Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pests and Problems in the Beehive

wax moths in beehive

Remember in my post How To Get Over Your Fear of Beekeeping when I told you not to read too many scary things about things that can go wrong? Well once you've decided to keep bees and educated yourself about what is involved and maybe visited an apiary, then you are ready to look at some of the harsh realities of beekeeping in the 21st century. I say this because for the most part the things that will worry you the most and cause you the most trouble are new.

Often at meetings of beekeepers, you hear the old timers talk about how it used to be. They'd go out in the spring set up the hives, maybe add a super or two over the summer, and return in the fall to collect the honey. Let's just say that times have changed.

Modern beekeepers must contend with Colony Collapse Disorder, pesticides and herbicides, and  (depending on where you live) the small hive beetle. In my area the small hive beetle is the thing causing beekeepers to lose the most sleep. Here are the main things that you and your bees will have to contend with. Again, I'm writing this in the American South, in your country or region you may have different problems to deal with.

Let's start with the biggest and most scary, Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD is a new phenomenon first reported in October 2006. Beekeepers began reporting losing 30 to 90 percent of their hives. It's unclear what the exact cause is and it is possible that there are several factors at work. No dead bees are present unlike in a diseased hive, the colonies just disappear adding to the mystery. Since we don't know the actual cause there isn't anything a beekeeper can do to effectively prevent this except make sure that your hives are as healthy as possible. There are many things we can do to affect the health of the hive.

Tracheal mites: a parasite that lives and breeds inside the breathing tube of a bee. Some strains of bees are being bred to increase their natural resistance this pest and there are several in hive fumigants available for use.

Small hive beetle: a pest that came along with globalization, can take down an entire hive and destroy a honey crop. The bees have some means of dealing with containing these pests but opening the hive too often where they are present can disrupt the bees efforts and aid the SHB. There are several traps and deterrents available to help the beekeeper keep them under control.

Wax Moths: Wax moths are easily dealt with by keeping a hive strong and healthy. I did lose a weak hive to these pests last year and it is a messy clean up, but easily recovered from. You can see it in the picture at the top of this post. It is also important to properly store equipment when not in use to prevent the moths from getting a foothold.

Honeybee diseases include: American and European Foulbrood, bacterial diseases and Chalkbrood and Stonebrood, fungal diseases.

Nosema a parasite that causes dysentery in honeybees.

Varroa Mites are a parasite that live on the bees, weaken them, and make them susceptible to disease. As an expert at our bee meeting put it "It would be like you having a tick the size of a basketball on you." They are visible to the naked eye so it's not difficult to figure out if your hive has a problem with them. So far, for me they haven't been an issue. Dusting the hives with powdered sugar is a simple way to deal with them. As the bees clean each other off they remove the mites in the process.

These are the major problems most often encountered by American beekeepers. There are ways of dealing with all of them and good hive management will either prevent or control most of them.

Even with all this remember, don't be scared! You can do this! 


  1. You didn't mention varroa, will you be doing a separate post about that? Interestingly CCD isn't officially recognised as a cause of colonies dying in the UK. Varroa, nosema and winter starvation are considered the biggest problem here. Wax moth is an issue but only really a problem for weak colonies or supers stored separately from the bees.

    1. Thanks so much for pointing out my glaring omission! I've added them to the list. Yes, the wax moths I had were because that hive was queenless and I kept giving them every opportunity to raise their own but they failed (or I did). All the things you mention are problems for us as well. But the small hive beetle is the worst of all. They love our extremely hot summers here in the south. They can destroy a hive and ruin an entire season of honey within just a few days.

    2. Poor bees getting attacked by those nasty beetles on top of everything else :(

    3. I read that in Australia the bees have learned to encapsulate the SHB in propolis to kill them since they can't sting through their tough exterior. Perhaps the bees here will figure that out over time.

    4. Hope so! Similarly I read that the bees harass the beetles to the sides of the frames and then keep them trapped in. But apparently the beetles can trick the bees into feeding them in their jail by touching the bees' mouthparts - the bees' natural instincts kick in and they can't help feeding them. See p.3 second paragraph down and also figure 4 here: