Bee Health Survey & Tropilaelaps Mites

My hives and I recently took part in the USDA honey bee pests and diseases survey that is sampling migratory and non-migratory bee hives throughout the U.S.

Checking bees for the USDA bee health survey

Dr. Timothy Lawrence at Brookfield Farm

Dr. Timothy Lawrence, the Co-Director of the Honey Bee Health Program at Washington State University and County Director, Island County Extension at WSUbounced up our ¾ miles of dirt road to test 8 of my hives in the Brookfield Farm bee yard.

The study has two missions:  Both are aimed at assessment and trying to find the best way around our bee issues.

1) The primary purpose is to determine if there are new exotic pests and diseases in U.S. hives. In particular the USDA, and all beekeepers, are concerned that three imports may have arrived in the US:

a) Tropilaelaps clareae, an Asian, tropical or subtropical, mite, which make varroa mites look mild; more below

b) Apis mellifera capensis, the Cape Honeybee, a fascinatingly destructive parasitic bee whose workers can produce both males and female (diploid) eggs.  They live in and off of the invaded hive until it dies, then move on to a new hive.

c) Apis cerana, a honey bee now in northern Australia. Although it makes less honey than Apis mellifera, they can rapidly replace mellifera and will rob mellifera’s honey in the process.

2) The secondary objective is to get an overview of the health of U.S. bee colonies.  They’re taking a look at everything from American and European Foul Brood to Hive Beetles and Wax Moths to nosema.  A complete list and the methods being used are at the bottom of this blog.

Why Tropilaelaps clareae matters:  There are 2 Tropilaelaps, but for ease of typing, the one I refer to here is T. clareae.  This is where you should see a picture, but I can’t find one in the public domain – here are 2 links:

This is a truly nasty little mite.  It lives on brood, primarily drone brood, but the comparison to Varroa stops there.  Up to a dozen Tropilaelaps females can be in a cell.  Each female lays about 4 eggs on the brood.  These little killers take only one week to develop; faster than Varroa. The resulting adults live completely on brood, because they cannot bite through the body wall of adult bees.  The only time these mites hitch onto a bee is to ride to another hive.

Photos: I can’t find any in the public domain, so check out the photo at the bottom of this link:

The damage they do:

As the mites eat the bee larva they both kill and cause deformities.

Deformed wings, abdomens, and legs, or missing legs may be seen on bees limping around or in front of the hive.

How to spot them:

Open some drone cells, preferably when the drones’ eyes are in the pink stage, and look for them.  Tropilaelaps are about the same length as Varroa, but they are thinner.

They also run.  A mite scurrying across comb or top bars will be a Tropilaelaps.

What can be done:

A PDF from the Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs in the UK, found at BeeBase, reads: “Tropilaelaps is considered relatively straightforward to control using husbandry methods that simulate broodless periods.  The inability of Tropilaelaps to feed on adult bees, or to survive outside sealed brood for more than a few days, is a weakness in the mites’ life cycle, which can be exploited to control it. In areas where the mite is present, methods such as queen caging, the use of artificial swarms and comb trapping, to create breaks in the brood, should be effective to reduce numbers of mites.”

Here’s the link to the PDF:

Back to the USDA study:

How the USDA bee health study was done:

The study has three parts: Visual Inspection, Alcohol Samples, and Live Samples.

Visual Inspections are looking for: American Foul Brood; Black Shiny Bees; Chalkbrood; Deformed Wing Virus; European Foul Brood; Parasitic Mite Syndrome (PMS/Snotty Brood); Sac Brood; Small Hive Beetle Adults; Small Hive Beetle Larvae; Wax Moth Adults; and Wax Moth Larvae

Alcohol Bottled bees will be examined for Nosema; Tracheal Mites; Tropilaelaps; and Varroa Mites

The Live Bees will be frozen on arrival at the lab and checked by molecular analysis for: Apis ceranae;  Apis mellifera capensis;  African Honey Bees; Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV); Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV); Deformed Wing Virus (DWV); Iflaviruses (misc); Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV);  Kashmir Bee Virus (KBV); Slow Paralysis Virus; Nosema ceranae; and Nosema apis

In all, it is a very complete analysis.  I was really pleased to be able to be part of this much needed study, with the plus that I’ll get a “snapshot” of the health of my bee yard at Brookfield Farm, which hopefully reflects my other bee yards.

I certainly hope that Tropilaelaps has not arrived, but I figure if it’s not here yet, it will be soon.  Hopefully there are already projects underway that are breeding for Tropilaelaps resistance, but I could not find any such project in an admittedly quick search.

If you know of a breeding project working towards Tropilaelaps resistance in Apis mellifera any where in the world, please write and tell me.  I think we’d all like to know

That’s the news this week from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington – here are a few links to sites with information about Tropilaelaps clareae.


The USDA bee health survey:

PDFs about Tropilaelaps

Enter “Tropilaelaps” in “search” at

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