- FAQ -

Pests and diseases

  1. Varroa

    The first honey bee colony losses attributed to Varroa mite were reported in the Far East during the 1960s; the mites have since spread to most areas of the world where honey bees are kept. The destructive power of Varroa is evident from the reported losses of millions of colonies throughout Europe. The mite reached England in 1992 where the first re­ported sighting was in Devon but it has since spread through the whole of the British Isles.

    Effects on individual bees

    Single bees infested by Varroa during their development usually survive but suffer a degree of damage depending on how many mites have infested them.

    Effects on the colony.

    The damage done by the mite depends upon the level of infestation. If the infestation is light then damage will go un- noticed by the beekeeper but as infestation levels increase, deformed bees will be observed. The colony can go from an apparently healthy one bringing in good crops of honey to complete collapse in a matter of weeks because as the adult bees come to the end of their normal lifespan they are not replaced by healthy youngsters. The debilitat­ing effect of Varroa also encourages bee diseases which hasten the colonies demise. Since Varroa cannot be eradicated every beekeeper must practice effective mite control.


  2. American foul brood (AFB)

    This is caused by the spore forming bacteria Bacillus larvae. If a larva ingests AFB spores then the spores germinate inside the larva and it dies of septicaemia but only after it’s cell is sealed. The whole larval form disintegrates, melts down and becomes a sticky mass eventually drying to a hard scale in the bottom of the cell. It is important to note that the larvae appear to be perfectly healthy prior to the sealing of the cell. If this disease is found D.E.F.R.A. must be informed and under their guidance the colony will be destroyed.

    The signs of the disease are:­

    1. The brood combs have a pepper pot appearance i.e. with empty cells in the middle of sealed brood.

    2. After the larva dies the cell capping forms a domed shape.

    3. As the larva disintegrates the cappings sink, becoming concave.

    4. Holes appear in the cappings.

    5. A matchstick pushed through a sunken capping and twisted will cause a 2- 3cm string when removed.

    6. If the larva has dried out an angled scale will be seen in the bottom of the cell.

  3. European foul brood (EFB)

    European foul brood is caused by the bacterium called Melissococcus plutonius. The bacteria multiply in the mid-gut of an infected larva, competing with the larva for its food. They remain in the gut and do not invade the larval tissue; larvae that die from the disease do so because they have been starved of food. This normally occurs shortly before their cells are due to be sealed. Subsequently other species of bacteria may multiply in the remains of dead larvae as ‘secondary invaders’, such as Paenibacillus alvei, Enterococcus faecalis, Brevibacillus laterosporus, and Lactobacillus eurydice.

    EFB is a notifiable disease under the Bee Diseases and Pests Control Order (for England and Wales) and is subject to official control by the examination of colonies for signs of disease and compulsory treatment or destruction of diseased colonies. Weak colonies and colonies with a high proportion of diseased brood are destroyed, as with American foul brood, but lightly diseased colonies may be treated with an antibiotic.

    Treatment must be carried out only by an Appointed Officer under the Order, using drugs officially dispensed following confirmation of European foul brood in a disease sample submitted for diagnosis at an approved laboratory or by LFD. Treatment is prescribed by the designated Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).

    Control of the disease by a husbandry method known as the “shook swarm” has also been shown to be effective and is an option available to beekeepers

  4. Shook swarm

    In trials to control European Foul Brood in honeybee colonies, it has been shown to be beneficial to shake bees onto new foundation and then destroying the old combs. Trials indicate that it may also be beneficial in controlling Nosema spp., chalk brood and varroa mite populations. Colonies treated in this way often become the strongest and most productive in an apiary. Some beekeepers are now using this system to replace all the old brood combs in a beehive within a single procedure. This sheet explains how it is done. DEFRA link

  5. IPM for varroa

    This sheet gives an Integrated Pest Management programme to control varroa, based on methods used in Central Europe. It should be reinforced with regular mite level monitoring but will generally be effective. DEFRA link

  6. Nosema

    Two Nosema species have been identified in honey bees in England and Wales, Nosema apis and more recently the Asian species Nosema ceranae. Both are highly specialised parasitic Microsporidian fungal pathogens. Nosema spp. invade the digestive cells lining the mid-gut of the bee, there they multiply rapidly and within a few days the cells are packed with spores, the resting stage of the parasite. When the host cell ruptures, it sheds the spores into the gut where they accumulate in masses, to be later excreted by the bees. If spores from the excreta are picked up and swallowed by another bee, they can germinate and once more become active, starting another round of infection and multiplication. DEFRA link

  7. Viruses

    Viruses can attack at different developing stages and castes of honey bees, including eggs, larvae, pupae, adult worker bees, adult drones, and queens. Although bee viruses usually persist as inapparent infections and cause no overt signs of disease, they can dramatically affect honey bee health and shorten the lives of infected bees under certain conditions. For example significant infestations of colonies with the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) and its association with Deformed wing virus (DWV) can seriously harm the health and productivity of honey bees. Of the 18 or so viruses identified as infecting honey bees, six viruses, namely, Deformed wing virus (DWV), Black queen cell virus (BQCV), Sacbrood virus (SBV), Kashmir bee virus (KBV), Acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV), and Chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV) are the most commonly recorded around the world (not necessarily the UK). Note that for the UK, KBV incidence is very low and Israeli Acute Paralysis virus (IAPV) has not been detected despite the completion of very large scale apiary surveys. DEFRA link

  8. Amoeba

    The causative agent of this infection is the organism Malpighamoeba mellificae. There are no outward symptoms of the infection and a positive diagnosis of M. mellificae can only be made by microscopic examination to identify the amoebic cysts. It has been suggested that infections of M. mellificae are associated with spring dwindling, dysentery and shortening the lifespan of infected bees. However, there is no evidence to support this and the effect of an infection is not clearly known. M. mellificae infections are very often found in association with nosemosis and it is likely that a dual infection will be more damaging to the health of the honey bee. DEFRA link

  9. blank


  10. Wax moth

    In the UK there are two species of moth which routinely lay their eggs in bee hives and cause damage; the Greater Wax Moth - Galleria mellonella and the Lesser Wax Moth Achroia grisella. Both species can be significant pest of both hives and of stored frames, however, the greater wax moth is usually more of a problem.


    The larvae of both species feed on the wax of combs, they cannot survive on pure wax alone (those fed on pure bees wax have been shown to stop developing). They also rely on other impurities within the wax - particularly cocoons in old brood combs. The larvae will burrow through the comb, leaving silk trails behind them and may also be seen moving just below the cappings of brood. In extreme cases the whole of the comb will be destroyed, leaving a matted mass of silk, frass and other debris. The wax moth if left unchecked can be particularly damaging in dead colonies or in the apiary store. The greater wax moth can also cause significant damage to wooden hive-parts they may chew out small hollows in which to pupate. DEFRA link

  11. Small hive beetle (SHB)

    The Small hive beetle (SHB), Aethina tumida, is an invasive species originating from Africa which has proved to be a serious pest of honeybee hives in the USA and Australia. The SHB has been made notifiable within the European Community (Commission Decision 2003/881/EC) DEFRA link

Back to top

General information

  1. When is the best time of the year to get my bees?

    You will need to order the bees the year before you want them, as they are often in great demand.  Talk to Kate Malenczuk as she keeps the list of people who want bees.  Generally the association will raise several nuclei during the spring/summer for new beekeepers.

    Late Spring is the best time to get your bees. The colony/nucleus that you get will be strong in number as the supply of pollen will be good, you will be able to get used to manipulating and controlling your hive of bees before the quieter months of October when the colder weather sets in and you need to start feeding the bees for the onset of winter. This way you will get used to your bees and they will get used to you.

  2. How much do Bees cost?

    A five frame nucleus from a bee farmer will cost around £150 - £200. A friendly beekeeper may sell a nucleus for up to £100. A swarm is free but may bring in disease or be from a swarmy stock.

    A National hive, floor, 2 supers, roof and frames with foundation will cost between £200 - £300.  It is recommended to have 2 hives for swarm control.  Not a problem in your first year - we hope!!

  3. Do I have to register with Bee Base?

    It is not a legal requirement, but a very sensible idea, as this is an invaluable source of up to date information. Beebase link

  4. When is the best time of year to start on a Beekeeping Course?

    Many clubs & individuals run courses for Beginners throughout the year. The most ideal time to start would be late Autumn to Winter, whereupon you may then be able to order your bees for the coming spring. Details of courses and tuition for beginners can be found on the links page & diary pages on this website.

  5. Will I be stung?

    Yes. Suits are not sting proof and it is an occupational hazard, which does get easier, but with gentle handling, good training and slow movement, this can be minimised.

    Also, bees are not very keen on strong smells i.e. scent, after shave or alcohol.

  6. Where can I get beekeeping equipment and beekeeping supplies in this area?

    add details of John Belcher here

  7. I'd like to try beekeeping - what do I have to do?

    Contact one of the committee at any of the winter meetings or use the Contact us page.

  8. How easy is it to keep bees?

    Bees don't take too much looking after. You don't have to clean them out, take them for walks or feed them every day. One or two hives can take around an hour of work a week between April and October. Hives need looking at every 7 to 8 days during the Summer, making it an ideal weekend interest. Beekeeping can be learnt over time by understanding the bees requirements.  You don't need technical or scientific knowledge.

  9. Do I need a big garden?

    Bees will fly up to 3 miles to reach flowers, so if you live in the town they will fly over your neighbours gardens and into the surrounding area. What is important is not necessarily a big garden but you do need to have high fences or hedges around your beehives. Bees will fly up over the fences and stay high until they reach the flowers. This will keep them above head height and away from neighbours. You don't want to spoil your neighbours enjoyment of their garden and area, so don't site your hives near patios, favourite sunbathing spots, children's playgrounds or anywhere that people will congregate. Always get advice about siting hives before you get bees.

  10. How much honey could I get?

    A hive at the bottom of your garden could produce 30 to 90 lbs of honey a year. This depends on the weather, the amount of flowers in the area and how you look after your bees. If you move hives around to where the flowers are (called migratory beekeeping) then you can increase your crop of honey.

  11. Why do bees swarm?

    Honeybee colonies swarm as a means of reproduction. Swarms usually appear in May or June. They happen when hives get full of bees, the weather is fine and there is a good supply of honey coming in. The bees decide that they want to swarm, make a new queen and then the old queen with around half of the flying bees leaves the hive. This is a swarm which will fly around the immediate vicinity before temporarily settling in a clump nearby. 'Scout' bees will then leave the swarm and search for a permanent place to live. Once they have found a good location the swarm will fly off to settle in their new home. Finding ways of controlling the swarming urge is ones of the main things a beekeeper has to do in the spring and early summer

Back to top