Varroa Treatments Explained

Varroa Treatments Explained

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Treatments to combat varroa vary. This article will help get you started in your quest on selecting the best varroa treatments for your apiary and management practices.

Of all the facets of beekeeping, perhaps my favorite is the sheer variety of management options available to beekeepers. If one beekeeper enjoys big boxes, he can try deep hive bodies. If another prefers lighter loads, choose the medium boxes instead. Don’t like the looks or the functionality of the traditional Langstroth hive? Select a horizontal Langstroth, a top bar, or even a warre hive. Don’t like any of those? Still other options exist ready to be explored. 

Treatments to combat varroa are no different with options ranging from soft chemicals such as formic acid and hop guard to the so-called hard chemicals like amitraz and coumaphos. However, just as sorting through all the beehive configurations may be overwhelming at first, so can weeding through all the miticide options. Here’s a little primer to get you started in your quest on selecting the best miticide/s for your apiary and management practices. 

Know the miticide 

Each miticide functions at its optimal level when used within its own specific parameters. This means varroa reduction will be at its highest level when used according to label specifications. Go outside those parameters or disregard the warnings of resistance and you set yourself and your apiary up for losses from varroa. So, know what you need to know before making a selection. 

Temperature  

One of the key components to achieving maximum efficacy for many miticides is found in the temperature ranges that some varroa treatments require. For instance, Apistan requires temps greater than 50 degrees F to be effective while ApiLife Var requires a slightly different range of 65-85 degrees F according to label directions. Use Apistan when its 40 degrees F and risk uncontrolled varroa. Utilize ApiLife Var when it’s 100 degrees F outside and risk absconding and other issues. So, make certain to respect temperature guidelines. 

Timing 

Timing is also important when selecting varroa treatments. Most treatments, such as oxalic acid and Apiguard do not work as well when capped brood is present while formic acid does. Others may be used with honey supers on (during the nectar flow) while others may not. Some even warn to not use their product in queen rearing colonies. In addition, all miticides have a required length of time each treatment must remain within the hive, ranging anywhere from a few minutes to days and even weeks, making timing just as important to the success of your selected varroa treatment as does any required temperature range. 

Varroa-treatments
Adapted from Honey Bee Health Coalition’s Tools for Varroa Management

Resistance 

Perhaps the most commonly overlooked information when selecting varroa treatments is in the area of varroa resistance. Just as in the cattle, poultry and other livestock industries, bee pests such as varroa have also managed to adapt to many of our available varroa treatment options. For instance, Apistan, or fluvalinate, has seen widespread resistance making Apistan a less desirable option for those regions experiencing this resistance. So successful beekeepers in those areas will select either a different treatment option or may have a locally adapted combination of various treatments utilized throughout the year which work for their specific region that addresses this resistance. So be sure to regularly attend local bee meetings and visit with local beekeepers to discover what the successful beeks have found to be effective in your specific area. 

Tools and Safety 

Last, but certainly not least, when selecting varroa treatments it is important to know if the treatment requires special equipment such as foggers, wands, eye protection, chemical-resistant gloves and so on. Oxalic acid, for example, requires a special respirator, eye protection, chemical resistant gloves, a power source (for some delivery methods) and a heating tool while Apiguard and Hopguard have fewer extra requirements, so be sure to follow label directions and warnings before embarking on treatments to better protect yourself and those around you. 

Just as various breeds of bees — Russian, Italian, Carniolan, etc. — each have their own strengths and weaknesses, so do miticides. However, what is considered a strength to one beekeeper may be a non-issue for the next beek. Take the time to read through the labels, listen to experienced beekeepers in your region about what they use and why, and don’t be afraid to experiment a little with the options. Over time, you’ll develop your own successful varroa management program that you can share with other beekeepers down the road.  

Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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