Ghost Bees

The Varroa mite has been proven as an efficient vector of viruses making honey bees vulnerable to many diseases.  Keeping Varroa mites at low levels in colonies is key to keeping the entire colony healthy.  There is a relatively simple and non-invasive way to perform a quick test for mites known as a sugar roll. The roll provides a rough estimate for mites.  This past week at the USDA Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD, Jennie Stitzinger, Rachel Bozarth, Andy Ulsamer and myself performed this easy test.

The supplies needed were nothing complex. They consisted of some powdered sugar, a pan, water, Mason jar with a screen, and a 1/4 cup measuring cup.

We added enough powdered sugar to the Mason jar so that it came up about an inch from the bottom.  Water was poured into the pan just enough to cover the bottom.  Next, we removed a brood frame from one of our colonies and with the measuring cup, scooped up the bees and placed them into the jar.  The bees were gently swirled around to ensure a full even coating of powder. The bees quickly become white, taking on the appearance of a ghost. The jar was turned and shaken over the pan. The mites present fell through the screen and in to the water.  Once the powdered sugar makes contact with the water, it dissolves, making the dark mites easy to count and record.  This process is quick, inexpensive and does not hurt the bees.

The bees, unharmed in the process, were returned to the hive covered in a tasty sugar treat for them to enjoy!

 

 

Written By: Heather Eversole

Heather Eversole has written 22 post in this blog.

As a Faculty Research Assistant, I am a part of the Bee Diagnostic team located at the University of Maryland, College Park. I process samples for the Bee Informed Partnership and APHIS National Honey Bee Survey, primarily seeking out the parasitic mite, Varroa. I wear many hats including generating reports, managing lab functions as well as assisting undergraduates with honey bee related projects. Prior to my honey bee research interests I took part in submerged aquatic vegetation research projects located on the Chesapeake Bay as well as field work involving mangroves in Belize and Florida. You might say I was “stung” by honey bees and now I am hooked. I have my bachelor’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Maryland and always eager to expand my entomology knowledge.

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  • Glenn

    You should have carried your test one step further, results and remedies. At what number of mite drop should one be concerned or treatment required? Treatment/s suggested, any chemical free treatment to control the varroa?

  • Paul

    Thank you for this article Heather. Is there any comparative data showing roughly what percentage of varroa mite you get by sampling with the powdered sugar shake v’s an alcohol ‘kill’ shake? Can the powdered sugar shake be used as a reliable and consistent varroa count?
    Thanks, Paul.

    • The Bee Informed Team

      The alcohol wash is the best wash you can do for varroa mites…it gets 100% of the mites; however the powdered sugar roll test was developed (see link for article: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2174&context=extensionhist) as a completely harmless (no bees are killed and can be returned to the hive) way of assessing varroa mite levels. From the link, Marion Ellis was able to get 90% of the mites out of the sample. If you consistently sample from the brood area (where the mites are highest) and consistently do a sugar roll, you can then approximate that you are sampling 90% of the mites and can adjust mathematically what you would have gotten from an alcohol wash.

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