Tonight I dusted off the beekeeping books and my notes from the classes, the exam is approaching rapidly.  Flash cards on diseases were written with the intention of learning, but there is one card I feel I could write without consulting notes; varroa destructor.

For a couple of weeks we have been noticing a few dead bees on the ground in front of the hive.  With a population in the thousands, maybe tens of thousands at the moment, a few casualties in the game of life are expected.  However, the numbers of dead bees has steadily increased to more than to be expected; not good. Some of the bees have deformed wings caused by a virus called…..wait for it…..deformed wing virus.  And a few seem to have just decided to give up, with pollen or honey interesting them no more.  These dead bees have been coupled with an increased count of a devastating little nasty that sometimes drops to the hive floor where it can be see.  Varroa destructor.

an amazing picture of the varroa mite by Gilles san Martin

Varroa destructor is a tiny mite than has never been seen by the European honey bee in the hundreds of thousands of years that it has gone about its honeybee business.  Then man introduced the mite to the bee accidentally and it has been a downhill story from there.  Varroa destructor is said to be the reason why the wild population of honeybees in Ireland has been reduced to zero.  The mite pushed the bees to extinction by attaching itself to the bee and sucking its blood.  Then it reproduces and brings up its little baby mites in the bees larval stage by…sucking its blood.  If this was not bad enough, it also is a host to all sorts of nasty viruses including… deformed wing virus.

I dusted off my old microscope and took my own image


The only way beekeepers can keep the mite in controllable numbers is to intervene with an arsenal of chemicals and methods that try and maintain a minimal population.  The population of mites in our hive was minimal when we got them and minimal for the first few weeks, then it exploded.  Its just one of those things.

Yesterday I got a delivery of one of the few viable treatments for this time of year (some treatments can ruin any possible honey harvest).  I myself am also infected with a virus and was in no mood for doing any sort of beekeeping last night.  I do not have deformed wings but a cold, and the vector was not a mite but the little man and the nursery he attends.  Luckily the hive treatment required nothing more than opening the hive and dropping two strips of medicine into it.  I added a bit of sniffing, snorting and sneezing that was not required.

the hive floor debri scooped up and still alive with mites – the stuff of nightmares

Today I pulled out the hive floor to see if the treatment had any effect, it did.  I estimated* 2237.29 about 2200 mites were on the hive floor in both dead and half dead states.  It seems to be quite a serious infection.  We are not hoping for honey this year, in our minds it was always a possibility, but only a bonus.  We didn’t even want to keep bees to help with pollination.  To be honest, Bumble bees are far better pollinators than honey bees in Ireland.  We just wanted to keep bees for the joy and fascination.

*If you were wondering if I counted all the mites on the floor of the hive you would be wrong.  Like any good scientist I took a couple of 10 by 10cm squares and counted the mites in these with a magnifying glass.  Then I measured the total area of the floor and extrapolated.  Although I did once do a bit of silly counting. A couple of months ago I was waking around the garden and thought that there was a ridiculous amount of daffodils. I wondered how many there were and then a little inner voice said, “Don’t ask the questions unless you are prepared to find out the answers”.  So I counted them and there were seven hundred and twenty three daffodils in the garden that day.  Sometimes I catch the lovely Sharon looking at me with a look of curiosity mixed with unease and I don’t need to ask her why; I know she is remembering the day I counted the daffodils.