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Bee Diseases, Pests and Parasites Guide


Bees are living creatures and like all animals, they fall ill from time to time. When pests invade the hive, the risk of illness and possible death – which can lead to hive collapse – increases hugely. That’s why it’s essential to stop beehive pest invasions before they start, our bee diseases, pests and parasites guide is here to help.

The sheer number of pests that can infest a beehive is huge, and knowing the telltale signs of infestation will give you a head-start when it comes to dealing with these serious threats to the health of your honey-producing colony.

To help beekeepers stay one step ahead of hive invaders, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to beekeeping pest control basics. Read on to learn about the major types of pests that target honeybee hives, the telltale signs that you’re dealing with an infestation, and what you can do to treat or limit the damage once pests have set their beady little eyes on your hives.

This bee diseases, pests and parasites guide covers:

  • The basics of beehive pests and invader management
  • The various types of pests, including the most common ones in South Africa
  • Beehive health strategies you should consider – and when to give up on treatment in favour of hive replacement

Don’t lose your entire hive to a preventable disease

When it comes to good health, prevention is always better than cure. Establishing a bee colony takes a huge amount of work, patience and dedication, and the last thing you want is to lose all of that effort to a pest infestation that could potentially destroy your entire colony.

Getting to know the major beehive pests may not sound like a pleasant way to spend the next few minutes. But it also means knowing your enemy and being in a strong position to wage war on insects, bacteria, and other lifeforms that cause disease and destruction in your beehives. Let’s take a look at who you’re up against.

Types of Bee Diseases & Pests

Bacterial Bee Diseases

American Foul-brood

American foul-brood « Bee Aware
American foulbrood « Bee Aware
American Foul-brood Symptoms

Even the strongest bee colony can fall prey to American Foul-brood (AFB). Quick action is needed to identify it and seek help from a treatment professional to avoid losing your entire bee population.

American Foul-brood is a disease that is caused by fast spreading bacteria. In case you’re curious, the nasty critter responsible for spreading it is called Paenibacillus. With a name like that, no wonder it causes so much damage.

Unlike many pests and illnesses that affect beehives, American Foul-brood can take down even the strongest colony, and doesn’t only affect the populations that have been weakened by low numbers, weather, or other pests.

An American Foul-brood infection usually affects younger bees in the developmental stages, which puts your larva and pupa at major risk. If the infection is allowed to spread, it will eventually start harming even fully grown bees.

The telltale sign of AFB infection is holes in your honeycomb caps that become greasy over time.

American Foul-brood Treatment

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse… unfortunately there’s no real cure for this condition.

If one of your hives has been infected with this unpleasant bacterium, the best approach is to destroy it and treat the surrounding area to prevent it from spreading to your other hives.

AFB - Symptoms

  • Holes in honeycomb caps that become greasy-looking over time.

AFB - Treatment

  • No cure.
  • Destroy hive to prevent spread to other hives.

AFB - Prevention

  • Regular hive inspections.
  • Clean tools between inspections.

Fungal Bee Diseases


Nosema Symptoms

If you notice slow honey production in your hive with bees that seem to not produce any royal jelly or start foraging at a young age, Nosema may be to blame.

Nosema disease (also known as Nosemosis) can affect your entire hive – and it’s caused by two parasites. Nosema apis has its origins in Europe unlike Nosema ceranae which is an Asian species.

Both of these are spore-forming fungi, classified as microsporidian parasites. Nosema apis is thought to be less damaging, but for most beekeepers, the difference between these two types of infections can’t easily be detected.

Basically, they’re like tiny mushrooms from hell that can do serious damage to your bees.

The symptoms of Nosema include:

  • Difficulty digesting food and producing royal jelly secretions.
  • Bees that skip the brood rearing stage of their life cycle.
  • Foraging at a young age.
  • A shorter than usual adult lifespan.
  • A queen that stops laying eggs.

Nosema is a lifelong disease that can reduce the lifespan and honey-producing capacity of every bee that it infects. As a result, if this condition starts spreading in your hive, you’ll see a reduction in honey production and a possible collapse of the hive if the queen becomes infected.

Nosema Treatment

There’s no specific treatment for Nosema and by the time it has spread sufficiently to reduce honey production and change the behavior of your bees it’s usually too late to take action.

Preventing Nosema is usually a matter of strengthening your bees health and immunity by keeping them well fed with nutritious nectar, cleaning your hive regularly, and performing basic maintenance and pest control to prevent your colony from being weakened by other infections.

Nosema - Symptoms

  • Bees skip brood rearing stage.
  • Forage at young age.
  • Short adult lifespan.
  • Queen stops laying eggs.

Nosema - Treatment

  • There is no specific treatment of cure for Nosema, only preventative measures.

Nosema - Prevention

  • Strengthen bees’ health & immunity
  • Clean hive regularly
  • Basic maintenance & pest control

Bee Viruses

Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) and Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV)

Photo by P. Kryger
Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) & Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV) Symptoms

Bees that are infected with Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) are usually hairless and black due to an immune response from the virus. Signs of infection are bees that are either isolated, motionless or shaking on the top bars of the hive. When smoke is applied to the colony the infected bees tend to not move down between the frames as healthy bees will do. Their abdomens could also be distended and their wings may appear to be in odd positions. They cannot fly and therefore can be seen crawling at the front of the beehive.

CBPV and ABPV are viral illnesses that can severely affect your bees’ ability to move and carry out the essential tasks required to keep the hive functioning and honey flowing.

These viruses affect the bees’ neurological system and can result in total paralysis. They have a quick onset of approximately five days after infection.

If you notice that a large number of your bees suddenly stop moving and eventually die, you may have been unfortunate enough to have bee paralysis virus spreading in your hive.

Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) & Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV) Treatment
  • Re-queen the colony
  • Supplemental feeding with pollen substitute or white can sugar
  • Give the bees more space by adding extra supers, this reduces crowding and thereby reduces the spread of the virus.
  • The shook swarm method – Simply put it means removing the old brood frames from an infected hive and ‘shaking’ the bees off the frames into a newly cleaned hive with frames with foundation.

CBPV - Symptoms

  • Hairless, black bodies
  • Dislocated wings
  • Isolated, motionless or shaking bees
  • Distended abdomens

CBPV - Treatment

  • Re-queen the colony
  • Supplemental feeding
  • Give the bees more space
  • The shook swarm method

CBPV - Prevention

  • Regular maintenance
  • Good hygiene
  • Avoid over-crowding in the hive

Bee Parasites

Amoeba Disease (Amoebiasis)

Amoeba Disease Symptoms

So far we’ve looked at conditions that affect the entire beehive through bacterial infection, but here’s one that infects bees just like a bad case of gastro infects humans.

Amoeba disease, also known as Amoebiasis, is caused by a tiny creature called Malpighamoeba mellificae, which is classified as a protozoan. You can think of this condition as an extreme case of diarrhea for bees, with some beekeepers comparing it to cholera. Some of the symptoms of this nasty condition include:

  • Swollen abdomens. If your bees look like they may be pregnant or developing a beer belly when viewed under a magnifying glass, this Amoeba disease could definitely be to blame.
  • Diarrhea. If you notice runny bee feces at the entrance of your hive where you would usually find their regular droppings, you may be dealing with a case of Amoebiasis.
  • Trembling bees that look “feverish”. If you see your bees shivering in the hive, unable to move and refusing to fly, amoeba disease may be spreading between them rapidly.

Amoeba disease is a relatively rare condition, but sometimes affects beehives across South Africa. It’s less likely to occur in the tropical parts of the country on the East Coast like KZN and the Wild Coast, but it’s definitely something beekeepers in the inland provinces should keep an eye out for.

Amoeba Disease Treatment

Strengthening the general immunity of your beehive to make the population resilient to disease is about all you can do to prevent a nasty case of Amoeba disease. Hive management and eliminating other pests that can lower your bees’ resistance to illness is also an essential step in keeping this condition away.

Amoeba Disease - Symptoms

  • Swollen abdomens
  • Diarrhea
  • Trembling/weak bees

Amoeba Disease - Treatment

  • No known treatment options
  • Good hive management to stop the spread

Amoeba Disease - Prevention

  • Strengthen general immunity
  • Good hive management
  • Eliminate other pests

Varroa Mites

Varroa Mites Symptoms

If you notice your bees looking small, weak and unwilling to fly – or if they seem to keep disappearing every time they leave the hive in search of pollen – you may be dealing with a Varroa infection.

Varroa mites are tiny parasites that live on bees and they’re almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Like many of the pests in our guide, these tiny terrors have big, scary names: Varroa destructor (the name says it all) and Varroa jacobsoni.

Considering how small bees are to begin with, checking them for Varroa is an extremely difficult process. It’s also not strictly necessary because most beekeepers will realise that something isn’t right in the hive when they notice the strange, lethargic behavior of the bees in their colony.

Varroa is a condition that can cause minimal damage in its early stages, especially if the bee colony is strong and healthy. However, it can build up over a number of years and result in generally weak bees with short lifespans, especially from the larval and pupal stages.

Like many of the other conditions and pests that affect beehives, there’s no specific medication for Varroa. Keeping your bee population healthy is the best defense against this destructive parasite.

Varroa Mites Treatment & Prevention

According to Mike Allsopp (SANBI) the Scutellata and Capensis bees in South Africa are generally relatively tolerant to varroa mites due to an absence of varroacide applications as well as a ‘live-and-let-live’ approach to South Africa’s managed and wild bee populations.

However if you are still concerned about your bees, try the icing sugar method. This entails sprinkling icing sugar over your bees – they subsequently starting cleaning themselves and each other thereby removing the varroa. This method works best in combination with a removable bottom screen board which will allow you to clear out the mites from the hive floor board after the bees have cleaned themselves.

It is also advised to check your brood frames to ensure you don’t have a large amount of drone brood in the combs. If there is a large amount of drone brood present, it is best to cut it out of the comb, due to the longer hatching time of drone brood which allows fertile varroa to hatch as it matches the varroa life cycle. (*Source: Sharon Lage @SBA Forum)

Varroa - Symptoms

  • Small looking colony of bees that appear weak and unwilling to fly

Varroa - Treatment

Varroa - Prevention

  • Brood break method
  • Stick to small cell size foundations
  • Split colonies

Tracheal Mites

Tracheal Mites Symptoms

Tracheal mites are an especially dangerous threat to your entire colony because they cause serious, breathing problems in your bees, resulting in low honey production and even death.

These microscopic creatures, known to scientists as Acarapis woodi, infect the lungs and breathing apparatus of bees – including the queen – and can cause sluggish movement, low activity, and a host of other problems. The mites feed on the bee’s blood and are almost impossible to eliminate without killing off your colony in the process.

Ultimately, your bees may die from a lack of oxygen or the hive may collapse due to inactivity.

Tracheal Mites Treatment

Oil extender patties is a treatment option that is being used in parts of the USA. The patties are made from 1 part vegetable oil and 3 parts granulated or powdered sugar. The bees get coated in oil when they eat the sugar and this in turn protects them from getting infested with mites. US beekeepers use these oil extender patties in early spring and in autumn.

Overseas countries have also had effective results in using organic chemical treatments that contain thymol gel or formic acid used to control Tracheal mites.

Tracheal Mites - Symptoms

  • Sluggish movement
  • Low activity & honey production
  • Death

Tracheal Mites - Treatment

  • Oil extender patties
  • Organic thymol gel or formic acid treatment

Tracheal Mites - Prevention

  • Good hive management
  • Good hygiene
  • Avoid over-crowding

Bee Pests

Small Hive Beetles

Small Hive Beetle Symptoms

When it comes to beehive pests, the small hive beetle should definitely have its face on a wanted poster. These tiny creatures usually infest beehives during the larval stage, and borrow their ways into honeycomb undetected. By the time the presence becomes obvious, the infestation is usually well underway.

The telltale signs of a small hive beetle infestation are slimy honeycomb which results from the beetle larvae eating and reproducing inside your hive. These little troublemakers burrow deep into the honeycomb, feasting on your brood, honey and pollen.

Small hive beetles love active hives because their primary need is nutritious food – and they’ll always end up eating and ruining yours. A SHB infestation can render your honey inedible and even result in hive collapse.

Small hive beetles aren’t just thieves – they can sabotage your hive completely. Some of the SHB larvae carry a type of yeast called Kodamaea ohmeri which can start a fermentation process in your honeycombs.

Eventually, the presence of small hive beetles produces the slimy appearance and bad smell that indicate an advanced infestation – and many hives collapse or are abandoned by their bees soon afterwards.

Small Hive Beetle Treatment & Prevention
  • Remove empty supers – A small hive beetle infestation is usually a sign of underlying issues such as a small or weak colony. Help them out by removing empty/unused supers, this will lessen the areas they need to patrol against pests
  • Reduce beehive entrance – If you haven’t done so already, reduce the entrance size of your beehives with an entrance guard, this will help your colony patrol the beehive’s entrance more effectively.
  • Move hives to full sunlight – Small Hive Beetles prefer cool and dark hiding spots, moving your hives to full sun will help deter beetles from moving into your hives. Don’t worry, your bees will regulate the temperature of the hives accordingly.
  • Add beetle traps – Bees will harass and attack any intruders, meaning the intruding beetles will seek refuge in dark hiding spots. That’s where the beetle traps come in.
  • Treat soil beneath hives – Hive beetles often lay eggs in the soil beneath your hives. Gently treat the soil with a low-toxicity pesticide so as not to harm your bees.

Hive Beetles - Symptoms

  • Small black beetles inside hive & larvae inside comb
  • Slimy honeycomb
  • Bad smell from fermented honey

Hive Beetles - Treatment

  • Squish beetles on immediate sight
  • Add beetle traps with bait
  • Treat soil beneath hives

Hive Beetles - Prevention

  • Remove empty supers on small colonies
  • Place hives in full sun
  • Treat soil beneath hives regularly

Keeping your hive safe and healthy

Almost all of the conditions caused by the pests outlined above are difficult to treat. In many cases you’ll be forced to start a new hive from scratch if the infestation is advanced.

One of the best ways to prevent pests from causing widespread disease in your hive is to ensure that your bees are in the best possible health and that the population numbers don’t drop during the winter. Here’s how.

  • Feeding your bees and giving them ample opportunities to collect nectar is essential to maintaining good health.
  • Ensure that your hive is well ventilated to provide healthy airflow will boost the good health of your bees.
  • Clean your hive on a regular basis and examine your brood for signs of disease.
  • Locate your beehives near trees and flowers so that your bees have easy access to nutritious diet of pollen.

You can also join our Beekeepers Support Group on Facebook to connect with local beekeepers where you can ask questions, seek advice, and share your beekeeping journey.

Need professional beekeeping pest control assistance? We’ve got you covered.

No matter how passionate you are about your bees, sometimes it’s best to leave the difficult aspects of beehive management to the pros.

A professional beehive management service like those you’ll find in our beekeeping services directory can help to keep your hives clean, well-maintained, and at just the right population level to boost the health of your bees and keep pests at bay.

If you’re in need of a start-to-finish beekeeping service – including urgent advice on pests and disease response – our approved beekeeping consultants are the best place to start.

Bhive is South Africa’s number one source for all your beekeeping equipment requirements. Check out our online shop today to discover the amazing world of beekeeping and find the hives, bees, equipment, and accessories to suit your needs.

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