Honey bee diseases and pests

The information below is courtesy of DEFRA { Bee Base}

Varroa destructor , formerly described as Varroa jacobsoni { a closely related mite} is a parasitic mite of honey bees, capable of destroying honey bee colonies. According to the results of science research projects, the main cause of honey bee colony loss is this mite., which can be found in almost every apiary in Europe. This mite is an external parasite that attaches itself to the body of Apis species, and breeds within the colony by laying eggs within capped brood and feeding on the Apis larvae. The Mite is also a known disease vector.

The adult female mites that are commonly seen within the hive and on bees, have flat, reddish brown bodies greater in width than length. {1.6 x 1.1mm}. The native host of this mite is the Asian honey bee Apis cerana. In the past hundred years or so this mite has become a serious pest across the globe. Unlike A,cerana the western honey bee has no or limited natural defenses to the Varroa mite. If left untreated an infested colony will usually die within two to three years. Varroa is present on all continents with the exception of Australia. It was discovered in the UK on April the fourth 1992 in Devon. The technical name for an infestation of Varroa mite is Varroosis.

Honeycomb of the honey bee .

Courtesy of eigene Aufnahme via Waugsberg Creative Commomns Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license.

When do signs appear ?

This is dependent on climatic conditions , the damage caused by Varroa destructor appears from autumn to early spring during the over-wintering phase. This leads to a general weakness and often complete loss of the colony. to compound this problem the mite is also a vector of a number of viruses.

Although bee viruses usually persist as unapparent infections and cause no overt signs of disease, they can dramatically affect honey bee health and shorten the lives of infected bees under certain conditions. 

Even with proper management it is impossible to keep apiaries 100% free of the mites. nevertheless, some strategies  have proven successful, the most efficient being a collective action within an entire area with coinciding treatments, but require extensive knowledge in order to manage the possibilities and limitation of the different treatments.

Current status

Within the UK, Varroa is now endemic in England and Wales, present in mainland Scotland and in Northern Ireland.It is also widespread in the Republic of Ireland. The first honey bee losses attributed to Varroa mite were reported in the far east during the 1960's, the mites have since spread to most areas of the world where Apis mellifera are kept.

In temperate regions infested Apis mellifera colonies usually collapse with one to three years if Varroa is not controlled some way. Since Varroa cannot be eradicated , every beekeeper with infested colonies must practice effective mite control. It is one of the major challenges that the beekeepers and beekeeping face today.

Honey bee. Female Morphology

Courtesy of WikipedianProlific. CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

European and American Foul Brood.

Honey bees may also be affected or victim of other diseases two of which affect the developing brood. These are serious diseases. The European Foul Brood {EFB} and the American Foul Brood { AFB}, and despite their names, both occur in the UK. Both of these diseases are notifiable under the Bees Diseases and Pest Control order 2006, so if you suspect that either of these diseases, you must inform the National Bee Unit, contact DEFRA, or to the local Inspector.

European Foul Brood.  --EFB is caused by the bacterium Melissococcus plutonius. Larvae become affected by consuming food fed by nursing bees. The bacteria multiply within the larval gut and do not invade larval tissue. Larva die from the disease do so because they are starved of food. This normally occurs shortly before the cells are capped.

Symptoms of EFB,  Include erratic or uneven brood pattern,

Twisted larvae with creamy white guts visible through the body wall.

Melted down yellowy white larvae.

An unpleasant sour odour.

Loosely attached brown scales.

Treatment---The Bee inspector, will determine the options available and explain the best course of action to be taken. 


American Foul Brood

American Foul Brood {AFB}--is caused by a spore forming bacterium called Paenibacillus larvae. These spores are the infective stage of the disease and infection begins when food contaminated with spores are fed to larvae by the nursing bees. Once in the gut of the larvae the spores germinate, bacteria moves in to the larval tissues, where they multiply greatly, infected larvae normally die after the cell is sealed, and millions of infective spores form in the remains. Spores are very resistant to extremes of heat and cold, and to many disinfectants and remain viable for many years.

SYMPTOMS OF AFB----Include  Uneven 'peper pot' brood pattern.

Sunken, greasy or perforated darkened cell cappings.

Roping, sticky larval remains when drawn out by a match stick.

Dark scales which are difficult to remove from cells.

Control---In the UK. All infected colonies need by law to be destroyed. 

What to do if you suspect diseases !

If you suspect the diseases -Close the hive.

Reduce the hive entrance to prevent robbing-take other steps if necessary.

Disinfect your beekeeping equipment and gloves before examining other colonies, or if you use disposable gloves select a new pair. 

Contact the NBU immediately. An inspector will contact you as soon as possible and arrange a visit to your apiaries if necessary .

Send a whole comb {well wrapped to prevent leakage of honey} or a tube { available from the NBU, your ABI or some local association, containing suspect diseased larvae. 

Don't forget to include your name and address apiary location and hive identity.

If you have confirmed the presence of either/ or both/ diseases using the Later Flow Devise {LFD Kit} send the positive kit and larval sample.

Do not remove any hives, bees, or equipment from the site until the disease {if confirmed} has been controlled. This is a self imposed ' standstill' which is required under the legislation. 

Hive inspections in northern England

Below are the results so far of colony inspections in 2013. {Up to May }.

Cheshire---162 colonies were inspected. 14 colonies were dead., with four colonies confirmed   with EFB. Colonies with AFB -0 

County Durham 11 inspected , 4 dead.

Cumbria 105 inspected -33 dead.

Greater Manchester  100 inspected 19 dead.

Lancashire 96 inspected 17 dead.

Merseyside 102 inspected 1 dead.

Northumberland 21 inspected 11 dead.

Tyne and Wear   4 inspected -3 dead.

East Yorkshire 14 inspected 1 dead.

North Yorkshire 328 inspected  37 dead. 5 with EFB confirmed 2 AFB confirmed.

South Yorkshire  80 inspected 34 dead with 2 EFB confirmed. 

West Yorkshire 170 confirmed 29 dead.

Source Bee Base { Defra} 

Associated pages. Click on the relevant banner at the top of this page.

Ormskirk Beekeepers Association.

Tree bees.

Bumble bees. 

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Links. Plight of the Bees a Threat to World Food. Click on the links banner on the right hand side of this page . Scroll down to relevant box. Click, this is a direct link to the article where updates are added as they occur.