Who’s Afraid of Varroa Mites?

Inspecting our original Langstroth hive.

This past April, we became the proud keepers of two beehives. It was puppy love from the start. We fretted and made late-night visits armed with flashlights to peer up into the hives. Tensions were often high during inspections; we were petrified that a wrong move might hurt the bees.  By summer, a multi-queen swarm from our Langstroth hive bumped us up to four hives, and we were feeling pretty pleased.

Beekeeping is a humbling and emotionally depleting experience at our house. There’s a reason we nicknamed our first harvest “heartbreak honey.” Long story short, between the end of September and the middle of November, we lost three hives. We’re told that the true season for losing hives has only just begun, and we’re clinging to some faint hope that Mondo, our remaining top-bar hive, will make it through the winter.

We’ve been doing some sort-of-weekly, highly scientific mite counts, and saw the number of varroa mites on Mondo’s bottom board skyrocket in December. This past week the number of mites seemed to be down slightly, but Kelly swore she saw bee eggs on the board.

Bee eggs? Yes. She swore they were indeed bee eggs. I went for the magnifying glass, upgraded to my loupe, and finally agreed.

Furthermore, we found what appeared to be baby bee antennae. They look like tiny strings of pearls in amongst the mites, eggs, and clumps of pollen on the board. Whether this is a sign of hygienic behavior, queen trouble, mite overload, or something else, we’ve little idea, but we’ll keep rooting for this hive and crossing our fingers.

Mondo and my pickling cucumber in early summer. We designed and built this top-bar hive the day our Langstroth swarmed!

3 Responses to Who’s Afraid of Varroa Mites?

  1. What’s the significance if Varoa mites? Are they native to the Americas, or an import like our honeybees? What does “Varoa” mean?

    I like your writing style . . . 🙂

    • Hi Todd, thanks for your questions. Varroa is one of the most destructive pests for honey bees. It is native to southeast Asia, and originally parasitized the eastern honey bee (A. cerana). The mite first showed up on European honey bees in the Philippines and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Since then, it has spread around the world, showing up in the US in 1987. You can check out this Stanford University site for some great, detailed information on Varroa: http://www.stanford.edu/class/humbio153/AgriVetParasites/Background.html

      • Thanks for the tip re the Stanford page on parasites – very cool, and everything I always wanted to know about honeybee parasites! 🙂

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