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!