Varroa sampling device

For monitoring levels of

Varroa destructor mites using an alcohol wash or a powdered sugar shake

If you have honey bees, you have varroa mites.

If you don’t manage varroa, you can’t keep bees.


Varroa mites are a game changer for our western honey bees, Apis mellifera, which have no means of dealing with this brand new parasite. The original host, the eastern honey bee, Apis cerana, has been living with varroa for thousands of years and has evolved some defenses.

Varroa mites are parasites that feed on developing baby bees. Imagine a tick the size of a softball feeding on an infant. Varroa also vector several deadly honey bee viruses.

This varroa-virus complex, unless aggressively managed, will kill your colony in 1-2 years. Ironically, it’s the biggest strongest hives that are most at risk. Varroa levels peak in the late summer and the colony can crash in a few weeks. As your colony is collapsing, it’s robbed by nearby colonies and the varroa happily jump ship to infest those colonies. That’s just not fair, to your bees, to your neighbors’ bees, to the feral bees, and even to bumble bees, who can catch some of these viruses. The varroa-virus complex is also responsible for many winter die-offs with plenty of honey left. The sick bees just don’t live long enough. So it’s essential that you help your bees by controlling varroa.

Monitoring varroa levels is critical.

Treating for varroa mites is stressful for your bees no matter which method you use. You’re killing a bug on a bug. It’s much like chemotherapy for cancer. It’s a fine line between killing the cancer and killing the patient. So, don’t treat your bees for varroa unless it’s needed. Monitor your varroa levels.

The alcohol (winter windshield wiper fluid) wash is the fastest, easiest, and most accurate way to test. Second is the powdered sugar shake, if done properly. Sticky boards are notoriously inaccurate. Screned bottoms are useless. You can fork through drone brood to look for varroa, but this isn’t a quantitative method. It’s just a look-see. Do not even bother to look for varroa on the adult bees. By the time you see them, your hive is in serious trouble. By the time you see deformed wings, your hive is in serious trouble. Remember that about ¾ of the mites are in the capped brood feeding on the baby bees. The rest are well hidden on the adults.

Budgie for scale only.

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