The Most Common Honey Bee Diseases

Like all animals, honey bees often face viruses and other diseases that threaten their health and safety. Unfortunately, the close quarters and constant interaction of a honey bee hive means that diseases can spread quickly through the colony and cause serious damage. The trick to keeping your honey bees safe from such a fate is knowing the telltale signs and symptoms of these hazardous diseases. When you can quickly and accurately identify an issue, you can address it and set your hives back on the path to success. To help you keep your colonies thriving for years to come, here’s our guide on the most common honey bee diseases and other health issues.

American Foulbrood

This infectious brood disease is a result of the bacteria paenibacillus larvae. This bacteria forms spores that can contaminate a hive’s food supply. When honey bee larvae eat this food, the bacteria multiply within their stomach and quickly kill them. The bacteria then form more spores within the larvae’s cell. American foulbrood only affects young larvae. However, when adult bees come and clean out the dead larvae’s cell, they spread the spores of the bacteria further into their food supply, letting the problem grow.

European Foulbrood

European foulbrood is often less severe than American foulbrood, but it can still cause harm to your hives if left untreated. This disease works in a similar way to American foulbrood. The Melissococcus plutonius bacteria contaminates a hive’s food supply and infects young larvae who eat it, multiplying in their guts and eventually killing them. Unlike American foulbrood, European foulbrood doesn’t form spores. However, it can remain on spores, beekeeping equipment, and other infected surfaces for a long time, even withstanding winter and other harsh conditions. You can purchase test kits and other treatment options for both American and European foulbrood diseases.

Nosema

Nosema disease, also known as nosemosis, occurs when nosema apis, a spore-forming unicellular parasite, infects a hive’s food or water supply. Adult honey bees will then ingest these spores which germinate and multiply within the lining of the bees’ gut. A nosema infection can cause digestive issues throughout a honey bees’ life. It can also make a colony more susceptible to dysentery, especially in the winter when honey bees can’t leave the hive to eliminate waste. In these scenarios, the spore-infected waste remains in the hive, adding to the spread of the disease. You can use the antibiotic Fumidil to treat nosema disease in your hives.

Diseases from Pests and Parasites

Some of the most common honey bee diseases come from pests, parasites, and other creatures that invade the hive. The warmth, shelter, and free food source within a honey bee hive make it a prime target for such intruders. Honey bees work hard to keep their hives clean, deterring a lot of these pests. Unfortunately, these cleaning habits aren’t always enough to keep mites, beetles, and other critters at bay. Once pests or parasites enter the hive, they can spread quickly from bee to bee, weakening their immune systems and spreading disease throughout the colony. Here are a few of the most common diseases honey bees can get from pests and parasites.

Varroa Mites

Many beekeepers consider varroa mites to be one of the biggest threats their honey bees face. These tiny, circular mites affect both adult honey bees and their brood. A varroa mite will rest on the back of a honey bee and feed on its bodily fluids. Female mites will also sneak from a worker bee’s body into a brood cell. From there, they feed on the brood food, reproduce, and eventually infect the newly-hatched honey bee. During spring and summer when a hive is most productive, varroa mite populations can double every four weeks. This poses a serious threat for many reasons. Varroa mites weaken the honey bees’ immune systems, leaving them weaker and more susceptible to diseases. At the same time, these mites commonly carry many viruses—such as deformed wing virus or acute bee paralysis virus—and can infect a hive with them. Because varroa mites feed on the bees’ blood, they transmit these diseases directly into the bloodstream, making even mild diseases extremely dangerous.

Fortunately, there are a few tried and tested varroa mite treatments that can help you eliminate an infestation. You can also install a screened bottom board in your hive. When your worker bees groom themselves after a flight, any mites they dislodge will fall through the screen instead of staying inside the hive.

Small Hive Beetles

Small hive beetles are another common pest that your honey bees face. The adult beetles are black or brown and grow to be about a third of the size of a honey bee. However, it is the larvae that do the most damage to a hive. Hive beetle larvae feed on the honey and pollen within a hive, destroying a colony’s food supply. As they go, the larvae’s feces cause the remaining honey to ferment and froth, making it unsuitable for the honey bees. In severe cases, the destruction of food sources can cause a colony to completely abandon its hive. Some bee experts even theorize that small hive beetles are a possible factor in colony collapse disorder. You can use traps, beetle blasters, and other hive beetle treatments to protect your honey bees from a hive beetle infestation.

Honey Bee Tracheal Mite

Another parasite that can bring devastation to your colony is the honey bee tracheal mite. These mites live within the thorax of a honey bee, infesting the bee’s breathing tubes, or tracheae. Tracheal mites might also reside in the air sacs within a honey bee’s thorax, abdomen, or head. From their place within the honey bee, tracheal mites can puncture breathing tube walls to reach and feed on the bee’s blood. After feeding on a honey bee, female tracheal mites will transfer to a younger bee to lay their eggs. Tracheal mite infestations cause a honey bee to have breathing problems. Honey bees can also become vulnerable to pathogens on the tracheal surface. In addition, honey bees that are weak or sick because of these mites won’t be able to perform as well for the hive, leading to a less productive hive. Fortunately, there are tracheal mite treatments that can help you fight an infestation in your hives.

Mann Lake is here to help your hives stay healthy and successful. From the treatment options you need to your standard honey bee equipment, we’re your one-stop shop for all things honey bee.

How do you deal with these common diseases in your hives? Share your knowledge in the comments below!

Honey Bee Disease Infographic

8 thoughts on “The Most Common Honey Bee Diseases

Leave a Reply to Barry Cancel reply

  1. james raisis

    What are the signs and symptoms within the colony that can identify these various disease problems and parasite infections?

  2. Eileen Worthington

    Very informative especially to the new bee keeper!

  3. Douglas O. Penning

    Very good Article, very informative…
    I’m not a Doctor or a trained veterinarian or bug chaser, just a long time beekeeper. One of the most common diseases I have seen is DFWV (Deformed Wing Virus) which usually follows on the heals of a varroa mite infestation. I have regular scheduled inspections of the hive to watch for anything unusual. Most commonly I see DFWV in hives when I’m asked to take a look when the owner thinks he has a problem: which is usually because of poor number of bees or bees walking around on the ground. The best cure for this (IMHO) is usually Formic Acid. Once in the spring and again in the early fall just before putting the girls up for the winter.
    Doug Penning
    Altay Republic, Russia

  4. jong bang

    need the method how to prevent and how to treat. Thanks.

  5. Jose bedolla

    What’s a good medicine for foulbrood and when do you put it on the beehives

  6. Barry

    You didn’t mention wax moths. Although they may not attack the bees directly, their larvae eat the wax honeycomb structures built by the bees, thereby weakening the hive. A serious wax moth infestation can completely destroy a hive. I’ve seen it first hand.

  7. Kathy Burns

    I am somewhat familiar with the diseases listed in your post, What causes sudden hive collapse? The NEI Beekeeping Association reported a couple of years ago that GMO crops were the culprit but I have not seen anything about it since. I have lost several healthy hives over the past six years… healthy and thriving and two weeks later, dead. Each time, there was GMO corn planted on the neighboring property. Coincidence or other possible causes? Without knowing what to look for, I am reluctant to replace the bees (again).

  8. Walter S Ferguson III

    I am a beginner beekeeper and information like this is extremely valuable. Please keep it coming