The Varroa Mite is currently one of the biggest contributors to hive death over the winters. The mites weaken the hive by attaching to individual bees, and sucking hemolymph out of them. Similar to the way a tick can transfer West Nile Virus to a human, the mite infects the bees with various diseases and viruses.
The impact of a weakened hive is that they do not survive the harsh winter season. Typically, a “skeleton crew” of bees are left to keep the queen warm, and fed over the cold winter months. If these attendants become sick and die, nobody is left to care for the queen, and she dies too.
The mite problem is so bad, that every hive in North America is expected to die from Varroa Mites within 3 years. This means that if a beekeeper is not proactive and vigilant with their fight against Varroa, they will inevitably lose the hive.
One technique to fight against them to use chemicals that specifically target a bug, on another bug’s back. There is some crazy chemistry involved, and once a frame is treated, it is a permanent process, and the honey from that frame should never be consumed.
A less harsh method is to use “soft chemicals” such as Thymol or Formic Acid. These softer chemicals leave little, to no residue on the comb and honey, making them usable for consumption.
A third technique, which we use a Bee Maven, is to use natural methods of treatment. This idea is based on the knowledge that the mites reproduce in the male, or drone cells of the comb. If you purposely create a break in the cycle of drone cells, then it can severely decrease the number of mites in the hive.
Regardless of the technique used in mite treatment, the most important step you can take as a beekeeper is to observe and document what’s going on in the hive. Knowing the right timing and frequency of treatment is critical to the survival of a hive.