Identifying Common Bee Diseases: Prevention, Management, and Solutions

Beekeeping is an ancient practice that has evolved over the years to become a vital part of agriculture. Bees play a crucial role in pollinating plants, which in turn helps in the production of fruits, vegetables, and other crops. However, like any other living organism, bees are susceptible to various diseases that can adversely affect their health and productivity. Identifying these diseases early on is crucial for the survival of the bee colony and the overall health of the ecosystem.

Key Takeaways:

  • Early identification of bee diseases is crucial for the survival of the colony.
  • Common bee diseases include Varroa mite, tracheal mite, and foulbrood.
  • Regular monitoring and proper beekeeping practices can help in preventing these diseases.

Honey Bee Development

A healthy honey bee colony consists of three distinct types of individuals: the queen, worker, and drone. The queen is particularly vital as she is the only actively reproductive female and typically lays all the eggs. Recognizing healthy brood stages is essential. Healthy worker, queen, and drone larvae are pearly white with a shiny appearance. They curl in a “C” shape at the cell’s bottom and continue to grow during the larval period.

Honey Bee Parasites, Pests, and Predators

Varroa Mite (Varroa destructor)

The varroa mite is considered by many as the most severe malady of honey bees. This external parasite feeds on the fat bodies of adult bees, prepupae, and pupae. [Link to a relevant article from]

Honey Bee Tracheal Mite (Acarapis woodi)

Another mite that infests honey bees is the honey bee tracheal mite. This internal parasitic mite resides within the tracheae or breathing tubes inside the thorax of adult honey bees. The mites pierce the breathing tube walls and feed on the bees’ hemolymph or blood.

Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida)

Originating from Africa, the small hive beetle was first identified in Florida in 1998. The adult beetle is small, black or brown, and covered with fine hair. The larvae are small, cream-colored grubs without prolegs.

Bee Louse (Braula coeca)

Braula coeca, commonly known as the bee louse, is a wingless fly. These pests are generally harmless, with several adult flies living on a queen and usually only one found on a worker.

bees on flowers

Brood Diseases

American Foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae)

American foulbrood (AFB) is an infectious brood disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium. It affects queen, drone, and worker larvae. The disease occurs in two forms: vegetative and spores. The spore stage is unique to this bacteria type and can persist for over 70 years.

European Foulbrood (Melissococcus pluton)

European foulbrood (EFB) is a bacterial brood disease. It is less severe than AFB, and colonies can recover from infections. EFB does not form spores but often overwinters on combs.

Chalkbrood (Ascophaera apis)

Chalkbrood is a fungal brood disease caused by a spore-forming fungus. The spores germinate in the hind gut of the bee larva, but mycelial growth is arrested until the larva is sealed in its cell.

Adult Diseases


Bald, shaking honey bees relegated to the hive’s outer frames suffer from paralysis. Two different viruses, chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV) and acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV), have been isolated from paralytic bees.

Nosema (Nosema apis)

Nosema ceranae and N. apis are microsporidian parasites causing infections in honey bees. The primary infection route is oral-fecal when workers pick up spores from cleaning or ingesting contaminated food/water.

Bee Parasitic Mite Syndrome (BPMS)

Bee parasitic mite syndrome (BPMS) is a complex set of symptoms associated with varroa mites, viruses, or a combination of both. Brood combs of affected colonies show uncapped pupae, some with their heads chewed off, sunken, snot-like larvae, workers with deformed wings, and a high mite load. The adult population of bees is also generally small and dwindling. Proper management and early detection can help in controlling this syndrome. [Link to a relevant article from]

Deformed Wings

Adult bees with deformed wings are common in honey bee colonies with high infestation levels of varroa mites. These deformities are caused by the deformed wing virus (DWV), which is transmitted and activated by varroa mites. This condition, sometimes referred to as “string wing,” can severely affect the bee’s ability to fly and gather nectar.

Bee Predators


Skunks pose a significant threat in some locations as they hamper the development of strong colonies. Being insectivorous, skunks will raid bee yards nightly, scratch on hive entrances, and consume a large number of bees. Such attacks are most common in the spring but can also occur throughout the summer and fall.


Bears are a significant threat to beekeeping operations as they cause extensive damage to hives and equipment. They typically visit apiaries at night, smashing the hives to consume brood and honey. Once bears locate an apiary, they return repeatedly, making it challenging to control their behavior.

Tables with Relevant Facts

Varroa MiteFat body consumption, weakened beesChemical treatments, natural predators
Tracheal MiteBreathing difficulties, weakened beesEssential oils, resistant bee strains
American FoulbroodLarvae death, foul odorAntibiotics, burning infected hives
European FoulbroodTwisted larvae, sour smellImproved bee nutrition, antibiotics

External Links for Further Reading

Bee sitting on a flower

Lesser-Known Bee Diseases


Sacbrood is a viral disease that typically doesn’t result in severe losses. It’s most prevalent during the first half of the brood-rearing season. Adult bees detect and remove infected larvae swiftly. If sacbrood is widespread enough for beekeepers to observe the symptoms, the disease may be so severe that it reduces the adult worker population.


Two distinct viruses, chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV) and acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV), have been associated with bee paralysis. Affected bees are often found shaking and are relegated to the hive’s outer frames. Other suspected causes include pollen and nectar from specific plants, pollen deficiencies during early spring brood rearing, and the consumption of fermented stored pollen.

Nosema Disease

Nosema disease is caused by the microsporidian parasites Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae. The primary infection route is oral-fecal, where workers pick up spores during cleaning or from ingesting contaminated food or water. While Nosema apis can exacerbate dysentery, Nosema ceranae doesn’t show overt symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How can I prevent bee diseases in my hive?

Regular hive inspections, maintaining hive cleanliness, and ensuring proper ventilation can help in preventing many bee diseases. Additionally, beekeepers should be cautious when introducing new bees or equipment into their apiary to avoid cross-contamination.

2. Are there natural remedies for bee diseases?

Yes, some natural remedies can help in managing bee diseases. For instance, essential oils like thyme and lemongrass can deter mites. However, it’s essential to consult with experienced beekeepers or professionals before applying any treatment.

3. How often should I inspect my hive for diseases?

During the active season, it’s advisable to inspect your hive every 7-10 days. This frequency allows beekeepers to spot potential issues early and take corrective measures.

4. Can bee diseases affect humans?

Most bee diseases are specific to bees and don’t pose a threat to humans. However, beekeepers should always use protective gear when handling bees and their hives to prevent bee stings or any allergic reactions.

5. What should I do if I suspect my hive is infected?

If you suspect an infection, it’s crucial to isolate the affected hive to prevent the spread of the disease. Consult with local beekeeping associations or experts for advice on treatment or management.


Understanding and identifying common bee diseases is paramount for any beekeeper. By staying informed and proactive, we can ensure the health and longevity of these vital pollinators, safeguarding both our ecosystems and agricultural endeavors. Regular inspections, informed interventions, and continuous learning are the keys to thriving bee colonies and a brighter future for beekeeping.


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