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Honey Bee Pests, Predators and Diseases

Whether you want to produce buckets of fresh honey or increase pollination in the garden, beekeeping is an enduring hobby. But, keeping bees is not as simple as it may seem. There are many honey bee pests, predators and diseases that threaten the health and productivity of our hives. Don’t panic but strive to learn about the various beehive pests and how to deal with them.

Common Beehive Pests

Wax moth damage and other pests of the beehive image.

Beekeepers are farmers-at least according to the USDA. Unlike other farmers, our livestock is not under our complete control. No matter how well you manage your beehives, you can not keep them completely safe.

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Honey bees travel long distances to forage – gathering food for the colony. Millions of blooming plants are visited to collect nectar and pollen and other resources.

As the busy worker bee collects necessary resources for the hive, she is at risk. Foraging is a dangerous activity with numerous honey bee predators around.

Our hard-working ladies could be eaten by a predator insect, be exposed to pesticides and even unknowingly bring problems back to the hive.

As a beekeeper, it sometimes seems that everything is out to get our bees. But, this is nature and we must deal with problems that arise as best we can. In spite of all we do to keep our bees healthy, things will go wrong sometimes.

Honey Bee Pests

While the foraging bee takes the greatest risk on a day by day basis, bees inside the hive are also in danger. There are several types of beehive pests that cause damage inside the hive.

Some of these are just an annoyance and may bother the beekeeper more than the colony. However, the amount of damage inflected varies depending on the type of honey bee pest and the strength of the colony.

Nuisance pests only become a major problem in a colony that is sick or weak for other reasons. Others do more than consume resources such as pollen and honey.

They spread diseases that affect the entire colony. Their presence places a colony at a high risk of failure.

Varroa Mite Control

Varroa Mites (varroa destructor) are an external parasities of honey bees. This small reddish mite is tiny but large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

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They are not the only mites in the hive but they are the most deadly. Formerly, Tracheal Mites (Acarapis woodi) were a major problem but bees have rebounded with some resistance in recent years.

Varroa Mites are the #1 killer of bee hives world wide. These parasitic mites feed on adult bees and brood. They mites weaken colonies and result in deformed, disease ridden adults.

Every successful beekeeper must have a mite control plan. Varroa Mite levels should be monitored throughout the year – especially during the warm season. If the level is high, then treatment options should be considered.

So how do you know how many mites your bees have? You can not rely on visible inspection because most of the mites will be hidden inside the brood cells-making baby mites!

Adult varroa mites on honey bee pupa image.

There are several ways of testing for varroa that the beekeeper can use to gauge how bad things are in the hive. Don’t delay this important task.

Even beekeepers familiar with the dangers of mite infestations may fail to act quickly. Knowing when to treat your bees for mites before it is too late is critical. And, it does become too late to save a colony.

There is sometimes a tendency to wait until Fall to treat. This can be a devastating mistake for bee colonies. Do not use the calendar as a definite guide for when you should treat for varroa mites.

The beekeeper has several different choices to consider when choosing the best varroa mite treatments for bees.

Some methods are easier to use and others represent possible contamination of the comb and honey inside.

In recent years, the use of oxalic acid for varroa mite control has become popular in the US. Used successfully for years in Europe, American beekeepers have added this tool to their mite control program.

Formic acid is another tool used for mite control. It is available in different formulations and can be beneficial when the manufacturers directions are followed.

The search continues for more natural ways to deal with varroa mite problems. Can essential oils help honey bees be healthier? Many beekeepers say yes.

They have developed essential oil recipes for honey bee health and believe they are useful. However, any method of mite control requires constant monitoring to make sure it worked.

Small Hive Beetles Can Take Down Strong Colonies

Small Hive Beetles originated in Africa. A hard shelled black beetle, they can fly for miles. They are a major pest for beekeepers in many parts of the United States.

Small Hive Beetles are a pest in many regions of the US. One of the best ways to deal with hive beetles is to understand their behavior. 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.

Trying to keep every single beetle out may be impossible but keeping the numbers under control is important.

Minor Beehive Pests

Some types of beehive pests are more of a nuisance than a true threat to the colony. Of course, that does not mean that they pose no threat. A weak, sick colony may succumb to even a mild threat.

New beekeepers often blame these pests for colony failure but that is what they see as the problem. They may not understand that something else made their hive weak to begin with and allowed these minor pests to take over.

Wax Moths

Wax Moths are small gray moths that resemble small butterflies. They get a bad rap in the world of beekeeping. Blamed for the death of many colonies, they are actually nature’s scavengers.

Their goal is to sneak into the hive and find a secluded place on the comb to lay eggs. Moths can destroy valuable honey comb and hive resources.

Cocoons and larva from wax moths on hive equipment image.

However, they are only a problem when the bee colony is weak for some other reason. Wax Moth infestations are a symptom of another problem.

Did Wax Moths kill your bees ? Probably not, moths rarely cause the death of healthy hives.


These pesty little critters can cause trouble but for most folks they are just a nuisance. Learn more about earwigs and why they are in your beehives. Earwigs – are they a problem for bees?

Common Ants Minor Pest of Bees

Some species of ants can certainly cause colony failure. One example is the Argentine Ant found in parts of the US. If you live in a region with especially viscous ants, extra precautions may be necessary.

However, most of the time, ants bother the beekeepers more than the bees themselves. These tiny insects seems to be able to get in the smallest cracks. Attracted to the honey and sugar water located in a hive, they can become very aggravating.

In addition to keeping hives on stands up off the ground, there are other methods to keep ants out of beehives. Or, at least reduce their number to sustainable numbers.

Yellow Jacket wasp attacks honey bee image.

Predators of Honey Bees

Foraging bees are subject to attack by many different predators while out in the field. Unfortunately, we are not the only ones who know that a beehive is a food resource.

The goal may be a big mouthful of honey, or a tasty bee snack, or perhaps some bee brood inside the hive!

Predators can have an strong effect on your colonies but reducing vitality or population. Sadly humans can be hive predators also – many colonies are stolen every year.

Major Predators of Beehives

  • wasps – hornets – insects
  • bears
  • humans

Some honey bee predators actually fly right up to the front of the hive to attack. Flying insects such as wasps and hornets will capture foragers near the hive entrance. If the colony is weak, the intruder may go inside the hive.

Recently, a new insect -the Giant Asian Hornet– has caused beekeepers to worry. However, there are many other insect predators that prey on honey bees. This includes types of hornets that have been around for years.

Yellow Jacket Wasps are known to be a problem for small hive in late Summer. You may consider trying Yellow Jacket traps if they are a big problem in your region.

Just a few yellow jackets here and there are not a problem.

It is important to remember that these insects help control other pests too. You don’t need to destroy every one you see. But, it is a good idea to learn how to identify bee nests vs wasp nests to keep them out of your bee yard.

In some regions, bears destroy beehives each season. If you live in an area with a bear population, it is best to build a electric bear fence right away. It is much easier to keep a bear away that to stop him once he has a nice taste of honey and bee brood.

Unfortunately, humans must be consider a predator of your honey bee colonies. Create your bee yard in a safe place where it can be watched by yourself or neighbors. Yes, people steal bee colonies every year – not all beekeepers are honest.

In recent years, 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. Causing bees to behave erratically and earned them the name – Zombie Bees. But, this has not developed into a major problem in the beekeeping industry.

Are Birds a Problem for Beehives?

In some regions, there are various types of birds that are voracious consumers of honey bees. Thankfully, for most people, birds have very little effect on the bee population in your area.

Of course, I would not suggest putting up bird houses near your beehives. Even calm birds will be defensive over their territory. Take a look at some of the most common – bee eating birds.

Diseased bee larva on comb image.

Honey Bee Diseases that Beekeepers May Notice

Live most living things, honey bees fall prey to various diseases. Whether they are caused by bacteria, fungus or viruses, disease can take a toll on the productivity of a bee colony.

Unfortunately, the many viruses than can infect a hive are difficult to diagnose. It is usually necessary to send a sample into a bee research lab. Even then, there is often little you can do for viruses.

Other colony problems such as chalkbrood or sac brood come and go when colony conditions improve. The beekeeper sometimes chooses to requeen in hopes of improving the genetic profile of the colony.

Foulbrood Disease

However, a couple of bee heath problems are notable and recognizable to the average beekeeper.

At some time, most beekeepers will have a case of European Foulbrood (EFB) in their hive. This is a brood disease meaning that it affects mostly larvae. The sign of dead brood can be frightening but the disease often clears up on its own with good foraging weather.

One of the most feared brood diseases in beekeeping is American Foulbrood (AFB). It can cause the death of larvae but also pupae that are already capped.

Most beekeepers will never see a case of AFB. And, thank goodness for that! AFB has no reliable cure and contagious spores can be found in old equipment for decades.

Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of American Foulbrood in hopes you will recognize possible cases and seek help if needed. In some states, it must be reported to the state apiarist.

Nosema Disease

Another problem that can cause colonies to be unproductive or even fail is nosema disease. Both Nosema Apis and Nosema cerana may be found in a colony. While nosema can destroy a hive, a light case often clears up on it’s own.

The only treatment for bees with Nosema is using the antibiotic Fumgallin. This however, only controls the problem and does not eradicate it fully. Colonies with mild cases often clear up on their own.

Protecting Bees from Pests, Predators and Disease

Every thoughtful beekeeper wants to do everything possible to help our colonies be healthy and productive. In many cases, a good colony needs little help.

But, there will be times when the beekeeper must intervene to ensure survival of the hive. Strive to understand common predators and diseases. And, learning the nature of the pests of honey bees will help you protect your hives.

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