According to the University of Florida, the varroa mite is the world’s most devastating pest of western honey bees.

The varroa mite is a reddish-brown ectoparasite which feeds on immature and adult honey bees. It sucks the hemolymph (circulatory system fluid) from the bee’s body causing death.

During the feeding process, the mites vector viral and bacterial pathogens which severely challenge the bee’s immune system. A significant varroa mite infestation can lead to the death of a honey bee colony, usually in late autumn through early spring.

Gordon Wardell says it is important to monitor colonies for mites. If significant populations are found, appropriate mite control measures should be taken.

Mite-control products are registered for use in honey bee colonies. The beekeeper decides which product is best suited for particular management practices and the specific time of the year.

Still, one popular varroa mite control product was in the process of reformulation and was unavailable for awhile.

“Varroa mites definitely played a role in the heavy bee mortality seen this last winter,” Wardell said. “In some cases, mites were out of control.”

The strongest bees Paramount rented this past spring were from southern states; the weakest were from the Midwest, Wardell says.  He concurs that the Midwest drought robbed bees of rich nectar and the pollen needed to prepare their bodies for winter.

“Bees are like bears; they need to build up fat in their bodies for the long winter,” Wardell said.

“This year we had Midwestern bees in California going into winter and the bees started to crash in December.”

“Poorly-fed bees do not live as long as well-fed bees.”

Hopefully, an easing of the Midwest drought this year will help beekeepers build stronger honey bee colonies for next year’s almond bloom.

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