Drone brood and mites give us a surprise

February 20, 2009 | By | Comments (10)


This week, following Randy Oliver’s advice from last week, we prepared to kill the brood in Veronica and treat once again with formic acid, understanding that if we didn’t take this drastic step the hive might be doomed to fail against the mites.
We first wanted to get a mite % of infestation to be sure the treatment was necessary (and we were curious). To get this, we gathered a sample of bees taken from a brood frame into alcohol, then counted the mites that fell after washing them and divided the mite count with the number of bees in the sample. A few must die for the good of the hive!
So, we opened up our Veronica hive on Wednesday to get the bee wash sample. There wasn’t any brood in the top box (they are still filling all ten frames with honey!) so we took the box off to get to the bottom box.  What a task that was!  There was so much drone and burr comb in between the two boxes that it was extremely difficult to get the two apart.  It took two of us lifting the estimated 80lb. box vertically while using the hive tool to break the propolis seal at the same time!

Dronecomb_and_mites_2What we found in the bottom box was a shock! We were not expecting drone brood (white larva in photo) this early in the year, but as you can see in the picture we have LOTS of drone comb and the mites are taking advantage.  (Click on photo to make larger– I count at least five mites in that picture.  How many do you count?)

We sampled about 125 bees from the brood frame into alcohol and only got five mites after washing, which would be a 4% infestation. However, I am not convinced this number is accurate. For the first time EVER, I saw several bees in the hive with mites on them, and the drone brood is covered in mites. We scraped off the ruined drone brood and burr comb from the top of the frames in the bottom box and put it in a plastic bag. Just in the bag I counted at least ten mites. And that’s just the number that didn’t jump off the brood and onto another bee while we were scraping!

In any case, we can see that Veronica is doing very well, despite the mites!  She has at least sixteen frames of bees in her two boxes, which according to Randy is strong enough to hold up against the mites.  Yay!
We returned to the hive yesterday to scrape off the remaining burr and drone comb. We also inserted the drone frame, now that we know how eager Veronica is to make drones!  We hope this will be enough to keep the mites under control, for now.

Our next concern?  Swarming season approaches!

By Kimberley Burch, Sunset imaging specialist


  1. Kerry Mackler

    great post, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You must proceed your writing. I am confident, you have a huge readers’ base already!

    July 28, 2016 at 9:21 am
  2. Kimberley

    Yikes! Sorry for your news, Tina! Sounds like our hive Veronica. We don’t have supers on, but it’s not really warm enough for Apiguard anyway. We are sugar dusting once a week and put in the drone trap last week. Good luck to both of us!

    February 23, 2009 at 6:49 pm
  3. Tina K – friend of Nugget

    ok, so one hive now has a 24 mite drop of 120!!!! (Others were about 10, 40, and 60.) Yikes. Of course, we have 2 honey supers on this hive (it’s pretty full) so putting on Apiguard is out unless we take off the honey, but then, what will they do with the stuff they bring in? I guess it will be powdered sugar and drone trapping ASAP.

    February 23, 2009 at 6:25 pm
  4. Kimberley

    Thanks for the encouragement and support, Chipster! I am so glad to hear we have helped bring honey into your life. Are you enjoying it on toast? That is my favorite way to get the full flavor of the honey (except for straight off the spoon, of course!). 🙂
    Check out our blog post from last December for suggestions for a new beekeeper:
    And download our Honey Bee PDF from the “download our PDF how-to guides” link on the right of this page. For general information about honey bees, we like this link:
    I hope these links help satisfy your request! Thanks, again, Chipster!

    February 23, 2009 at 4:56 pm
  5. Chipster

    This saga has become spellbinding! As a serious sugar addict (coca-cola IS a breakfast food) you’ve even managed to get a jar of honey onto the shelves of my cupboard – as a show of support for all things bee.

    Any chance you could publish a list of beginners links or resources for “wanna-bees”?

    February 22, 2009 at 3:05 am
  6. Kimberley

    Thanks, Tina! Sounds like you aren’t having the problems we are, even in the higher mite hive since our 24-hr count was over 100! We haven’t seen drones since the fall so I can’t think of an explanation. But then, neither can Randy.
    To the “former” honey lover– I would hope this picture displaying the natural life-cycle of bees has not turned you off of honey! We are reminded that bees are insects and go through the larva and pupa stage just as any other. I assure you, honey is worth it!
    Thanks for reading!

    February 22, 2009 at 1:15 am
  7. former honey lover


    February 21, 2009 at 6:39 pm
  8. Tina K – friend of Nugget

    Last we checked, it was below 10 per colony, except for one colony. The one with the higher (30) mite count in a 24 hour drop was the one that we did NOT treat with apiguard in the fall, because they had very few mites. We recently gave them the apiguard treatment (in January, when it was warm) I will do another count this weekend and keep you posted. We have seen drones flying all winter long in the strong colonies. I understand that the colonies will keep drones around so long as they can support them. Maybe it was our mild winter this year.

    February 21, 2009 at 2:15 am
  9. Kimberley

    Interesting. We haven’t noticed any drones until just this past week, but haven’t pulled frames since early winter so I guess it’s possible they’ve been there the whole time. How is your mite count, Tina? Maybe drone brood is the reason our formic acid treatments haven’t been working as well as they should.
    Thanks for the comment!

    February 20, 2009 at 10:14 pm
  10. Tina K – friend of Nugget

    We have had some drone brood in most of our hives all winter long this year. Seems strange, but that’s what they all seem to be doing this year.

    February 20, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s