This is a hot topic in the beekeeping community, and no opinion is necessarily correct. Mites are currently the main killer of honeybees. They are parasitic bugs that weaken the bees, damage their wings, and kill them off relatively quickly.
The mites lay eggs on bee larvae, and the eggs usually hatch at about the same time as the new bee emerges. The mites remain attached to the bees and suck their blood out for food and sustenance. This affects them in the following ways:
- It weakens the bees and the larva
- The bees weigh less than normal
- Their lifespan is shortened
- They have less ability to navigate their way around and find their way home
- Bringing home less pollen and nectar means less food for their family
- They can be born with deformed wings, which results in the inability to fly
This was a drone bee climbing up a blade of grass. It would continuously climb up the blade over and over again. It could not fly because it was born with damaged wings from mites.
So, obviously the bees should be treated for mites, right? That is very debatable.
For many people, the idea of using chemicals to control the mite population is painful to think about. Honeybees have existed just fine for all of eternity until recently. Leave them alone.
Personally, I wanted to avoid using treatment. I lost about half of my hives because of that.
- The 1st year, I used no treatment. All of the hives died.
- The 2nd year, I treated 1 out of 2 hives as an experiment. The untreated hive died in early fall.
- The 3rd year, I was planning to wait until fall to treat the hives. One died by early September.
- Last year, we had so many swarms (new hives) we didn’t know when to do it. Our strongest, most honey-producing hive died in September.
What we are doing this year (so far):
On our 2 surviving hives (not our new Carniolans), we treated them with Mite-Away Quick-Strips which is made of Formic Acid. There are multiple methods of treating mites, and there is no certain one that we consider to be best. We chose this because the treatment could be done in 7 days before we put honey supers on the hives.
These photos show how much the bees do not like the strong scent of formic acid. They spent much of the first 24 hours bearding on the front of the hive to avoid it.
Hopefully, someday, honeybees will be able to build up a tolerance to survive the mites without human intervention. But until then, we plan to treat them as needed.
Interesting fact: Varroa mites really like the nurse bees.