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Why 2020 mites were harder to control (To treat or not to treat is the wrong question)

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

Why 2020 mites were harder to control than other years: To treat or not to treat is the wrong question…

By Mike Immer,

Get comfortable. This post turned into a little more of a meandering ‘story like’ article…but I got tired of re-reading it to try and consolidate it…so people who enjoy reading…enjoy. Those that don’t will get the idea pretty quickly. 

The correct question is: To test or not to test? And the answer will MOST frequently be…TEST!

Why? Understanding the condition of your bees is critical to avoid over treating as much as it is critical to avoid under treating.

If you treat prophylactically (as a hobbyist) on certain dates, at certain times of the year, using whatever method is frequently used, you could end up with a big miss when something like…I don’t know…THE WEATHER changes!

New, and intermediate beekeepers usually lack the experience to determine through other means that treatment is necessary. This means you/they COULD be contributing to the development of pests and diseases that are resistant to common (and least expensive) forms of treatment.

Testing can help you be sure you are not unnecessarily exposing healthy, low pest/disease load colonies to unnecessary levels of chemicals (and/or stress). And it can save you MONEY in an admittedly expensive hobby/business.

Testing can also help you avoid issues nearly EVERYONE in your area (and mine - Kansas City region) had this year with late increases in mite levels which is resulting in heavier than normal winter losses.

How? As your testing may determine a low mite level, and therefore no need for certain types of treatment, so too might testing show an “above expected” mite level, late in the season…you know…after fall treatments are “typically” done.

You might recall that summer lasted into fall, and fall lasted into winter in 2020. (And why wouldn’t it in such a crazy year, right?  ).

Therefore, the brood cycle wasn’t disrupted as early, despite shorter days. Meaning? Some types of treatments were ineffective, or needed additional treatment cycles to be effective.

Another way to say it? Temperatures were higher, later into the year, meaning brood (where mites grow) continued being produced AFTER most scheduled treatments. Or there was capped brood DURING most fall treatments…meaning?

MOST methods of mite treatment are ineffective under capped brood, and likely ended prior to brood cycle winding down, or were not repeated based on weather and mite counts… as they SHOULD HAVE.

Why do you say should have? How do you determine this? Weather and population…

For example, we were seeing higher than normal populations into the late fall and were able to determine mite counts were higher and treatmets were less effective than they had been in previous years. Treatments should have been continued or considered as late as October/November…some might argue into December. 

But wait, we are beekeepers right? Won’t we argue about anything anyway? LOL

So, the long and the short of it, in my humble opinion, is that we need to be spot checking our apiaries (if larger yards) or our hives (for smaller/hobbyists) more thoroughly, and more often, so long as their population and other conditions warrant it.

To make a short story longer, I’ll offer some more thoughts, insights, and examples.

An already weak hive, with low population, exhibiting signs or symptoms or other issues (*such as SHB, wax moths, ABPV, BQCV, CBPV, DWVA, DWVB, IAPV, LSV, Trypanosomes, Nosema apis/ceranae) should be treated accordingly, without necessarily euthanizing a few hundred bees.

*If the preceding “alphabet soup” of diseases and pests doesn’t mean anything to you, please work with a more experienced beekeeper that can offer suggestions on an appropriate course of action and even assist you in getting bees tested in a lab.

…ok, OK! Here’s what all of those abbreviations stand for according to the results and abbreviations used the last time I sent bees to a lab:

SHB = Small Hive Beetles – a pest that normally only appears and ‘slimes’ weakened hives

WM = Wax Moths – a pest that normally only appears and webs/cocoons in weekened hives

ABPV = Acute Bee Paralysis Virus

BQCV = Black Queen Cell Virus

CBPV = Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus

DWVA = Deformed Wing Virus Strain A

DWVB = Deformed Wing Virus Strain B

IAPV = Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus

LSV = Lake Sinai Virus

Tuniv = Trypanosomes

Nuniv = Nosema both apis and ceranae