Learn how to protect your beehive from common bee diseases and pests.
As a beekeeper, one of your main priorities is keeping your bees healthy. A strong bee colony will produce ample amounts of honey and beeswax. Your beehive can be susceptible to diseases and pests of all kinds. Disease and infection can be easily spread once in the bee colony, due to the number of bees in such a tiny space. Learn about common bee diseases and pests, and what you can do to protect your beehive.
Most bee diseases affect the beehive brood. The brood is a beeswax structure in the beehive where the queen bee lays her eggs. It’s also the part of the beehive the colony raises a new brood of larvae.
Don’t let the name fool you. American foulbrood is one of the bee diseases found all over the world. American foulbrood is a bacterial disease, spread through spores. It’s considered the most destructive of the brood bee diseases. It affects larvae that are up to three days old. The spores germinate in the larva’s gut, depleting it of nutrition and eventually killing it. The disease can spread rapidly through the whole colony.
There are a few ways to determine if your hive is infected with American foulbrood. The dead brood will turn from a white color to a very dark brown to black. You can also test the dead larvae to see if they’re sticky or ropey. The easiest way to detect American foulbrood is by scent. A diseased hive will give off a very putrid odor. If the hive is infected, it needs to be burned because spores can live up to 40 years.
European foulbrood is similar to American foulbrood, but isn’t as serious. It doesn’t form spores, but the bacteria can last several months in the hive. The bacteria have the same effect on young larvae. The disease can be controlled with a chemical treatment, but it will ruin the honey. The disease is dangerous for a weak colony, but a strong colony can typically overcome it.
Chalk brood is one of the fungal bee diseases. It infects the larva’s gut and causes it to starve to death. Wet spring weather combined with poor hive ventilation causes chalk brood. To remedy the disease, increase ventilation throughout the hive.
Nosema disease is another fungal bee disease. Bees ingest the fungal spores, and it infects their stomach cells. Overall, it affects their digestive system and depletes their nutrition. This serious disease can affect worker bees, drones and queen bees. Symptoms of the disease are hard to detect because there aren’t really any visual signs.
The best way to control nosema disease is by keeping your colonies strong, and reduce stress. Keep your hives well ventilated, and protected from humidity and cold. Allowing your bees outside of the hive also helps reduce the spread of disease. If you have beekeeping supplies that could be contaminated, you should treat it with heat and fumigation.
Wax moths feed on the beeswax that is used for building the honeycomb. The moths can destroy the honeycomb and kill the larvae. They thrive in very warm climates. Beekeepers in the northern United States generally don’t have to worry about wax months, unless they store their bees in a heated area in the winter. Cold weather simply kills off the wax moths. Strong colonies can also fight off the moths, cleaning out the moth webs and larvae.
Varroa mites feed on the bodily fluids of bees at all life stages in the colony. The mites can carry a virus that can damage the hive, and cause abnormal wing growth. Strong hives can combat the mites on their own. However, the mites can be treated chemically if needed. Do not use a chemical treatment during honey production.
Bee diseases and pests are just one part of beekeeping. With a strong, healthy bee colony and the right beekeeping supplies, you can be a successful beekeeper. For more information about caring for your bees, check out our beekeeping blog.