to go with the flow of nature.

Webbing on frame, pest larva and beekeeper looking for pest in beehive.

No matter how well you manage your beehives, you can not keep them completely safe. But, that does not mean that we don’t try. Sometimes, finding a pest problem early allows us to take action.

Common Pests of Honey Bees

Our colonies must cope with honey bee diseases that weaken and kill hives. As a beekeeper, you strive to protect your colonies from a myriad of honey bee predators too.

But some honey bee enemies walk right in the front door or entrance of the hive or are unwittingly, brought back to the colony by foraging bees. Pests of honey bees can be divided into two groups:

  • parasites
  • common hive pests

Honey Bee Parasites

While foraging bees take the greatest daily risk out in the field, bees inside the hive are also in danger. Parasites that feed on adult bees and damage (brood) the next generation are some of the most deadly.

Varroa Mites

Varroa mites in brood of a bee colony.

Varroa Mites (varroa destructor) are an external parasite of honey bees. They are the #1 killer of bee hives world wide – feeding on adult bees and bee brood the colony is weakened.

Adult bees do not live as long as they would normally. Also, varroa mites feeding on young results in deformed, disease ridden adults.

Infestation levels should be monitored throughout the year with routine varroa mite testing. If the level is too high, treatment options should be considered. There are many different treatment options for varroa control.

Other Mites in the Beehive

While varroa may be the most deadly mites in a beehive– they are not the only ones. Other include:

In years past, Tracheal Mites (Acarapis woodi) were a major problem for beekeepers in the United States.

Many hives perished. But honey bees have rebounded with some resistance in recent years. Now, treatment is not necessary in most areas.

Tropilaelaps

There is some concern in the beekeeping industry about a new potential threat. Tropilaelaps mites (Tropilaelaps clareae and T. mercedesae) are found in Southeastern Asia where they feed on the Giant Honey Bee (Apis dorsata).

Tropilaelaps mites are also capable of preying on our European Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) in the same way as Varroa mites. Let’s hope they do not relocate to the United States.

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Parasitic Flies

A few years ago, researchers notice some strange bee behaviors in colonies on the West coast. The problem began with a parasitic fly. After the fly lays eggs in the body of the bee, neurological damage seems to occur.

This damage causes the bees to behave erratically. This earned them the name – Zombie Bees. You may still some talk about this but it has not developed into a major problem.

Common Bee Pests

Nuisance pests only become a major problem in a colony that is sick or weak for other reasons. Others however, are major honey bee pests and can cause an entire colony to die or leave. Learn how to diagnose real problems and when to relax and let the bees handle things.

  • Small Hive Beetles
  • Wax Moths

Small Hive Beetles

Small Hive Beetles (Aethina tumida) are hard-shelled black beetles that originated in Africa. They can fly for miles and are a major pest for beekeepers in many parts of the United States.

This small insect walks right in the front door of the hive to lay eggs that become destructive larvae. They are less of a problem in strong hives where the bees have enough of a population to control them.

In addition to keeping populous colonies, there are several different types of Small Hive Beetle Traps that may help.

White webbing and frass from wax moth larvae.

Wax Moths

Two species of Wax Moths are pests of honey bees – the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella) and the lesser wax moth ( Achroia grisella). Both are gray moths that resemble small butterflies.

They often get a bad rap in the world of beekeeping-being blamed for the death of many colonies. They are actually nature’s scavengers who enter abandoned nests and clean up old comb.

Entering a hive, they seek a secluded place on the comb to lay eggs. The resulting moth larvae destroy valuable honeycomb, honey and other hive resources.

Did wax moths kill your bees? Probably not, moths rarely cause the death of healthy hives but can destroy a weak hive. The first step is to ask yourself – why was that colony weak?

Minor Hive Pests that Annoy Beekeepers

As a beekeeper, I am often alarmed at finding anything other than bees in the hive. A cockroach looking for a warm place to over-winter may be upsetting – but is no threat. In fact, these organisms bug us more than the bees.

  • earwigs
  • ants
  • cockroaches

Earwigs

These pesty little critters can cause trouble but for most beehives they are just a nuisance pest. Earwigs look very threatening but they do not really cause major problems for honey bees.

Ants

Most of the time, ants bother the beekeepers more than the bees themselves. Attracted to the honey and sugar water located in a hive, ant infestations can become very aggravating.

Some species of ants are aggressive and can certainly cause colony failure (Argentine Ants and Red Fire Ants.)

If you live in a region with viscous ants, learn how to keep ants out of beehives to prevent a major problem.

Healthy workers in a bee colony.

FAQs

What are the most common pests affecting honey bees?

The most common pests that affect honey bees are: Varroa Mites, Small Hive Beetles and Wax Moths.

Can honey bee pests be transmitted between colonies?

Yes, some pests, like Varroa mites, can be transmitted between colonies through drifting bees or robbing behavior, emphasizing the importance of monitoring and control.

What measures can beekeepers take to prevent honey bee pests?

Beekeepers can implement integrated pest management strategies, including regular hive inspections, proper hygiene, genetic selection for pest resistance, and timely treatments when necessary.

A Final Word

As a Master Beekeeper with years of experience, I have seen my fair share of honey bee pests. Sometimes, they represent a minor problem. But, there will be times when you must intervene to ensure survival of the hive. Watch for problems with your colonies and connect with the local beekeeping association to learn how to deal with these issues.