Do I Need to Treat for Varroa Mites?
This is a question that we are often asked, and the simple answer is "Yes, you do". If you have not already learned about varroa mites, please click here to learn all about them, before continuing here. Although using natural methods of beekeeping goes a long way toward keeping your bees healthy, varroa can still be a problem. By using small cell (4.9mm) foundation (in modified Warré hives) or by buying regressed bees (such as those offered by Wolfcreek Apiaries-See our "Links" page) and letting them build their own natural cells, one can keep varroa populations at much lower levels than they might otherwise be. However, some number of varroa mites will always exist within any colony and, if given the chance, can eventually build up to a high enough population to kill it off. Some strains of bees are more tolerant of varroa than are others, but if you do nothing to treat for mites it is likely that your colony will eventually die out, usually in the wintertime, due to PMS (parasitic mite syndrome). PMS exists when there is a high enough level of mite infestation within the colony that the bees are unable to fight off viruses that are being rapidly spread by the mites. The most common and deadly of these viruses is known as DWV (deformed wing virus). DWV is a honeybee virus that is believed to have existed long before varroa mites came to this continent. DWV may exist within a colony where varroa numbers are low, but a severe infestation of varroa can cause the virus to become epidemic. Not long ago, scientists believed that wing deformities in newly emerged bees were a direct result of varroa mites feeding on capped brood within the cells, but it was later discovered that this is not the case. Although the presence of DWV does not necessarily indicate high varroa mite levels, it is certainly cause for concern if you discover it within your hives.
Infected with DWV, this bee emerged from it's cell with shriveled wings and was promptly evicted from the colony.
The good news is that after you have installed packaged bees into your new hive, varroa levels will be extremely low. This is due to the fact that there is no brood and that many of the mites that were parasitizing the adults have fallen off during the shaking, shipping and installation processes. There are enough things to be concentrating on when starting your new bee colony, so thankfully, varroa infestation isn't one of them! It is highly unlikely that you will need to be concerned with varroa in your new hive until autumn, so unless you suspect a problem, don't worry about it until then.
Each and every morning, some of the worker bees will patrol the hive and evict any bees with deformed wings, and these bees can bee seen walking around on the ground in front of the hive for several hours before they die. Keep any vegetation that is in front of the hive cut short and try to get in the habit of looking for them whenever you are able. They are easiest to spot while they're still alive, but if you can only get out there in the evening you can look for any dead ones that might be there. If you ever see more than one bee with DWV in front of a hive, you will need to treat for mites immediately. This is extremely critical if you have more than one hive, because drone drifting can rapidly spread this condition to all of your hives, either making alot more work for you or causing the loss of many colonies...or both. As long as your bees are regressed (natural size) and you are actively treating them for varroa, it is unlikely that you'll ever encounter this kind of emergency situation.