Farewell Varroa, Hello Healthy Hives: A Comprehensive Guide to Treatments

The Varroa destructor, a dreaded parasitic mite for beekeepers, threatens the health and survival of bee colonies. Fighting against this scourge is crucial to ensure the longevity of beekeeping and guarantee honey production and crop pollination. Fortunately, several treatment methods are available to beekeepers to combat the varroa and protect their hives.

Understanding Varroa: Its Life Cycle and Impact

Varroa is an external parasitic mite that attaches to the bodies of adult bees and feeds on their hemolymph (equivalent to blood in insects). This feeding weakens their immune system and makes them more vulnerable to diseases. Female varroa lay their eggs in the brood cells of bees, where the larvae develop by feeding on the hemolymph of bee nymphs. This biological cycle leads to a rapid proliferation of the parasite, potentially decimating a colony in a few years.

In addition to the direct damage to bees, varroa is also a vector of viral diseases, further weakening colonies. Infestation by varroa is therefore a major problem for bee health and apicultural production. It is estimated that varroa is responsible for the death of entire colonies in many regions of the world.

The Arsenal Against Varroa: Soft, Alternative, and Biological Methods

In the face of the varroa threat, beekeepers have an array of methods to protect their hives. The choice of technique depends on the extent of the infestation, the beekeeper's philosophy, and the current regulations.

Soft and Natural Methods:

  • The Trap Frame: This special frame contains plastic brood cells imitating natural cells. Female varroa prefer to lay their eggs in these artificial cells. Once capped (closed by the bees), the trap cells containing varroa eggs and larvae are removed and destroyed, allowing for the elimination of a portion of the parasite population.
  • Formic Acid: Naturally present in honey at low doses, formic acid has acaricidal properties (killing mites). It can be applied in the form of a slow-release gel that emits its vapors into the hive or as a diluted solution sprayed onto the frames. Formic acid is effective against varroa present in capped brood cells, a stage where conventional chemical treatments cannot reach them.
  • Clay Powder: Research suggests that clay powder applied at the hive entrance may have a repellent or drying effect on varroa. However, its effectiveness remains to be confirmed on a large scale.
  • Essential Oils: Certain essential oils, such as thyme and eucalyptus, have acaricidal or repellent properties against varroa. They can be diffused at low concentration in the hive or applied on wooden supports. It is important to note that essential oils can also have undesirable effects on bees, so they should be used with caution and at low doses.

Alternative Methods:

  • Thermal Treatment: This technique involves placing the hive frames containing brood in a heating device at a controlled temperature. The heat kills varroa at all stages of their development (eggs, larvae, and adult mites) without harming the bees. Thermal treatment is effective, but its application requires specific equipment and great precision to avoid damaging the brood.
  • Genetic Selection: Breeding programs aim to develop bee strains that are naturally resistant to varroa. These bees, called VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygiene) bees, have a particular hygienic behavior that allows them to detect and destroy brood cells parasitized by varroa. Genetic selection is a promising long-term approach to sustainably combat varroa.

Biological Methods:

Natural Predators: Certain predatory mites, such as Stratiolaelaps miles and Varroa destructor (a different species from the parasite), can attack varroa. Introducing them into hives can contribute to reducing the varroa population.

Stop Varroa Treatment

The Stop Varroa treatment is the only one to eliminate 100% of varroa. It can also be used in organic and biological beekeeping and is easy to use. It guarantees a 100% success rate. Simply lift the frames one by one and spray both sides with the treatment. The varroa colony will be completely destroyed within 24 hours.

In conclusion, the fight against varroa is a major challenge for the future of beekeeping. The combination of soft, alternative, and biological methods, along with healthy beekeeping practices and regular monitoring of colonies, allows beekeepers to protect their hives and contribute to the preservation of these precious pollinators.

Do not forget that the choice of the varroa control method depends on several factors, such as the extent of the infestation, the beekeeper's philosophy, and the current regulations. It is important to seek advice from local beekeeping organizations or specialized veterinary services to obtain personalized and adapted advice for your situation.

By working together, beekeepers, researchers, and authorities can meet the challenge of varroa and ensure the longevity of beekeeping, for the benefit of bees, the environment, and society as a whole.