Diagnosis and Treatment of Apiary Diseases


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This paper covers the diagnosis and treatment of Apiary diseases and pests. There are two bacterial diseases (American foul brood, European foul brood), two viral diseases (Sac brood, Acute bee Paralysis), two fungal diseases (Nosema, Chalk brood), and two pests (Varroa mite, Tracheal mite) covered in this report.


Honeybees are an essential part of the pollination cycle of plants and trees. Over the last 20 years the numbers of honeybee colonies have been decreasing at an alarming rate; this decrease is primarily caused by uncontrolled bee diseases and pests. A secondary reason for the decrease is the low number of new beekeepers. The people working in the Beekeeping industry are aging, and younger people are not entering the industry because of the numerous diseases and pests that plague honeybees.

Beginning beekeepers have few resources to use in diagnosing and treating honeybee diseases. Most books are designed for the advanced or commercial beekeeper, heavy with technical jargon; that do not have the definitions of the used terms. It is very important that new beekeepers understand the terms that they will be using in their new endeavor. It is also important that the new beekeepers understand the types of diseases that can afflict their bees, as disease is the number one cause of bee deaths.

The problem described above can be solved by writing a beginners guide to the diagnosis and treatment of Apiary diseases. This guide will focus on terminology, as well as how to keep honeybees healthy. The guide will include the diseases and pests typically found in the Oregon region. The guide will be set up with a diagnosis section, which will cover how to tell what is ailing the bees as well as a treatment section that will cover how to make the bees healthy. There will also be a glossary of terms that will help the new beekeepers learn the terminology of beekeeping.

The report will include Apiary diseases and pests found in the Oregon region. The number of Apiary diseases found globally would not fit in the paper. The guide will cover two bacterial diseases (American Foul Brood, and European Foul Brood), two viral diseases (Sac Brood, and Acute Bee Paralysis), and two fungal diseases (Chalk Brood, and Nosema), as well as two Apiary pests (Veroa Mite, and Tracheal Mite) common to Oregon.


The primary research for this paper includes interviews with experts in the field of beekeeping. There are also questionnaires filled out by beginning beekeepers. In addition to the interviews and questionnaires, firsthand data gathered in personal research is used as primary research. The secondary research will include Articles from various circulars, such as Organic Gardening, Letters in Applied Biology, and Agriculture Research and website information.


Opening a bee hive can be dangerous and precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of bee stings. These precautions should include proper clothing and the use of a smoker.


The principal element of diagnosing a honey bee disease is observation. It cannot be stress enough how important it is too watch your hives. This will not only lead to a deeper understanding of bee behavior, but will allow you to see any changes in said behavior that is often the first indicator of disease. By observing what the bees are cleaning out of the hive, a beekeeper can get a good idea of what is going on in the hive.

Bacterial diseases

American Foul Brood

A recent survey of beekeepers in the Klamath Basin chose American Foul Brood (AFB) as the most serious disease to the honey bee population (Survey, November 1, 2010). The bacterium Paenibacillus larva is the cause of AFB. AFB is so serious because of its long life; it can remain active for more than 50 years (MAAREC-Mid-Atlantic-Apiculture, 2009). Jim Smith indicated in an interview that AFB is spread from one hive to another in a couple of distinct ways. It can be transferred by drifting bees. If the bee is infected with AFB it can contaminate the food supply of this new hive when it deposits its nectar in the honey cells. Bees are also notorious robbers and will take the honey stores from a weaker hives. In the process of robbing, bees will transfer contaminated honey to their own hive, infecting it (Smith, 2010). AFB can also be transferred via contaminated equipment such as hive tools, woodenware and the hands of the beekeeper. Larvae that have perished from AFB become a black scale that adheres to the cell floor. There can be a billion spores in just one scale. AFB can be triggered with as few as 35 spores (MAAREC-Mid-Atlantic-Apiculture, 2009)."

Figure Rope test

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diseases_of_the_honey_bee

Diagnosis starts with the examination of the brood frames. Healthy larvae are a shiny white, whereas the infected brood turns a brown color and turns into a gummy lump on the floor of the cell. The infected larvae die after their cells are capped. The brood frame will display a "pepper box symptom" as the disease progresses (harrar, 1994). The pepper box symptom is when the brood capping is perforated and sunken into the cell creating a distinct pattern. A healthy brood cell will be a tan color and conical, whereas the capping of an infected cell will be a yellow-brown color and have a concave, greasy appearance. There is typically a pile of sticky, dead larvae on the ground in front of an infected hive (personal observation, July 16, 2010). Tom Chester identifies one of the most definitive tests for AFB as the rope test. To perform this test, insert a stick into a cell that has a perforated cap, dip the tip of the stick with the dead larvae, and draw the stick out of the cell. If the contents of the cell come out looking like a melted cheese rope of two to three inches of length, AFB is present. Another sign of AFB is what is described as the smell of a chicken coup gone wrong (Chester, 2010).

European Foul Brood

European Foul Brood, also known as EFB, is another bacterial disease that affects the honeybee brood. In an interview with Don Peatree, the differences between AFB and EFB were enumerated. The two diseases have many similarities in presentation and overall effect on the bee population, but there are some significant differences that determine the underlying disease. The larvae with EFB will be an off-white color, progressing to a light brown. The larvae will be found in various positions in the cell, whereas larvae with AFB will be coiled on the bottom of the cell. The most significant difference in the presentation of the disease is the larvae with EFB die before the cell is capped, whereas the larvae with AFB die after capping (Peatree, 2010).

Figure Larvae infected with EFB (pepper box)

Source: www.extension.org

Figure Larvae infected with EFB

Source: www.extension.org

Viral Diseases

Sac Brood

Sac Brood is a viral infection that is likened to colds in humans. Beekeepers do not consider Sac Brood to be a serious threat; however a single infected larva has enough viruses to contaminate more than a million larvae (MAAREC-Mid-Altantic-Apiculture, 2009).

The symptoms of Sac Brood include perforated cells on the brood frame or cells that remain capped after the surrounding brood has emerged. Sick bees have black heads, which face up towards the top of the cell. The dead pre-pupa resemble a slipper inside the cell. Diseased pre-pupae fail to turn into pupae and turn from a shiny white color to pale yellow or light brown; eventually turning into a dark brown color. The skin is loose and flabby and the body is watery. The pre-pupa can be pulled out of the cell in what looks to be a water filled sac (C.M. Zettel Nalen, James D. Ellis, 2010).

Figure Picture of Sac Brood

Source: http://stevesullam.com

Acute Bee Paralysis

Chronic Bee Paralysis, also known as CBP, is another viral disease that plagues honeybee colonies. CBP only affects adult bees. The symptoms include the bee's inability to fly, and trembling of the wings and body (MAAREC-Mid-Altantic-Apiculture, 2009). Also, the infected bees' wings will be abnormal, looking as if they are disjointed. Bloating of the abdomen is usually the first observable symptom. The infected bees appear shiny and greasy due to the missing hair. Infected bees are ejected from the hive and die within a few days of contracting the disease (personal observation, July 26, 2010). Smith indicated that the disease is passed from bee to bee by extended contact or rubbing against infected bees which cause hairs to break of and expose live tissue. This will generally occur when the sick bees are removed from the hive by worker bees. The virus is not transmitted by food exchange between bees, as it takes several millions of virus particles to cause paralysis when given in food (Smith, 2010).

Figure bee infected with acute bee paralysis

Source: www.caes.uga.edu

Fungal Diseases


Nosema is the most prevalent disease of adult honeybees. Nosema Apis, a single celled parasite specific to the honeybee, causes it. To be infected, the spores of Nosema must be ingested by a bee. The spores develop in the midgut where they grow and reproduce. In a matter of 6 to 10 days, 100 spores are produced in the contaminated cell. The cell ruptures, releasing the new spores into the midgut to begin the course again (Mussen, 2002).

Jim Smith indicated the primary symptom of Nosema is dysentery. Healthy bees do not defecate in the hive, and bee frazz is usually a light green in color. Frazz in the hive, as pictured on left, or black frazz, as pictured on right, is a solid indicator that the bees are infected with Nosema (Smith, 2010).

Figure Picture of dysentery in hive. Figure Picture of hive with Nosema

Source: www.beeman.se/research/nosema: Source: www.homesteadingtoday.com

Chalk Brood

The fungus that causes Chalk Brood is called Ascophera Apis. In order for infection to occur the fungus spores must be eaten. Chalk Brood only infects larvae 3 to 4 days old. A white cotton-like substance covers the infected larva, which in due course fills the cell (Loyd E. Moeller, Paul H. Williams, 2009). The white mass hardens into a chalky mummy, which comes out of the cell with little effort. There will typically be dozens of these chalky mummies in front of the hive; worker bees drag the larvae out of the hive in an effort to clean it (personal observation, August 08, 2010).

Figure Side view of Chalk Brood

Source: www.cals.ncsu.edu


Varroa Mites

In 1987, Varroa mites were found in the United States. They are considered to be one of the most serious pests of the honeybee worldwide. Infested colonies will expire within 2 years unless the beekeeper takes the necessary actions to eradicate the mites (C.M. Zettel Nalen, James D. Ellis, 2010).

The Varroa mite is an external parasite of the drone and worker bees. Varroa mites can be observed on bees without the aid of a microscope, and have a similar appearance to ticks. The mated female mite will move into a brood cell and feed on the larval food supply or puncture the larval body and feed on its blood. The mated female mite will lay an egg every 36 hours on the side of the cell. The first egg will develop into a male as it is unfertilized. The rest of the eggs will grow to be females, they have been fertilized. The young mites feed on the developing pupa. The new female mites will then mate with the male and emerge from the cell with the bee. The female mites will then enter a brood cell and continue the cycle (C.M. Zettel Nalen, James D. Ellis, 2010). Mites are transported from hive to hive by attaching themselves to adult bees that may drift to other hives.

Don Peatree indicates that there are visible symptoms of the damage from the mites on newly emerged bees. The newly emerged bees will be small, have wrinkled wings, and reduced abdomens. Infected bees also have shortened life spans. The rapid decline of the colony, reduced adult bee numbers, spotty brood and a large number of dead bees on the bottom board are other symptoms of mite infestations (D. Peatree personal communication, October 19, 2010).

Figure Varroa mite Figure Varroa mite on pupa

Source: www.ca.uky.edu/entomology Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varroa

Tracheal Mite

Tracheal mites are a parasites that infest the tracheal system (air way) of adult bees. The mites eat the blood of honey bees by puncturing their trachea. The bees' breathing is impaired as the mites grow and bread within the bee. Eventually the bee dies from respiratory failure or blood loss. Tracheal mites are responsible for the death of thousands of honey bee colonies (Suszkiw, 2001).

Tom Chester indicated that bees infested with tracheal mites will leave the hive. They are unable to fly and will often be seen crawling in the grass in front of hive. Diagnosing this type of mite is difficult because the mites are inside the bee. The only definitive test is to carefully decapitate the bee; pulling the tracheal system out in one peace. The tracheal system is then placed on a microscope to see if it is infested. This test is usually performed in a laboratory, thus is not a viable indicator for the beginning beekeeper. The beekeeper can send a sample bee to the Oregon Agriculture extension for lab testing. The best method of diagnosis for the beginner is to rule out other diseases or pests that have more definitive symptoms. Once other causes for the dying bees have been eliminated the bees can be treated (Chester, 2010).

Figure Life cycle of a tracheal mite

Source: /images.search.yahoo.com/imageswa


Bacterial diseases

American Foul Brood

There are two antibiotics for controlling AFB. Oxy-tetracycline hydrochloride (sold as Terramycin®) is sold in packages containing TM 25 dust. The easiest way to blend Terramycin for bee treatment is to mix a 4:1 ratio of powdered sugar to Terramycin. The mixture is spread along the top bars of the brood frames holding the brood; two tablespoonfuls (200 mg active ingredient) are dispensed in each brood box. In the spring three treatments, ten days apart, are recommended. Try to make the last treatment of the hive six weeks before the beginning of a honey flow.

Tylosin (trade name: Tylan®), an antibiotic, is registered for management of AFB. Tylan is registered for the "therapeutic" treatments of AFB. The disease can only be treated after AFB is observed in the brood. Tylan knocks down the symptoms of the disease very quickly and is a very effective therapeutic agent; it also remains active in the hive longer than Terramycin. Sugar syrup is not a good method of delivery for this antibiotic. To prevent contamination of your honey crop, be sure to follow the instructions exactly (C.M. Zettel Nalen, James D. Ellis, 2010).

European Foul Brood

There is one antibiotic registered for controlling EFB. Oxy-tetracycline hydrochloride (sold as Terramycin®) is sold in packages containing TM 25 dust. The easiest way to blend Terramycin for bee treatment is to mix a 4:1 ratio of powdered sugar to Terramycin. The mixture is spread along the top bars of the brood frames holding the brood; two tablespoonfuls (200 mg active ingredient) are dispensed in each brood box. In the spring three treatments, ten days apart, are recommended. Try to make the last treatment of the hive six weeks before the beginning of a honey flow (C.M. Zettel Nalen, James D. Ellis, 2010).

Viral Diseases

Sac Brood

The colony can be helped to recover by replacing the queen; when 5-20% of the brood is infected. This may be achieved by either:

Self recovery; the colony produces a new queen on its own.

The old queen is taken from the hive, and a new queen is introduced.

Two colonies can be combined together when there is less than 5% of brood contaminated, sugar syrup should be given to help the colony to get better rapidly. Bee health is a product made with essential oils that helps the bees recover quickly (MAAREC-Mid-Altantic-Apiculture, 2009).

Acute Bee Paralysis

There are no chemotherapies for Chalk brood. Requeening may be beneficial.

Fungal Diseases


Fumagillin is used for both the prevention and treatment of Nosema in honey bees. The fungicide prevents parasite reproduction.  As with any treatment, care must be taken that the medicine does not enter the honey.  Generally 1 gram of active Fumagillin is enough for 5 - 6 colonies. Mix one teaspoon of Fumagillin with 1 gallon of sugar syrup; this is enough for one brood box full of bees. The medication should be administered for one month in order to free the bees from the disease (Smith, 2010).

Chalk Brood

There are no chemotherapies for Chalk brood. Requeening may be beneficial.


Varroa Mites

There are several methods of controlling Varroa mites. Chemical treatments and drone brood trapping are two treatments that work in the controlling of Varroa mites. These two methods work well together to ensure mite populations are in check.

Placing plastic strips infused with chemical pesticides between the frames of beehives is a traditional method for Varroa mite control. At the present time, there are five products approved by the EPA for use in bee hives. They are Apiguard, Apistan, APILIFE VAR, Mite-Away II, and Sucrocide (Loyd E. Moeller, Paul H. Williams, 2009). When used properly, these acaricides will provide sufficient control of Varroa mites. It is important to note that not all of the mites are killed by an application of any of these products. Look for mites next season, and be prepared to repeat the treatment again. In some cases, treatments are required twice a year. It is advisable to alternate treatment materials, in order to reduce the probability of Varroa mites developing resistance to chemical controls.

Another method of mite control is drone brood trapping. Mites prefer drone cells because drones have the longest "gestation period" of all the bee castes (they take the longest to mature). Drone frames have larger cells than typical brood frames and can be purchased from most bee supply stores. As the mite prefers drone cells they can be used to trap mites. The drone frame is placed in the brood box, the mites are attracted to the drone brood, and then to kill the mites and brood, the frames are put in a freezer for 3 days. The Cappings are removed to expose the larvae to birds for removal (Chester, 2010).

Tracheal Mite

Tracheal mites are controlled with menthol pellets. 2 oz. of menthol pellets is put in perforated packets and placed in each hive in the apiary. During warm weather (80oF) the packet should be placed on the bottom board and when maximum daily temperatures are cooler than 60oF outdoors the packet should be placed on the top bars. The menthol vaporizes as temperatures rise and its fumes fill the colony. The mites are killed as the bees breathe the vapors. Mite control with menthol is not as effective during cold winter weather (Suszkiw, 2001).


The need for the pollinating abilities of the honeybee is global. The need for new beekeepers is at an all-time high. It is essential that prospective beekeepers have the tools necessary to eradicate the numerous pests and diseases that plague the beekeeping industry. This paper will allow the writer to produce an easy to use diagnostic tool for the beginning beekeeper, thus alleviating the number one reason for people not becoming beekeepers.

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