Home » Bee Farm Blog » Beekeeping » Best Varroa Mite Treatments-Which One is Right for You?

Best Varroa Mite Treatments-Which One is Right for You?

This post may contain affiliate links – read our full disclosure

Varroa Mite Treatments Compared

Finding the best varroa mite treatment plan is a key factor in keeping honey bees healthy. Varroa mites are a leading cause of honey bee colony death. There are no easy answers for varroa mite control. These bee pests continue to kill bees even as beekeepers attempt to help their colonies deal with them. There are several control options but none are perfect.

Varroa mites on bee brood show need for varroa mite treatments image.

Are Varroa Mite Treatments Really Necessary?

Varroa mites are external pests of honey bees. This small reddish mite is visible to the naked eye. It looks like a tiny red dot on the bee’s body. But you don’t always see them, they hide underneath the segments of the bee exoskeleton.

Mites weaken and eventually kill most colonies of honey bees. Without some type of control to keep the number of mites in the hive low, hive failure is sure to come.

Varroa mites are the #1 killer of bee colonies worldwide.  Varroa control is not a beekeeping management strategy that can be overlooked. In most regions, colonies without some type of varroa plan will die within 2 years.

Beekeeper using varroa mite treatments on beehive image.

We often say – by the time you see mites on the bees, it is too late to save the colony. This is because at any given time, most of the mites are in the brood cells. Don’t wait for visual confirmation.

The majority of our colonies can not deal with varroa on their own. They might survive one year with a heavy mite load .

But, these colonies often fail before the end of the second year. Surprising the beekeeper who believed there was no problem.

In most varroa mite control plans, the goal is not necessarily a complete kill of every mite – rather a reduction in infestation levels.

Ideally, we seek something that works well with no risk of harm to the bees. But even some approved treatments, pose concern about contamination of beeswax or honey.

Mites in Beehives is Nothing New

Finding mites inside a honey bee colony is nothing new. Most honey bee colonies actually have several types of mites in residence.  Thankfully, only a few cause problems for the bees and beekeepers.

Several years ago tracheal mites caused major losses to the bee industry.  Many beekeepers lost large numbers of colonies.

But in time, the honey bees adapted, those more resistant to the mites lived to reproduce and beekeepers learned how to handle the tracheal mite infestations.

Mites visible on bees in hive lacking varroa mite treatments image.

When Should You Treat for Varroa Mites?

Finding the best time to treat a colony for mites will depend on the treatment type chosen and the level of infestation. Weather also plays a role in some of the treatment options.

How Many Varroa Mites are too Many?

While small numbers of mites can have an effect on a strong bee colony, the damage is minimal. As a mite infestation grows larger, problems become more noticeable.

How many mites are too many? It depends. (If you thought I was going to give you a definitive answer, you must be a new beekeeper.)

Those of us who have been around a while know that most things in beekeeping have several answers. ? But, I do have some guidelines for you to consider regarding when to treat your bees for mites. This involves determining the varroa mite threshold and that is often a moving target.

Varroa Mite Treatment Threshold

Over the years, the acceptable number of mites in a hive has changed a bit. Years ago beekeepers were told an acceptable number for a 24 hour mite drop. Each year that number got lower as researchers learned how damaging varroa can be to colony health.

First, you need to get a estimate of the number of mites in your colony. We call this doing a mite count.

There are several methods of doing mite counts. These involve sticky boards, sugar shakes and alcohol washes. Regardless of the method used, testing for varroa mites is critical to saving your hives.

After completing your test counts you will have an idea of the approximate number of mites in your hive.

When the level of mite infestation is in the 2% to 5% range,  the beekeeper must make some decisions. Should you treat now or wait and watch?

Immediately treat any hive with a mite infestation of 5% or more. This colony is in crisis and it may be too late already! For myself, if I have a 2% infestation, I would definitely treat.

Why would someone wait? Perhaps they have honey supers on the hive that they want to harvest first? A dead hive may result from waiting too long.

Mechanical Varroa Mite Control

One way beekeepers deal with mites is the use of mechanical (non-chemical) methods. Using screened bottom boards (instead of solid), causes some mites to fall to the ground and perish.

There was high hopes for the use of screened bottom boards in the beginning but I have little confidence in them at this point as a varroa control.

This technique may help but the number of mites killed is a very small amount. This is not enough when used alone to protect your hives.

If you use solid wood bottom boards, you can purchase a sticky board with a screen. This allows you to do a mite count without having bees stuck to the grid board.

Screened bottom boards are great at giving your hive extra ventilation though and I think they are worth the effort in that respect.

Drone Brood Removal for Mite Control

Some beekeepers advise the removal of capped drone brood (the mites favorite host).

Special drone frames can be used to encourage drone production. Once filled with capped drone brood and developing mites inside, the frame is removed.

Freeze the whole frame, killing the mites and the drone brood is sacrificed as well. After thawing, the frame is put back into the hive for reuse.

Personally, I am not a fan of this method. You must remember to remove the frame at the proper time. Otherwise, you have just created a mite maternity ward.

Choosing the Best Varroa Mites Treatments for Your Hives

What you choose as your varroa mite treatment for bees is as individual as you.  We all keep bees in different ways.  

Attempting to maintain a zero-mite count is difficult if not down right impossible. Remember we are trying to keep mite levels low. 

As varroa mite numbers grow, colony health declines. Sick worker bees live shorter lives and are not as strong. Viruses such as Deformed Wing Virus are more prevalent.

Also, an unhealthy colony can not rear fat Winter bees that are so important for successful overwintering of colonies. Many dead bees in winter are a result of sick hives.

I tell my students in my online beginners class, how important it is to decide on a varroa mite control plan. Do not let the mite number get out of control.

As the industry strives to breed bees that have more resistance to varroa mite infestations, we use what we have in the current battle.

Approved Chemicals – Practical Treatments for Varroa

Research has provided us with several chemical treatment options. If you choose to use these products, it is important to rotate them.

Varroa resistance to some of these products is reported in the industry. You must use your own judgement when deciding what to put in your hive.

Apistan (fluvalinate)

Apistan (fluvalinate) is an older substance used for mite control in honey bees for years. It is an impregnated strip that kills by contact. Strips must be placed inside the hive and then removed after a certain time period.

Reports of wide spread resistance to fluvalinate has been reported in colonies over recent years. Also, chemical residues may persist in beeswax in the hive. Most beekeepers that I know no longer use it.

Apivar (amitraz)

Apivar (amitraz) is a synthetic miticide that kills by contact. Impregnated strips are place near the brood nest much like Apistan.

This chemical was used for mite control for a while, then pulled and now allowed again.

Apivar has time usage restriction. Do not place honey supers on your colony for at least 2 weeks after treatment.

Low levels of residue can be detected in the beeswax and honey. Mites can develop resistance.  Some beekeepers report good results with this approved varroa mite treatment product.

HopGuard (Potassium salt -hops beta acids)

A natural product made from hop compounds – Hopguard (Potassium salt (16%) of hops beta acids).

Honey supers can be on the hive during treatment and that is a plus.  But, beekeepers report that it is messy to work with.

Beekeepers in my region have not reported consistently good results using Hopguard. But you may decide to give it a try in your apiary.

Essential Oils for Varroa Mite Treatment 

Honey bees on bottle of essential oil being used for varroa mite control image.

Essential oils are used to promote good health in honey bee colonies.  These oils have also been used in the quest for varroa mite control.

There are several essential oil recipes for bees that you can make and try in your hives. But, use care, some essential oils are absorbed through the skin. Wear gloves.

More importantly, you must check to ensure that the treatment plan you choose really works for your bees. This means more mite counts and a plan to do something else if needed.

Apiguard is a gel containing thymol. It acts as a fumigant to kill mites. Like most of the natural treatments, this products is temperature sensitive.

Temperatures should be between 59 F and below 105 F. Use twice at 2-week intervals to complete a mite control plan.

CONFUSION ALERT:  There is a difference between Apivar and Api Life V A R.  One is a synthetic chemical and one is a softer essential oil based treatment.  Both are approved for use in beehives.

Api Life Var (thymol, eucalyptol oil, menthol, camphor) Api Life VAR is another contender for the best varroa mite treatment.

This product features a green spongy pad impregnated with oils.  Api Life Var is a fumigant.

Treatment involves placement of pads  3 times at 7 day intervals.  An acceptable temperature range is between 65-85 degrees F.

High temperatures during the treatment period can cause serious colony disruption including bees leaving the hive.

Organic Varroa Mite Treatments Options

Mite Away Quick Strips – formic acid (organic acid) works as a fumigant.  The biodegradable treatment pads remain in place for 7 days.

After 7 days, you can remove the pads or not.  You can use Mite Away Quick Strips when honey  collection supers  are on the hive.

Formic Acid also kills mites in capped brood (the others do not). This is an organic treatment but it is also strong – especially if the temperatures are very warm.

Some beekeepers have reported queen loss or a reduction in brood production. I never had any problems while using this product. Follow the directions on the label!

Extreme temperatures above 92 degrees F during the treatment application may cause colony absconding. In my region, the temperature requirements for some of these treatments were a big problem.

Formic Pro is another option for those wanting to use formic acid. This version has a longer expiration date for the package in case you want to keep some on hand. It works in the same way as MAQS with some of the same benefits and challenges.

I periodically use formic acid treatments in my colonies, they are very effective.

Oxalic Acid – Drizzle or Fumigant

Used in Europe for years, beekeepers in the United States can now use oxalic acid as a varroa mite treatment.

Oxalic acid (Oxalic acid dihydrate-organic acid) is used in two ways for mite control – as a drizzle or as a fumigant.

picture of oxalic acid vaporizer cooling in bucket of water

The drip or drizzle method involves mixing OA with sugar water and pouring this over the cluster of bees.

The drizzle method is best used in early Winter or late Fall. When the bees are clustered together the drip is easy to apply.

The colony should have little or no brood so the majority of mites will be on the adult bees.

The yearly limit of drizzle applications is 2 per year. This is because the acid is corrosive to bee bodies. Do not use drizzle treatments in extreme cold. The bee cluster can become chilled.

Vaporization of Oxalic Acid

Oxalic Acid Vaporization – This method of using OA is a favorite in Europe where it has been used with good results for years.

Here is how it works – a small amount of OA is place on a special wand and slid into the hive. The wand heats causing the crystals to vaporize.

As the vapor cools, crystals reform inside the hive.  Honey bees remove the acid crystals and expose varroa to the substance.

Oxalic acid vaporization is a very effect varroa mite treatment during Fall and Winter – times when less brood is in the hive. It does not kill mites hidden inside the brood cell.

Be careful when purchasing a wand. You want one that works properly, you do NOT want to be inhaling any fumes. Wear appropriate safety mask etc. Follow the manufacturers directions – read the label.

There are many styles of oxalic acid vaporizers available for purchase. This is the model that I chose to buy – the Varrox .

I felt that it was the best investment because it has been in use for years in Europe. For fast cooling, this model is suitable for dipping in water. Cheaper models are not built to allow dipping in water.

Using OA in the Summer

Vaporization is my current method of mite control.  I believe it is the best varroa mite treatment for bees in my area. 

We have a lot of hot weather. Some of the other methods are just not suitable for treatment during July/August. This is the time that I need to have a healthy hive – getting ready to raise healthy Winter bees.

 Because this method does not kill mites hidden inside the brood cell, the southern beekeepers I know – repeat this treatment every 5-7 days for 3 times.  Thereby, covering a complete worker bee brood cycle.

Using OA Vaporization is compatible with the hot summer temperatures during my treatment window.

Fogging with Oxalic Acid- Should you?

You will hear a lot of information on the internet and Youtube about fogging with Oxalic Acid.

We humans are always looking for an easier way to do things. No harm in that -but you may harm yourself or your bees.

Fogging with OA is not approved in the US (at this time).  I have not seen any approved research reports that say it is a good idea. I will not use this method for the present.

Varroa Mite Treatment Summary

In summary, the beekeeper is in charge of managing the bees.  You may choose to do nothing and see if the bees survive. But, most colonies will not.

Is there one perfect way to kill mites without any chance of harm to the bees or contamination of beeswax? No, not yet.

Choose a mite treatment option and try it. If, the first one doesn’t work, try again.  After treating, do another mite count. Don’t assume the treatment worked. 

Maybe you would like to try treatment-free beekeeping.  Okay, but find a reputable source for treatment free bees.  

Try to go treatment free with regular main stream bees and you will have a lot of dead bees.

Are there other management strategies in use for varroa?  Yes, absolutely. However, just because something may not kill your colony does not mean it has not caused harm.  

Keep a log of what worked or didn’t work in your colonies each year. Good hive records can make beekeeping more enjoyable.

Record your beekeeping year in your beekeeping journal so you will have years of records on which type of varroa mite treatments you have used and the results.

Similar Posts

47 Comments

  1. Hi Charlotte,

    What is your comment and experience about “physical treatment Anti-Mite Frame”?

    Regards

  2. I have no experience with it. Research using different types of products in mite control do hold some promise. Time will tell if this type of item is feasible or not. I am waiting until more research studies have been done.

  3. Linda Cauble says:

    Oxalic Acid Vaporization , do you leave your honey supers on during treatment? Thank you,

  4. Hi Linda. I would remove the honey supers (for human consumption) if I need to treat. I usually avoid this by treating before and after the honey flow. We dont really have a Fall flow here so that works out well in my treatment plan.

  5. Jim Schultz says:

    How effective is the sugar dusting I see on the internet?

  6. In my opinion, it makes the bees look pretty and white. They may eat a little of it. For mites, I have no confidence in it. It did not work for me.

  7. Thomas (Tom) Holley says:

    would a good varroa plan be three 7 day treatments in the spring/early summer and one treatment in late fall { both times with vaporization}? also would you treat new nucs in spring when you get them?

  8. Thomas (Tom) Holley says:

    I have some old equipment that i bought before taking your class and wish i had not. nevertheless do you think spraying and/or soaking the equipment in clorox water would kill all pathogens and parasites? By the way, i learned more in your class than in local club class and on you tube, thank you

  9. All things are relative. Bee genetics, pest rate in your area etc. For me, I usually vaporize 3 times in very early Spring (5-7 days apart), 3 X after I remove honey supers for the year (late July) and 3 x in late October. Yes, I am getting a couple of nucs this year (first time – I generally prefer packages) and after letting them settle in for a week or so, I will treat them with OA vap.

  10. Thank you Thomas. What a wonderful comment about my class. Don’t fret over used stuff. The only big problem to worry about is American Foul Brood. There is no way to get rid of that without special treatments. It is a small risk in my area but still a risk. I don’t think Clorox will do much but it wont hurt to spray it with a Clorox solution. (well before the bees arrive). If you can bring yourself to dump the honeycomb and only use the wooden ware with fresh wax foundation that will lower the risks too. In my early days I purchased a little used equipment from a beekeeper and it turned out just fine. But there is always the risk of Foul Brood.

  11. Don Cooper says:

    Thank you. Very informative.

  12. Can oxyalic acid be used when honey supers are on?

  13. Hi Charlotte,

    When using OA as vaporizer do you rotate treatments and use a different product?

    Thank you,

  14. I have not had to rotate in the last 2 years. But if I did – I would use thymol or formic acid products.

  15. Thanks for taking time to explain each treatment and the effects on the bees. One you gave a plus on I’ve been using and the other you gave a plus on I’ll most likely use for the rotation.
    Thanks again

  16. Thanks Tom, It is not an easy situation thats for sure! I just continue to do my best and try to keep up with changes in the beekeeping community.

  17. Thank you for all of this very helpful information on treating for mites. Can you leave honey supers on when treating with Apigard?
    Thanks!

  18. You are welcome. No, you cant have supers for human consumption on when using Apiguard.

  19. Thomas Clancy says:

    Hi Charlotte,

    There is a wide range on prices of Vaporizers . How did you finally conclude that the VARROX was the best ?

    I did see that the construction is such that it won’t turn over but others much cheaper also have similar handels.

  20. The Varrox has been used in Europe for many years so I hoped the quality would be there. It has held up well so far. The big pull to spend that much was also helped by the fact that you can dunk this wand in a bucket of water to cool it. You must not put OX crystals on a hot cup – they may start to melt and damage your lungs. With the cheaper wand I would have to wait for the wand to cool before going to the next hive. This one is made so that you can dunk it right in the cool water without damaging the unit.

  21. HI Charlotte, thanks you so much for the valuable insight on treating mites. I just started two hives with nucs this late June to show my grandchildren how to raise bees. I did this 30 years ago for our children and it was a great experience. I live in Southeastern PA. Based on what I have read I think I’ll treat by Vaporization of Oxalic Acid. i did not do this 30 years ago and my bees did eventually die after 6 years. Now that I’m older and I hope a bit more wise I been researching this. Going to buy that wand. Thank you for the reference. I just tested for mites with the Varroa Mite Testing Kit from U of M. Found 1 mite in 300 bees. My questions are: Should I retest and then treat or just treat as a preventative measure? Who do I buy the Oxalic acid from? And do I treat them year last week in Oct, first week March 2019 and then after my supers are off in late July? 3x 5-7 days apart.

  22. Hi Steve. Yes, I am a big fan of testing. Unfortunately, the years that I chose to not treat due to low count numbers – I ended up loosing hives to mites in late Fall. Here in my area, I have not been able to avoid treating. I do use the testing to evaluate how well my treatment is working. I too do the March, July Sept/Oct schedule. Legally…. you are supposed to buy the OA from a bee supply, properly labeled etc. But I “have heard” that some beekeepers buy pure (99%) OA on Amazon.

  23. Randy Wilson says:

    I did the sticky board method last week for 3 days and counted 4 mites. I did it again for the 3 days immediately following and counted no mites. To be surre I knew what I was looking for I used a magnifying glass as well as taking pictures of the mites, so I am pretty sure in my numbers. This hive is new having started from a nuc in mid-May this year. The breeder says he gets his queens from VP Queens and they are bred with VSH. They also do an OA vaporization on the hives just before creating the nucs. Is it possible I just have very few mites at this point? I am planning to do the OA vaporization in probably November (as I will be away for all of September and October). I live about 40 miles north of Dallas, TX.

  24. Yes, it is absolutely possible that you have a very low mite load. If you are concerned, you might do a sugar shake with nurse bees from the brood nest area. Otherwise, you OA treatment in November sounds like a good plan. Be sure to watch them next Spring to make sure mite numbers dont climb too fast.

  25. Kathy Johnson says:

    When you treat with OA, you are supposed to remove the honey supers—why? and how do you ‘mark’ frames that were treated so they don’t get ‘mixed up’ with frames that weren’t treated. I interchange my frames all the time, and am wanting to be careful about chemicals in all parts of the hive. Thanks!

  26. phil buxton says:

    vaporized hive sept 8 next morn several hundred varroa on inspection board cleaned board reinstalled sept 9 around fifty mites on inspection board

  27. I do not treat with my supers on – because that is the law. FDA regulations require it. As for the frames, I dont do much interchanging between the super I leave for the bees food and my harvest supers – so it is generally not a problem for me. However, once the hive gets a few years older – its easier to tell which frames stay on the hive longer. And, OA is naturally occurring in the hive to a degree.

  28. Hopefully, it is working. It may take several days to be complete though as mites will continue to fall. If you still have brood, remember it has to be repeated a couple of times.

  29. Snowie Herrera says:

    Hi Charlotte,
    Do you have any experience or knowledge of a Victor-for Varroa mite thermal treatment? We purchased one and have used it once with ? Results. We live in southeast GA, pretty hot most of the time and you are.
    Thanks in advance

  30. I do not. I think the “jury is still out” on that method of treatment. I know one beekeeper in my group who used it and it was not effective. However, that doesnt mean it would not work for others.

  31. Hi Charlotte!
    this summer i treated with MAQS in august and it was the last time i used MaQs.
    that killed one queens and stopped spawn in others hives.
    So, i found your site and i bought a varrox.

    i wondering if its to late for this year for treating my hives oa vap ? my hives are isolated for the winter. i had plan to treat in october but i just reseived my varrox sooo late

    thanks a lot

    Julie from Québec, canada

  32. Hi Julie, To the very best of my knowledge its a great time to use your varrox. Because oxalic acid does not kill mites under the brood cap, times of little to no brood are perfect for its use. However, where I live-we cant wait until a broodless time to treat. Go for it!

  33. Thank you for taking the time to help inform those of us with less knowledge on Varroa treatment.
    Do you have a link to the OA that you prefer to purchase or any recommendations?

  34. Hi Thomas, Legally you are supposed to buy OA that is labeled for bees. But many beekeepers do order quality OA crystals from Amazon.

  35. John Markes says:

    Why is no one using parasitic mites, like hypoaspis mites, to control the varroa mites? Long term protection and no harm to bees.

  36. Interesting idea John, I am sure some of the researchers have considered it. Perhaps, they thought other ideas had better promise. Maybe they will look into this more in the future.

  37. I have used the dribble in the fall as I do not own a vaporizer tool to apply OA. I was wondering what you think about using a clean spray bottle and making up the drizzle liquid ban spraying each side of the frame with the bees on it. The dribble gets them very wet and the vapor would envelop the bees in a vapor. Wouldn’t two gentle light sprays on each side be as effective? What do you think?

  38. I dont think so Sharon. There is a fine line between killing mites and harming the cuticle of the bees. During vaporization – the chemical changes as the vapor forms and then cools.

  39. New beekeepers, treat your bees or you will be buying new bees every year after winter, that makes your bee supplier happy. Check your bees for mites and treat if needed. Also treat in the summer and that is for the winter mites, because it will take time before your winter bees will emerge and those bees have to be top notch healthy for winter. And after you get them over winter include treating in the spring.

    There is one more option. Break the brood cycle for 12 days. lock your queen up for 12 days to get an brood interruption, but you have to check for new queen cells and remove them or the bees will make new queens.

    I have seen videos of folks sugar coating bees/hives as well have I seen comments on it. Be careful, sugar coating will kill open brood/ larvae if they get covered in powder sugar.

    Also understand how your treatments work. Some treatment may be only active for 2 hours while another treatment does not actually directly kill mites but makes them sterile so they can not reproduce. Also be aware that some treatments will not treat capped brood while another will kill mites inside capped broods.

    Do an alcohol wash to check for mites, the sugar testing is not accurate enough. Sacrifice 300 bees to save a hive is not much considering that a queen can lay around 2,000 eggs a day.

    Charlotte, thank you for posting this.

  40. Hi Charlotte and thank you for all goods informations.
    I have a lot of mites this summer cause i did not treat last fall like i had planned.

    I am wandering if it’s too hot (26 C, 78.8f) to use OA vap? I dont have
    anything else to treat and i just saw a lot of mites in my hives.
    I know it will not kill in the brood but that it might lower the amount of mites a bit.
    I can not find anything about temperature and oa vap on a web. I know that is usually for spring and fall treatement.
    Thanks a lot for your time
    Nini

  41. Treated hive in fall for high mite load with formicpro. Surprisingly this hive wintered so well that I did a split in the spring. When my population started to dwindle 6 weeks later I checked for mites and found 3 out of 100 also concerned for failing or missing queen. I did one strip of formicpro for 1 week and ordered a new queen. Is it dangerous to continue with Second strip? Also how long do I wait to introduce new queen after treatment? I live on coast of SC.

  42. I don’t like to requeen until after treatments are finished. You can – its just a bit risky

  43. Randell Thompson says:

    why do we vaporize with OA 7 days apart for 3 weeks when drones are capped for 24 days?

  44. My best answer to that – any type of treatment does stress the colony to a degree. We can’t get rid of every single mite in the colony but want to knock them down below a threshold. While we won’t hit every new mite in drone cells (over 21 days), we are covering a long period of time that should help control the infestation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *