Finding the Best Varroa Mite Treatment for Bees
Varroa mites are a leading cause of honey bee colony death. In fact, mite control is a key factor in keeping honey bees healthy. For now, there are no easy answers for varroa mite control. Various treatments have some levels of success. Which mite treatments for bees is best for your hives?
Varroa mites are external pests of honey bees. They weaken and eventually kill most colonies of honey bees without treatment.
All beekeepers want to use the very best varroa mite control methods for bees in our apiary?
Ideally, we seek something that works perfectly with no risk of harm to the bees or contamination of honey?
Well, we all are looking for the same thing. And so far, no one has found it.
Varroa mites are the #1 killer of bee colonies worldwide. Varroa control is not a beekeeping management strategy that can be overlooked. Doing nothing is not a strategy.
Mites Inside Bee Colonies
If you have been a beekeeper for a while, chances are you have heard a lot about honey bee mites. Mites inside a honey bee colony is nothing new.
Normally, 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.
Once you decide how you wish to fight varroa mites, you need to keep a log of what didn’t work-and what it. Keeping good hive records can make beekeeping more enjoyable.
I developed this beekeeping journal for new beekeepers. It gives guidance regarding what you should be looking for when you do hive inspections – and ample room for note taking.
Why Varroa Mite Treatments are Necessary?
The varroa mite is the #1 killer of honey bee colonies. A small reddish mite, visible to the naked eye, it is the major pest of honey bees worldwide.
While the mite may be small, don’t underestimate the damage it can do to your bees.
A beekeeper may not see mites but most of our bee colonies have varroa mites – or will have them.
We often say – by the time you see mites on the bees, it is too late to save the colony. Don’t wait for visual confirmation.
Varroa mite treatments (when needed) must be part of a good beekeeping plan. I am not saying that you must use chemical treatments – but you can not ignore the problem.
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.
How to Choose Varroa Mite Treatments
The Varroa Mite is prevalent in most bee colonies in most regions. A honey bee colony will a low mite low is not doomed – but should be monitored.
Attempting to maintain a zero-mite count is difficult if not down right impossible. But, we beekeepers want to keep mite levels low.
Even a low infestation of varroa mites is still to the bee colony. The bees will not be as strong or as productive.
They may have a higher presence of virus outbreaks. However, the honey bee colony will most likely survive-at least for a while.
As varroa mite numbers grow, colony health declines. The worker bees live shorter lives and are not as strong. Viruses such as Deformed Wing Virus are more prevalent.
I tell my students in my online beginners class, how important it is to decide on a varroa mite control plan and maintaining healthy, well fed bees.
Varroa mite treatments are not something that can be put off to a later date and then caught up. Often, the damage has been done by the time a inexperienced beekeeper sees the problem.
When Should You Treat for Varroa Mites?
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.
What you choose as your varroa mite treatment for bees is as individual as you. We all keep bees in different ways.
Be proactive with mite control methods. Once we are seeing evidence of mite damage, it may be too late. (i.e. deformed wings, etc)
Varroa Mite Treatment Threshold
First, you need to get a estimate of the number of mites in your colony. We call these – mite counts.
There are several methods of doing mite counts. If you need to do mite counts on your hives, check out my post: How Testing for Varroa Mites Can Save Your Bees.
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?
Any bee hive with a mite infestation of 5% or more should be treated immediately. A 2% level of infestation bears watching but could be left for the present.
Why such a big range? Location and beekeeping styles play a big part in how many mites are too many.
And, lets not forget personal opinion. For myself, if I have a 2% infestation, I would definitely treat.
Most of the varroa mite treatments are performed during summer. People are busy and it is H.O.T.
We discussed several varroa sampling methods in the post I mentioned earlier. Now it is time to use that data. Let’s, say you were using the sugar shake method for mite counts.
In your sample, you find 6 mites. 6 mites divided by (the # of hundreds of bees in your sample (300). Equals = 2 mites for each 100 bees. You have a 2% level of infestation.
Mechanical Varroa Mite Control
One way beekeepers deal with mites is the use of mechanical (non-chemical) methods. These methods may help, but they are not enough when used alone.
Using screened bottom boards (instead of solid), causes some mites to fall to the ground and perish.
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 count mites without having bees stuck to the grid board.
Drone Brood Removal for Mite Control
A few beekeepers advise the removal of capped drone brood (the mites favorite host). I am not a fan of this approach.
Most of the time, bees build drone brood for a reason. Drones serve a role in the colony and maybe some we don’t yet understand.
Other beekeepers use a special drone frame to encourage drone production. Once filled with capped drone brood. This frame is removed and frozen to kill the mites inside.
After thawing, the frame is put back into the hive for reuse. You must remember to take this frame out before the mite infested bees emerge.
Otherwise, you have just created a mite maternity ward. Used properly, the drone frame may be successful.
Approved Chemicals – A Practical Treatment for Varroa
Research has provided us with several chemical treatment options. If you choose to use these synthetic chemicals, it is important to rotate them. Use different ones each year.
Apistan (fluvalinate) is an older substance used for mite control in honey bees for years. It is an impregnated strip that kills by contact.
Verified wide spread resistance has been reported. Chemical residue in beeswax is common. I do not use it.
Apivar (amitraz) is a synthetic miticide that kills by contact. Impregnated strips are place near the brood nest.
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.
I do not use it but other beekeepers report good results with this approved varroa mite treatment product.
Essential Oils for Varroa Mite Treatment
Essential oils are used to promote good health in honey bee colonies. Another use of essential oils, is combating varroa mites. You can prepare your own recipes.
I have some essential oil recipes for bees you can try. But, use care, some essential oils are absorbed through the skin. Wear gloves.
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 varroa mite treatment 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 mite treatment.
The 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 F.
High temperatures during treatment period can cause serious colony disruption including bees leaving the hive.
The Acids – Organic Varroa Mite Treatment For Bees
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). Some beekeepers have reported queen loss or a reduction in brood production.
For myself, the temperature requirements were a problem. Extreme temperatures above 92°F may cause absconding.
Some beekeepers experience queen loss after treatment. But, I have not experienced any problems. Follow the directions on the label!
Oxalic Acid – Used In Europe For Years – Now Approved For US
Oxalic acid (Oxalic acid dihydrate (organic acid)) is used in two ways for mite control – as a drizzle or as a fumigant.
Oxalic acid enjoys a long history of use in Europe. It has the reputation for providing good varroa mite control.
Approval for use in the US, was a long time coming. Now, American beekeepers can try OA for mite control.
The drip or drizzle method involves mixing OA with sugar water and pouring this over the cluster of bees.
Early Winter/late Fall when the bees are cluster together if the best time for the drizzle method.
The colony should also have little or no brood so the majority of mites will be on the adult bees. The drizzle method can only be used 2 X a year.
The acid is corrosive to the bee bodies and when using in cold weather may chill the bee cluster.
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.
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.
Using OA Vaporization is compatible with the hot summer temperatures during my treatment window.
Be careful when purchasing a wand. You want one that works properly, you do NOT want to be inhaling any fumes.
A good manufacturer will provide dosage instructions. Because this method does not kill mites hidden inside the brood cell, most of use repeat this treatment every 7 days for 3 times. Thereby, covering a complete worker bee brood cycle.
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.
It is also able to be dipped in water after use for fast cooling – the cheaper models can not be used in that way.
It is certainly ok to choose a less expensive model. However, be sure that you are buying from someone who will stand behind their product.
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.
Another Mite Treatment Option
Hopguard (Potassium salt (16%) of hops beta acids). Hopguard is a natural product made from hop compounds.
Honey supers can be on the hive during treatment and that is a plus. 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.
You Choose The Plan For Your Bees
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.
Perhaps, the first varroa mite treatment for bees that you try doesn’t work. Try again. After treating, do another mite count.
Don’t assume the treatment worked. Continue experimenting until you find the best varroa mite treatment plan for bees in your area.
Maybe you would like to try treatment-free beekeeping. Okay, but find a reputable source for treatment free bees.
Try it with regular main stream bees and you will have a lot of dead bees.
Whether you choose of the methods mentioned above or another, it is your call. You will have to decide on the best varroa mite treatment for bees in your apiary !
Are there other management strategies in use for varroa? Yes, absolutely. A word of caution.
Just because something may not kill your colony does not mean it has not caused harm. Take care when attempting to use unapproved methods.
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