by J. David Weidner
Summer is now almost over and before we know it, the leaves will be changing and autumn will be upon us. It has been a busy couple of weeks in my apiaries as I have been catering to the needs of several newly established colonies, transferring nucleus colonies to full hives, feeding and pulling honey for extraction. However, my most important task in late July was to monitor and treat for the most devastating threat to honeybees: Varroa destuctor, the varroa mite.
Integrated pest management is critical to ensure healthy honeybees. Many beekeepers mistakenly believe that their bees do not harbor varroa mites, because they don’t see the mite on the backs of their bees during routine hive inspections. Truth be told, although the varroa mite often attaches itself to the backs of bees, even more can be found attached to the the underside of the thorax and abdomen of the bees. These mites weaken the bees by feeding on valuable fat stores and introduce pathogens such as deformed wing virus which further weaken the entire colony at a critical time in their seasonal development. Can you imagine several mites the size of a blue claw crab, attached to your body, weakening you and your immune system and subjecting you to lethal viruses? This is not a healthy way to live.
Unfortunately, the most reliable and accurate means of monitoring for varroa mites involves collecting a sample of approximately 300 nurse bees and submerging them in rubbing alcohol. The rubbing alcohol quickly and humanly dispatches the bees. These bees sacrifice their lives for the overall good of the colony. The sample solution is then shaken vigorously to remove the mites from the bodies on the bees so that they may be counted. If the number of bees exceeds the treatment threshold (2-3/300 bees), treatment is recommended. At a minimum, monthly checks throughout the summer and early autumn will determine the need to treat your colonies, as well as, how effective past treatments have been. New Jersey has numerous honeybee colonies dispersed throughout every county and thus, honeybees often comingle to where they may be exposed to other honeybees and colonies that may harbor high might levels.
I am a firm believer that the varroa mite is responsible for killing more backyard beehives than ANY other factor. Honeybees have adapted to their environment for thousands of years. Healthy colonies can withstand bitter cold temperatures and share food stores in their winter clusters, all the while, protecting their queen and amazingly, maintaining internal hive temperature. Honeybee colonies that have been weakened by the varroa mite and the diseases they carry will NOT survive – that is a simple fact. Don’t be the ostrich that hides his head in the sand and maintains a constant state of denial when it comes to the varroa mite. You owe to yourself to and your honeybees. You must be diligent as “Winter is Coming”.
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