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How to Tell If My Hive was Killed by Varroa Mites

By: Blake Shook

It’s always disappointing to lose a hive. However, all beekeepers lose hives, and often many hives. Understanding why they died and how you can prevent it next time is one of the most important elements of learning to become a better beekeeper! Varroa mites are one of the, if not the most common causes of death for a hive. While it is difficult to diagnose the cause of death with complete accuracy, here are some telltale signs Varroa mites may have been the culprit:

  •  You never treated or intervened in any way to control Varroa mites. If this is the case, regardless of the breed or promises from wherever you purchased bees, typically the hive was killed from mites. The vast majority of hives simply cannot survive long term without some intervention to control Varroa mites.
  • Your hive died yet was never Queenless or without ample food. Queen-lessness and      starvation are common causes for a hive to dwindle and die. However, if your hive was never Queenless, or lacked sufficient food, yet still    dwindled and died, Varroa mites are often to blame.
  • You did treat yet did not test post treatment to ensure the treatment worked. Treatments,      chemical or natural, don’t always work. If your hive dwindled and died, while having a laying queen and plenty of feed, despite a mite treatment, it doesn’t mean it still wasn’t mites. Even if the treatment did work, a month or two later, Varroa levels can spike again. I’ve treated hives to the point where they had almost no Varroa mites at all and checked back 2 months later only to find they had deadly high Varroa mite levels.
  • You treated, tested, it worked, your hive never went Queenless and always had plenty of food, yet they still dwindled and died. This is one of the most frustrating things which can happen in all of beekeeping! I’ve had it happen many times, from a few hives in my backyard, to hundreds of hives commercially. There are many things we still don’t know about bees, and why they at times dwindle and die, with no apparent problems, is still a mystery. One final hidden Varroa induced culprit can be the viruses they spread. If your mite levels got dangerously high (more than 7 mites per 100 bees) they could have spread deadly viruses to your bees. Those viruses can live up to 6 months after the Varroa mites were killed. This can be a hidden cause of death months later, even if your mite levels were brought under control. That’s why prompt testing and control of Varroa
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