Honeybees are the only insects that produce food for humans. It’s not easy work, though. Did you know that they have to visit two million flowers to make one pound of honey? Despite that, a beehive can make up to 400 pounds a year—that’s how hardworking they are!
Aside from making honey, these fuzzy insects also help to pollinate flowers, fruits, and vegetables. How? By transporting pollen from plant to plant—something that they do while they’re collecting nectar. Without them, most crops simply wouldn’t exist! That’s why these creatures are so important.
As it is, however, they’re threatened by a number of things—mites being one of them.
What Mites Kill Honey Bee Hives & Honey Bees?
The Varroa mite is a big threat to honey bees. Tiny parasites, they can easily kill off a colony within a few months. Ultimately, they do this by attaching to the bees’ bodies (they can only reproduce on honeybee brood). It’s important to note, however, that only female mites will attach themselves to adult honey bees. Adult males will only feed on pupae and larvae. In fact, they stay in the brood cell even after they’re hatched. In contrast, the former is very mobile and will move all over the colony. This makes them an effective vector for various viruses, which can cause further harm to the bees.
As far as their lifespan goes, it depends on the brood, but it can range anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 4-5 months. Assuming that brood is present, they’ll also be able to complete a few breeding cycles. Generally speaking, a Varroa mite will live and feed on an adult honeybee for around 3 months. It’s important to note, however, that they can survive for up to 5 days without a food source.
While colonies with low infestation don’t have many symptoms, they can quickly become apparent as the mite population increases. To give you a better idea, it can take anywhere from 3-4 years for a heavy infestation to build up. From there, it can cause various problems such as impaired flight and an inability to return to the hive after foraging.
Other Symptoms of a Varroa Mite Infestation:
- Honeybees start to crawl or become crippled
- Larvae in the hive may appear brown or yellowish
- There will be a scattered brood pattern
- Larvae will be slumped to the side or bottom of the cell
- Unexplained decrease in the honeybee population
How To Protect Honey Bee Colonies From Varroa Mites
Fortunately, there are various ways to kill these mites. Let’s take a look at some of these methods below.
It’s possible to trap mites by attracting them with drone brood. Basically, the brood will be used as a decoy. Once the mites go into the cells, the beekeeper will remove the brood. As a result, the mites won’t be able to reproduce effectively, which will help to control the population. While it depends on the situation, they’ll generally remove one-third of the hive frame per week. As for the removed drone brood, it can be frozen and returned to the colony at a later date. In some cases, however, this method alone will not be enough to control Varroa mites.
Using a Screened Bottom
It’s not uncommon for the mites to fall off their hosts due to movement or grooming behavior. As it is, beekeepers can take advantage of that to control their infestation. That is, instead of using a solid wood board for the colony, they can use a screened bottom board. With the latter, the mites will be much less likely to attach themselves onto the bees as they’ll fall onto the ground (rather than onto the board).
Using Powdered Sugar
Sprinkling powder sugar on honeybees is another way to control the mites. How does it work? It stimulates grooming behaviour. In other words, the mites will fall off their bodies and onto the bottom boards (use a screened board for maximum efficacy). The only con is that it tends to be labor extensive. In addition to that, it won’t be enough to control the mite population on its own—you’ll have to combine it with another treatment.
A number of chemicals can be used to kill Varroa mites. Take oxalic acid, for example, it can be used as a vapor. With that said, it’s not ideal as a stand-alone treatment. For one thing, high dosages can harm the honeybees by crystallizing the larvae. Not to mention that it can decrease the longevity of workers.
Formic acid is another option. A natural component of honey, it can penetrate the capping, which will effectively kill the Varroa mites. The only thing is that it can harm the colony if it’s used at high temperatures. At the same time, its efficacy is lowered if it’s used below 50F.
What Bee Keeping Supplies Are Useful For Protection Against Mites
Given all that we’ve said above, it’s not surprising to know that beekeeping supplies matter. Remember the screened bottoms that we talked about earlier? That’s one example. Another thing is that the equipment can actually be contaminated by various diseases, including the ones spread by the mites. If left alone, it will eventually wipe out your colony. That’s why they should always be sterilized (when they’re free of bees).
What other supplies can you use to protect your bees from the mites? Believe it or not but a cloth or towel can do wonders. That is, you can use it to deliver pesticide—oxalic acid being one of the most effective options (more on this below). For those who are curious, the acid penetrates the mite through the hemolymph, which results in death. Honeybees are not harmed during this process.
Best Chemicals for Protecting Honey Bee Hives From Mites
As mentioned above, oxalic acid is one of the best options. It’s easy to use as well. Basically, you apply it to a saturated carrier (not more than 50g) in the lower brood box. More specifically, the towel or cloth that you’re using should be hung over the top bars (lying them across is fine as well). For safety reasons, the treatment should be separated by at least one chamber from those with honey that is to be extracted.
What Method Of Chemical Delivery Works Best
As far as treatment goes, you can pretty much use any type of cloth. With that said, some are better than others. For example, Swedish Dishcloths are much more durable than your standard towel. You won’t have to worry about them falling apart even with repeated use, which is important when you have to treat the colony often. Another benefit is that they dry quickly. As such, they won’t become a hotbed for bacteria, which can easily cause their own problems if exposed to a beehive. It’s also worth mentioning that they’re super absorbent—more so than regular towels. This means that you won’t have to use as much pesticide solution, which lowers the risk of potential harm and you won’t have to use as much solution!
On top of all that, they’re eco-friendly—so you won’t be harming the environment while trying to protect the bees. Made from natural plant fibers (as opposed to synthetic materials that are often used in other cloths), they’ll degrade naturally as compost. In fact, they can even be used as fertilizer!
Price-wise, they’re also affordable. For just a few dollars, you can get a pack, which will last you many months. For those who don’t know, they are machine washable so you can reuse them multiple times. As such, you’ll save yourself some money in the long run. If anything, they’re perfect if you’re looking for something cost-effective.
How To Use Cellulose Sponge Cloths For Honey Bee Hives
Assuming that you’re using a new cellulose cloth, it’s a good idea to rinse it first. After all, you never know if it’s come into contact with any debris during the manufacturing process. Once you’ve done that, wring it out to get rid of the excess moisture. From there, you can apply the pesticide solution onto the material. Remember, you don’t have to use too much since these cloths are super absorbent.
From there, it’s just like what we described earlier. That is, you want to lay them or hang them over the top bars. Remember to separate the treatment from honey chambers.
Where To Buy Swedish Dishcloths
We offer high-quality cellulose cloths in various colors. Feel free to take a look at our products page or visit our Amazon store. Our products do quality for free-shipping so you won’t have to deal with any extra costs!
Speaking of savings, we also offer wholesale buying. For example, you can buy packs of ten. Larger bulk options (>500cloths) are available as well if you want to use them for printing or resale. If you’re interested, feel free to send us a retail inquiry and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible with the pricing! Or if you have any questions, feel free to let us know. We’ll be happy to help!