Pests and diseases can be an issue for bees, just like any other living creature. It is important to undertake regular inspections to check on the health of your hive, and to ensure your colony have not contracted any pests or diseases.
If on inspection, you discover your colony is struggling with unwanted guests, it is important to deal with the issue promptly before it gets out of hand and to reduce the risk of spreading to neighbouring hives (in your apiary or colonies nearby).
The way to deal with pests or diseases may differ slightly between each state and territory. It is important to check in with your local authorities and Department of Primary Industry (DPI) to see what the requirements are. Check out the links below for more on how to deal with pest or disease infections for your specific state or territory—
American foulbrood (AFB) is the highly destructive effect of the spore-forming bacterium, Paenibacillius larvae. Bee larvae under three days old ingest the spores which germinate in and derive nourishment from the gut of the larva. In its vegetative form, the bacteria will die along with the larva, but will first produce many millions of spores which will spread throughout the hive and then to other colonies. If left untreated or unmanaged, almost all infected hives will weaken and die over the course of between a month and two years.
Read more about AFB (including management and treatment) here.
Chalkbrood (Ascosphaera apis) is a mycosis (fungal disease) which infiltrates and spreads throughout a colony’s brood. Chalky-white in its early presence, the infection can quickly spread across a hive’s larvae and cause significant damage if left unaddressed. Over time, chalkbrood mummifies sealed larvae and can kill a high number of the brood. The kill-off inevitably affects overall hive operations and decreases honey output. In many cases, this disease weakens the hive enough to allow other diseases or infestations to cause even more damage.
Read more about Chalkbrood (including management and treatment) here.
European foulbrood (EFB) is a problem for beekeepers throughout the world, with the United Kingdom, in particular, struggling to contain it (EFB is the widest-spread bacterial brood disease in the UK). Although it has yet to spread as far as New Zealand, it is found throughout eastern Australia. It is likely that without strong preventative measures it will continue to spread to the few remaining areas in the world that are as yet unaffected.
Nosema is the highly destructive effect caused by one of two (or both) fungi named Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae. While Nosema apis is generally a benign parasite of European honey bees all around the world, it can cause very serious damage to beehives if not addressed in time. These spore-forming parasites attack the lining of the mid-gut of the bees, which produce digestive enzymes that allow them to digest pollen. As the parasites develop and produce more spores, they feed on the epithelial cells of the lining of the mid-gut, thus reducing the efficiency of the gut in digestion and absorption of pollen and weakening the bees. When there are too many spores in a cell, it explodes, releasing them into the mid-gut. Some spores may pass through the small intestine to the rectum. A heavily infested bee can contain as many as 30-50 million spores.
Read more about Nosema (including management and treatment) here.
The Small Hive Beetle (SHB – Aethina tumida) is a pest insect affecting European honey bee colonies all over the world. They are usually about 5mm long and are dark brown or black in colour. Native to Africa, the small hive beetle has spread across the world at an alarming rate. The pest was first identified in the United States in 1996. It made its way into Australia in 2002 and now affects beekeepers in both Queensland and New South Wales. SHB infestations can devastate European honey bee colonies, damaging all the major components of a hive. This includes the honey stores, pollen supplies and even the comb itself. Severe cases of infestation can significantly impact colony function. In extreme cases, this may cause the bees to abandon their hive altogether.
Read more about SHB (including management and treatment) here, and also on our blog here.
In Australia, we are lucky to not have Varroa destructor (also known as Varroa or Varroa mites). Authorities say it is not a case of “if”, but a case of “when”.
This is why conducting thorough, regular inspections is incredibly important from a biosecurity stand-point.
Varroa destructor is extremely destructive and a major factor in Colony Collapse Disorder. Although they originally adapted to exploit Asian honey bee (Apis cerana), Varroa has more recently adapted to using the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) as its host. It feeds on the haemolymph (blood) of bee larvae and adult bees. These external parasites also spread viruses, wreaking further havoc in the hive.
The Braula fly (Braula coeca) is a wingless fly primarily affecting honey bee colonies. Often mistakenly referred to as a braula louse, the insect can directly impact the overall function and health of a colony or entire apiary. Braula flies live directly on the bodies of bees, clinging onto them with comb-like attachments to their front legs. The insects do not bite the bees themselves. Instead, they migrate to the bee’s mouth and feed on nectar, pollen and other natural secretions. These flies typically present on bees where most feeding occurs, but they can lay eggs all across the hive. Despite the prolific egg-laying, capped honeycomb is the only area where eggs will successfully hatch.
Read more about Braula fly (including management and treatment) here.
The tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) is a parasite that lives and reproduces in the trachea of European honey bees. This microscopic internal mite clogs the breathing tubes of adult EHB, blocking oxygen flow and ultimately killing them. The female mite lays eggs to the walls of the trachea, which hatch and develop to adult mites in 10-15 days. The mites parasitise bees up to two weeks old, and they pierce the tracheal tube walls in order to feed on the haemolymph. Bees infected with the tracheal mite exhibit signs of weakness that include inability to fly and “disjointed” wings. The disease caused by this mite is known as acarine disease or acariosis.
Read more about Tracheal Mite (including management and treatment) here.
There are two primary species of wax moths that can infest a European honey bee hive — the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella), and the lesser wax moth (Achroia grisella). Wax moths can play a highly beneficial role in the environment because they naturally eliminate old combs after a colony abandons a hive or dies out. However, these moths can also infiltrate apiaries and cause significant damage to colonies, hives and overall honey and comb-yielding potential. Once an infestation occurs, moths can generally be identified in both living colonies as well as stored combs. In most cases, stored combs carry a greater risk of infestation. And this infestation can render comb and honey unusable and inappropriate for sale.
Read more about Wax moth (including management and treatment) here.
Read more on each pest and disease (as well as others not mentioned) here.
Different pests and diseases are more common in different states and territories around Australia.
If you are unsure if your hive may be afflicted by a pest or disease—aside from consulting with your state DPI—you may consider getting in contact with a local experienced bee-mentor or local beekeeping association/club for some further guidance.
Ultimately, it is incredibly important to follow any rules and regulations set out by your state authorities regarding European honey bee pests and diseases, as it is a matter of national biosecurity and honey bee health.
“If we look after the bees, they will look after us, and the honey really is a sweet bonus” – Cedar