Check hives for varroa mite

You should check your honey bee hives for varroa mites to protect your hives, the honey bee industry and crops they pollinate.

There are 3 ways to check your hives for varroa mites.

  • Alcohol wash (recommended method)
  • Sugar shake
  • Drone uncapping

This method requires skill to ensure the queen bee is excluded as the process kills the bees sampled.

Materials

  • Shake jar with mesh (or drilled-hole) lid and solid lid—see how to make a shake jar
  • Filter (e.g. coffee filter, fine cloth or similar)
  • Small funnel to support filter paper or cloth
  • Alcohol: either pure methylated spirits (preferably clear) or more than 70% concentrated ethanol
  • Container for collecting used alcohol
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
Photo of equipment used to create an alcohol wash kit. Equipment includes shake jar, mesh and solid lids, alcohol, filter paper and jar, and magnifying glass.
Image: Alcohol wash kit—shake jar, mesh and solid lids, alcohol, filter paper and jar, and magnifying glass

Method

  1. Remove lid from jar.
  2. Place 1 cup (approximately 250mL) of bees collected from the middle 3 frames of the hive brood box (approximately 300 bees) from the hive into the jar. Do not put the queen bee in the shake jar.
  3. Half fill the shake jar with alcohol, place the solid lid on the jar, seal and shake vigorously for approximately 2 minutes.
  4. Wait approximately 2 minutes, then tumble the bees by rotating the jar for another 2 minutes.
  5. Place the filter paper or cloth into the funnel and place funnel into the container for collecting used alcohol (see image above).
  6. Remove solid lid from the shake jar and replace with the mesh lid.
  7. Carefully pour the alcohol through the filter paper or cloth back into the container for collecting used alcohol. The bees should remain in the jar, while any mites present will float in the alcohol and be poured onto the filter.
  8. Once the alcohol has passed through the filter, check the filter paper or cloth for the presence of mites. Use a magnifying glass if needed.
  9. If suspect mites are present, take a photo—see how to best photograph your sample.
  10. Carefully place any filter paper/cloths with suspect mites in a sealable plastic bag or other container, seal and keep in the freezer.
  11. Discard the dead bees from the shake jar away from the hive.
Image of a sample kit. Equipment includes sealable plastic bag and white cotton bud on red background.
Image: Sample in sealable plastic bag

Report your results

Use this form to report any checks you have made on your hives, even if you do not find any suspect mites.

We use this information to understand the number and health of beehives in Queensland. This helps us prepare in case varroa mite enters Queensland.

Report your results

For more information call us on 13 25 23 or send an email to info@daf.qld.gov.au.

Watch this video about how to do a sugar shake.

Materials

  • Shake jar, with mesh (or drilled hole) lid and solid lid—see how to make a shake jar
  • Bag of pure icing sugar
  • Small bucket (500mL–1 litre in size), preferably white or clear, half filled with clean water
  • Clean cotton buds
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
Photo of equipment used to create a sugar shake kit. Equipment includes shake jar, mesh and solid lids, strainer, small bucket, pure icing sugar and magnifying glass.
Image: Sugar shake kit—shake jar, mesh and solid lids, strainer, small bucket, pure icing sugar and magnifying glass

Method

  1. Half fill the small bucket with clean water. Leave aside.
  2. Place a heaped tablespoon of icing sugar into the shake jar.
  3. Add a cup (approximately 250mL) of bees collected from the middle 3 frames of the brood box (approximately 300 bees) into the jar with the sugar and seal the jar using the solid lid. Do not put the queen bee in the shake jar.
  4. Gently roll the jar in your hands for approximately 2 minutes, coating the bees in the sugar. Wait 2 minutes and then repeat.
  5. Once the bees are thoroughly coated in icing sugar, quickly remove the solid lid and replace with the mesh (or drilled-hole) lid. Turn the jar upside-down over the bucket of water and vigorously shake the sugar into the bucket of water.
  6. Any mites (if present) will be dislodged with the icing sugar into the bucket and will float on the surface of the water.
  7. Remove any suspect mites with a cotton bud for closer inspection. Use magnifying glass if needed.
  8. If suspect mites are present, take a photo—see how to best photograph your sample.
  9. Place any cotton buds with suspect mites into a clean plastic zip-lock bag or other container, seal and keep in the freezer (see image below).
  10. The bees in the shake jar can be released back into the hive.
Image of a sample kit. Equipment includes sealable plastic bag and white cotton bud on red background.
Image: Sample in sealable plastic bag

Report your results

Use this form to report any checks you have made on your hives, even if you do not find any suspect mites.

We use this information to understand the number and health of bee hives in Queensland. This helps us prepare in case varroa mite enters Queensland.

Report your results

For more information call us on 13 25 23 or send an email to info@daf.qld.gov.au.

Watch this video about drone uncapping.

It is recommended that beekeepers do a mite check with either alcohol wash or sugar shake, as well as drone uncapping if there is drone brood present.

Materials

  • Comb scratcher
  • Sheet of white paper or card (A4 or A3 is ideal)
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
Image of a comb scratcher used to identify varroa mite as part of the drone uncapping process.
Image: Comb scratcher

Method

  1. Drone uncapping should be performed on at least 3 brood frames from randomly selected hives in an apiary. Uncap about 100 drone brood cells per sample.
  2. Perform the uncapping by pushing the comb (fingers) of the scratcher through a patch of capped drone brood and pull a large patch of pupae out all at once (see image below), being careful to avoid the queen. This will kill the drone brood sampled.
  3. Examine each pupa for reddish-brown mites, which can be clearly seen against the white bodies of the drone pupae. Use a magnifying glass if needed.
  4. Mites are easier to see on younger pupae that have pink eyes, rather than those that have taken on adult colouration. However, pupae that are younger than the pink-eyed stage are often too soft and fall apart when the scratcher is pulled out.
  5. After removing the drone pupae, check the bottom of the drone brood cells for any mites that may not have been attached to the removed pupae. Use a magnifying glass if needed.
  6. The comb can be tapped over a piece of white paper or cardboard. Mites that do not come out with the pupae may fall onto the paper or card. Placing the paper or card into a tray can also be helpful.
  7. If suspect mites are present, take a photo—see how to best photograph your sample.
  8. Carefully place any filter paper/cloths with suspect mites in a sealable plastic bag or other container, seal and keep in the freezer.
Image of a sample kit. Equipment includes sealable plastic bag and white cotton bud on red background.
Image: Sample in sealable plastic bag

Report your results

Use this form to report any checks you have made on your hives, even if you do not find any suspect mites.

We use this information to understand the number and health of beehives in Queensland. This helps us prepare in case varroa mite enters Queensland.

Report your results

For more information call us on 13 25 23 or send an email to info@daf.qld.gov.au.

How to make a shake jar

Follow these instructions to make a shake jar for the alcohol wash and sugar shake methods.

What you need:

  • A container with an opening at least 100mm in diameter and a height of at least 100mm (to ensure sampled bees can move freely enough to dislodge mites)
  • Two lids that fit the container—1 solid and 1 with a hole covered with mesh
  • Mesh holes should be approximately 3–4mm in size to exclude bees but allow mites to pass through
  • The mesh can be glued or fixed to the inside of the lid, as long as it cannot come loose during the procedure
  • An alternative to mesh is a solid lid with 3–4mm holes drilled into it.
Image of equipment used to make a shake jar. Equipment includes jar, solid and mesh lids and icing sugar in a plastic bag.
Image of equipment used to make a shake jar. Equipment includes jar, solid and mesh lids and icing sugar in a plastic bag