Varroa: Defeating the Scourge of Beehives

The Varroa destructor, commonly known as varroa, is a parasitic mite that poses a serious threat to honey bees worldwide. Originating from Southeast Asia, it spread to Europe in the 1980s and is now present in nearly all countries where beekeeping is practiced. This tiny red-brown invader, barely 1.5 mm long, has become a true scourge for bees, weakening colonies and contributing to their mortality.

If you are a beekeeper, whether as a hobby or a professional activity, fighting against varroa is an absolute priority. By understanding the parasite's life cycle, its impact on bees, and the different treatment methods available, you can implement an effective strategy to protect your hives and ensure the health of your bees.

The life cycle of varroa and its impact on bees

Varroa parasitizes honey bees at all stages of their development, attacking both larvae and adult bees. Female varroas enter cells containing bee brood (eggs, larvae, and nymphs) and feed on the hemolymph (insect equivalent of blood) of developing bees. Once the bee larva transforms into a nymph, the female varroa lays her eggs in the sealed cell. The juvenile mites then feed on the developing bee nymph and mate before the emergence of the adult bee. The adult female varroas then leave the cell with the newly emerged bee, thus perpetuating the parasite's life cycle.

The consequences of this varroa infestation are disastrous for bees. By feeding on hemolymph, varroa weakens bees, making them more vulnerable to diseases and infections. Moreover, varroa can transmit harmful viruses to bees, such as Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) and Deformed Wing Virus (DWV). These viruses can devastate entire colonies, resulting in massive bee losses.

Symptoms of varroa infestation

Regular inspection of your hives is essential to quickly detect a varroa infestation. Here are some telltale signs to watch for:

  • Presence of varroa mites on adult bees: Examine bees returning to the hives, especially those that seem lethargic or unable to fly properly.
  • Bees with deformed wings: Deformed Wing Virus, transmitted by varroa, can cause shriveled or malformed wings in bees.
  • Varroas fallen to the ground: If you notice red-brown mites on the hive floor, it is a probable sign of a significant infestation.
  • Brood with perforated cappings: Female varroas can sometimes perforate the cappings of brood cells to access bee nymphs.

Diagnostic test: Confirming the presence of varroa

If you suspect a varroa infestation in your hives, it is crucial to confirm your suspicions with a simple and effective diagnostic test: the alcohol wash test.

Here's how to proceed:

  1. Bee sampling: Use an appropriate tool, such as a bee hook, to collect about 300 bees from a central area of the hive.
  2. Sifting bees: Place the collected bees on a fine-mesh sieve over a clear container filled with 70% alcohol.
  3. Agitation and rest: Shake the sieve vigorously for a few minutes to detach the varroas attached to the bees. Then let the mixture rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Varroa counting: Varroas, denser than bees, will fall to the bottom of the container.
  5. Stop Varroa Treatment: The Stop Varroa treatment is organic and easy to use, and can also be used in organic beekeeping. It guarantees a 100% success rate. To use it, simply lift the frames one by one and spray both sides with the treatment. The varroa colony will be completely destroyed within 24 hours. Stop Varroa is safe for bees and does not poison your honey.

In conclusion, fighting against varroa is a shared responsibility that requires collective mobilization. By working together to protect bees, we ensure a sustainable future for beekeeping and for the balance of our environment.