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Varroa treatment

Greetings from New York City! I am an urban beekeeper seeking your advise.  

One of the two beehives I tend to has Varroa. I've been treating the mites with powdered sugar, checking the hive every three days...am not sure whether this way is enough to keep the beehive healthy.

I understand that formic acid is a stronger treatment to eliminate/reduce Varroa from the beehive.
Should I use formic acid with brood.   
If I do.
Should I remove the feeder.
How long should I keep the strip of formic acid in the hive.
Is this treatment safe for the brood.
Your reply is much appreciated.
Many thanks,
Nicole T.


The best way to treat Varroa is not to treat with anything. Using powder sugar keeps the bees from grooming themselves and acids of any kind interveres with and upsets microbial balance of the hive.

I raise resistant bees and have found the bees live with whatever Varroa there is when you use 4.9 cell foundation or let the bees draw out their own comb on foundationless frames.

Lady Spirit Moon

Ambassador, Center

for Honeybee Research,

Asheville, NC

Good afternoon Nicole, 

thank you for your enquiry about the problems of varroa.

Although I have written a book on Urban Beekeeping  (ISB978-1-904871-69-9)  it was generally aimed at the United Kingdom market, although it sold better in the United States than at home, odd really. Without the problems we  can identify commonalities that transcend borders.

From a commercial bee keeping angle here in a rather wet, windy and cool Lancashire I can say that by leaving your bees unprotected you will loose them.  There are those that believe in the survival of the fitest and leave their bees to struggle through.  Those that have livestock, especially a livestock that is in decline, have a responsibility to ensure their survival.  I would therefore encourage anyone to try to prevent collony losses as much as possible. 

The use of more holistic remedies is very fashionable across the world and if it is this approach you choose to follow you may wish to use any member of the Rheum family, or any one from the Rhubarb family. I just hope you call rhubarb by the same name in America .  The leaves of any of these plants once cut give off oxcalic acid in gas form.  You need to repeat this treatment several times with fresh leaves.  But as these in northern Europe are found on the roadsides it is a free remedy.

As for dusting, doing it once or twice may help, but I have found you can encourage your bees to become lasy and reliant on a good feed from yourself.  As for formic acid, I wouldn't go this late in Norther Europe (autumn) for formic acid as it tends to make the bees rather upset and can taint the honey.  As it is colder here now you may wish to use either an active varroa strip which contains a small amount of thiamine (Apistan is the tradename in Europe).  If it is still warm in New York you might wish to try a Canadian product trademarked as MiteAway.  It works terribly well.  You need to lock the bees in for 24 hours and it does tend to annoy them but works beautifully. 

If your Queen is still laying but it's towards the end of the season and all the drone brood has stopped you can use a chemical treatment.  You need to keep the treatment in the hive for 6 weeks to ensure a cycle of a bee and anything that has been laid has errupted and passed on.  I am surprised you have a feeder on at present, are they a young hive, a swarm or split form this year?

Varroa breath through their backs and once a gas or acid is used they choke and fall of the bees.  I have found one product called VarroaGARD.  Its avaiable in England but I am unsure as to its worldwide distribution.  It is a dust that is placed on the inside of the landing board.  The bees dont like it because its thymol based, they jump around in it to try and remove it from the hive and subsequently coat themselves ergo choking the mites.

I hope htis has helped, please feel free to contact me if you wish to.


Craig Hughes Dr 

Hi Craig,

              The issue of varoa mites here in East Africa is becoming quit a concern, we are loseing all our bees, The most intresting thing is the whole world belives that the African bees are able to cope with the Varoa mite, which might be true in a way  but no one is reserching on the virusus that is cased by the Varoa and so our bees are declinning so badly.

There are areas in Kenya were the local community say that there are no bees any more, they are blaming the weather, these areas that  used to produce lots of honey, we are now becoming impoteres of honey.

  You have mentioned somthing very intresting about  Rhubarb,  I would like to get more information about this because the Rhubarb plant is available in this country and i would like to try this out. In the mean time what is your take on Oxalic acid treatment for Varoa, the dribble and vaporized system .



Dear Nicole,

On the University of Florida Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab website you can find useful information on varroa and options available to deal with it.

-> The video “Varroa mites” describes how varroa develops and how to diagnose, monitor  and control varroa in hives.  (http://www.extension.org/sites/default/files/w/a/a8/EllisVarroa.mov  or http://www.extension.org/pages/25099/university-of-florida-bee-disease-videos and click on “varroa mite video”).    Formic acid is also mentioned.  

-> But first you need to check the level of infestation, and then you can decide what method you will use to control varroa. The following link describes step by step how to carry out the “powder sugar role technique” to evaluate the level of infestation in your hive: http://www.extension.org/pages/22279/powder-sugar-roll-for-varroa-sampling.  The page on “Varroa sampling”  is also worth exploring http://www.extension.org/pages/31539/varroa-sampling for more info on how to evaluate the level of infestation of your hive.


PS: see also the already existing discussion on varroa on TECA: http://teca.fao.org/discussion/your-experiences-varroa

I have been asked to expand upon treatment of Varroa.

I raise resistant bees in the Appalachia Mtns of North Carolina, USA. I am a natural beekeeper, meaning I don't put into the top of the hive the bees don't take in through the front door. My Varroa count last year was 4% on 4.9 foundation. This count was confirmed by a bee lab.

In the 1960's commercial beekeepers Ed & Dee Lusby, at http://www.beesource.com/point-of-view/ed-dee-lusby/, started an organic beekeeping movement. Though they still use the term organic it is now being misused. Organic is the term now used for organic substances like powder sugar, formic acid, etc., used in the beehive. She uses 4.9 foundation or allows the bees to draw out their own foundation. Her website is loaded with information about natural beekeeping. The site is well worth a visit. Dee is known globally and has been written about in many magazines. They live in the southern part of the USA.

Michael Bush Farms, http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm, is also a commercial beekeeper using natural methods and lives in the northern part of the USA. Michael has researched the 4.9 theory himself and found the bees raised on 4.9 foundation have fewer Varroa because the cells are capped 4 days sooner than the larger cells. Cells capped sooner mean the Varroa couldn't lay their eggs.

When I was in Italy last year I met the bee pathologist at the CRA-API bee research lab Bologna. When I spoke of the 4.9 foundation theorgy, the pathologist gave me a study done in Italy in 1999 on the affects of Varroa on cells 4.9, 5.0, 5.1, and 5.2. The study indicated there was no significant drop in Varroa on foundation with cells measuring 5.0, 5.1, or 5.2. But there was a significant drop in Varroa on cells 4.9. When I mention this fact to other scientists, they say the Varroa will smarten up and catch up to the bees. This may be the nature of the beast regarding evolution. But I feel the bees will also smarten up.

Dr. Kefyn Catley, WCU, states a honeybee's immune system is 67% at best. Each time you go into the hive, smoke the bees (smoke calming the bees is a myth), sound around the hives, outside and inside pests, all stress the bees. A very stressed bee's immune system will always be low as long as there is stress. As you know in humans, stress can cause illnesses. The honeybee is no different.

Another thing that makes my bees resistant is not feeding them sugar water unless it's a have-to thing and that's rare. Even then, there is at least 25-30% honey in the mixture. Sugar has no nutrients and bees eat honey as their prebiotics. Beebread is their probiotics. Honey and Beebread are the only 2 sources of nutrients for the honeybee. If the Lactobacillus, the good bacteria in their gut (and in humans), can feed on the nutrients first, the gut stays healthy. If the bad bacteria eats first - in the honeybee it's the Nosema bacteria - diarrhea will take over and weaken the bee's immune system, leaving them susceptible to viruses; often killing the bee, and a lot of times the whole hive. Imagine how weak you would feel if you had diarrhea for a long time.

Using 4.9 foundation or allowing the honeybee to make their own foundation and cell size, keeping them out of stress, and keeping enough honey in the hive to get them through the winter is how my girls stay resistant. I let Mother Nature take care of the rest. Understand my bees are resistant to pests and diseases. My bees are not resistant to chemicals, which is becoming a major problem as one of my apiaries is in the middle of a farming community. 

If there are any more questions, just ask.

Lady Spirit Moon, NC, MH. Certified Beekeeper andAmbassador for the Center for Honeybee Researchwww.chbr.orgNatural Beekeeperwww.BEeHealing.Org443 West Rd.Hot Springs, NC, 28743, USA1-828-622-0241

Is there any one who has any information about Varoa mites in African bees and specifically in East Africa. And if there is any one who has any information on the proceeduers to treat varoa mites on Africcan bees.


Dear Ernest,

thank you for your questions. 

For additional information about varroa, please see also the discussion "Your experience with varroa" (http://teca.fao.org/discussion/your-experiences-varroa).



None of what follows may not appeal to commercial beekeepers.

I read where folks are using powder sugar for mites, essential oils, and/or acids. Bees are animals and, to a small degree, can be trained. When I go into a hive I always follow the same pattern - top box first, left to right in all boxes, move slowly, deliberatly, and no loud noises, and putting everything back the way it was. The bees get used to this even one generation communicating to the next generation of bees. If you do the bees' work, they will stop doing it for themselves, including grooming. Putting things in the hive the bees don't bring in upset the bacterial balance in the hive. The bees help to create this bacterial balance by what they do and bring into the hive. Upsetting the balance makes them work harder, creating stress. Stress can compromise the autoimmune system, not to mention improper use of those "organic" substances.

Resistant bees come from diverse genetics; changing out the comb every 3-5 years (otherwise, bees get too small); using small cell foundation or letting them draw it out on their own; and not changing things around in the hive. They know what they want and where they want to put it. Any time one goes into a hive, bees get stressed and are set back a day. Change what they created only stresses them out more. Only a few races of bees can accept change more than others.

It's my gut feeling, for whatever it is worth, the honeybee population in the world is evolving. The Varroa came from the Japanese honeybee and arrived in the US in 1984 (I think, don't quote me on this date). In truth, honeybees have been living with Varroa mites for millions of years, along with other pests. Humans cannot tolerate bugs and want to squash them. They even try getting rid of small hive beetles by treating them or setting traps. If you let the bees do their own thing by: not trying to enlarge them with large celled-foundation so they will gather more nectar, (which doesn't work); not going into the hive all the time and playing with them or turning their house upside down by moving things around; and not taking all the honey, your bees will learn to live with the Varroa. A smart queen will put a hole in the cell with a Varroa in it and the workers will remove it. I have seen this in my own yard. But a smart queen comes from diverse genetics.

If you still don't believe me. Put 2 hives in one location and 2 in another location about 2 miles away. Treat 2 hives the way you think you "should," don't touch the other 2 hives accept on occasions to check on them and/or take a small amount of honey. Now granted, having just come back from Senegal, I know african bees tend to swarm no matter how content they are. If the queen is not marked, you won't know if it is the queen you started with. Because they do swarm, you can treat them, but they will leave and another swarm will bring in the same problem. BTW: Didn't see any nor have heard of Varroa in Dakar, Senegal, or surrounding areas. Will be going back in May and will check for sure. I will be doing intense training while there.

Dr. Jamie Ellis, Entomologist, University of Florida, has shown with videos on YouTube treatments don't work and artificial feeding doesn't have enough nutrition.

Think of it this way, the Varroa has been in the US for only 2 decades after changing hosts. If the Varroa can become resistant to treatments by their evolutionary process, imagine what will happen if you let Nature do her thing through Her evolutionary process, which is how the Varroa changed its habits in the first place.

I'll get off my box, now. Thank you for reading. I also go through all this with all of my students.

Lady Spirit Moon, NC, MH, Certified Beekeeper, andAmbassador for the Center for Honeybee Researchwww.chbr.orgNatural Beekeeper & Educatorwww.BEeHealing.Org443 West Rd.Hot Springs, NC, 28743, USA828-622-0241

During my visit to some beekeeping communities in central Ghana we were able to test for varroa in two different apiaries. The visit was part of the demand for support to increase production and hive occupation.

The hives used were traditional top bar hives Kenyan type. The test for varroa was done by spraying 3% oxalic acid on the bees on the brood combs as well as on the bees that left the combs and were hidden in the back of the hive.

On the floor of the hive we placed a collector with adhesive tape, coverred by a plastic screen with 3 mm square holes. Size 10 x 14 cm, 1 cm high. (Queen arrest cage) The collector was placed under the brood area. After one day we inspected te collector.

Collector in apiary A contained 6 varroa mites and about 40 eggs from the small hive beetle (shb).

Collector in apiary B contained 16 varroa mites. About 30 small hive beetles escaped from the collector picking it up. No shb eggs.

This test proves (once more?) that varroa is present in Ghana. No exact numbers of mites in the hives were counted. The hives tested had colonies that filled the hive for two thirth. It is estimated the colonies were from a swarm last year.

The brood combs showed perfectly closed brood with very little open cells. No sign of European Fool Brood (EFB) or American Fool Brood (AFB). No bees suffering from deformed wing virus were seen.

Also small hive beetles are present and in the hives. All hives we saw had small hive beetles present, inside and/or outside the hives. Even the swarm in the ceiling in the office was attacked by a shb, but bees were chasing it along the wall.

The hives in these communities were not managed. Honey was taken once a year. No swarm prevention whatshowever is applied. This type of (non-)management generates very low honey production, but the swarming and the agressive behaviour of the bees towards SHB is certainly influencing the mite level.

Best regards,Gerhard

Wolfgang Ritter's picture

I’d like to present myself briefly: My name is Dr. Wolfgang Ritter. I`m head of the OIE reference laboratory for bee diseases (OIE = World Organisation for Animal Health) and I’m acting as President of the Scientific Commission for Bee Health of the Apimondia, the World Beekeepers’ Association. Here, at my institute in Freiburg / Germany, we are engaged in laboratory examinations and in counselling for beekeepers and veterinarians in disease control, both theoretically and in practice on site.

Since more than 30 years I’ve been working scientifically and in practice in the field of bee health, especially in connection with the Varroa mite. In many countries, mainly in those with intense or even industrial beekeeping, the Varroa mite represents an important problem. Here it is of major importance that beekeepers dispose of adequate control concepts. In this respect, special attention has to be paid to the problem of residues and the risk for applicants. At the same time, the bee race and the climatic conditions have to be respected also. Often medicines are simply recommended disregarding the specific treatment conditions. Moreover, possible biologic and biotechnical control technologies are not taken into account.

On the other hand, there are many regions and countries where the Varroa mite has been spread but does not represent a real danger. As an example I would like to mention parts of North Africa, Jordan and Yemen, but also Brazil. I have worked in these regions and have come to this conclusion by means of field examinations. Most frequently, local but also foreign consultants had asked for control methods and medicines without verification if they were really necessary.  The presence of a parasite in one region does not automatically mean that it turns out there as dangerous as it is in other regions. The problems in those countries were mostly caused by environmental or management conditions. In my opinion, the situation in  Africa is not yet definitely clear, though some of you report of losses.

I would like to invite you to contact me and I’m looking forward to your questions.

Please describe your problems with your bees and the Varroa parasite. I will try to help you to establish a control strategy or at least to give some ideas how to control Varroa, if necessary.

Wolfgang Ritter