a bee

bee diseases: yes, bees too can really get sick!

When I was little, I had a wonderful Siberian Husky, a super cuddlish and cute black&white brown-eyed one. His name was Ito. When he was approx. 14, unfortunately he died for a tumor. We generally ponder and remember what we hear more often about. What is daily closer to us. If we think of the veterinary, we think of calling him for the dog´s vaccination or for sterilizing the cat. Dogs and cats can get sick and here he is, the veterinary. Yeees, of course, there are not only dogs and cats, for example if someone has a farm, this person should call a vet for some checks to their cows, pigs, goats or horses,… but the bees? Nooo…I mean, bees need a vet? And how can you check them then? One by one? How can the vet check if they always fly around?

Despite the fact that they seem perfect, unbeatable, super efficient…almost super heroes!…bees too can get sick…actually they can really get sick!

Ops, never thought about it before…

Didn’t mean to be bad, didn´t want to discriminate any bee, absolutely no! it’s just that…dunno, never thought about it before! As simple as true. Didn’t ponder so far on the fact that bees too can get sick. On the fact that vet exists for them too. Actually there is a wide range of diseases that can affect bees. It’s important to think about it! Maybe you are thinking ‘I don’t have a apiary, i’m not a beekeeper, I don’t have to take care of this, neither have to be aware of this’. But it shouldn’t be this way. Sorry, I don’t want to sound exaggerate, really, but it’s a very important issue.

I explain to you why, wait…

Bee diseases? yep, despite beekeepers take care of them with much love...it can happen...
Granpa Heinz taking care of his hives with much love

At our home page as well, we point this out clearly “bees are for everyone, but not anyone can take care of them!”. This means that, first of all, if you decide to start a beekeeping path, you have to be sure that you really want this. Because bees are not only “Let’s help biodiversity”, “mmm honey is so good!”, they are much more. They are not pieces of plastic, they are living beings and so they can get ill. Hence, if you want an apiary, that’s good, but before starting you have to study, to make experience, read and observe much. At stake is respect for the bees, but also for the other beekeepers, because if you start such a path without taking it seriously, do you know what happens? The bees from the surroundings beekeepers could get sick despite their efforts and good job. This would trigger a dangerous and costly domino effect that ends up with the bees death and the indescribable sorrow of the beekeepers. Being sustainable, being aware, means to be this way in these cases as well, in all our practices and choices.

Bee diseases: aren’t they able to protect themselves alone?

As explained very clearly in one of the beekeeping manuals that I have read, already the beehive by itself does not help very much in fighting diseases. Beehives are closed, with a pretty high wetness level and high temperatures. They contain much nutrients and thousands of tiny beings always in contact with each other, due to their social organization…but it’s this way and bees like it much! On the other hand, bees know how to defend themselves: honey, propolis and royal jelly (all good stuff!) contain active anti-bacterial substances that fight against many pathogenic agents. Moreover, bees are obsessed with cleanliness. The whole hive, each single cell, everything is continuously cleaned. Any dead bee or any other insect that managed to enter secretly is thrown out at the soonest. And if too big or heavy to be carried out, it gets mummified by covering it with propolis. In this way, it get completely harmless. Clean, clean, clean. A truly obsessive-compulsive disorder, that allows them to keep the environment as much healthy as possible.

But so…what goes wrong?

Well, family could be weak and so not able to promptly react to any pathogenic agent. It could be that it’s not a proper area for a apiary, maybe too much polluted or without enough nectar or hydro-sources, for example. Another reason could be that the beekeeper (or some beekeepers of the zone, as we were telling) is a bit too superficial and overlooks some essential points, such as the fact of leaving enough food for winter. Or he does not particularly care of the hygiene in general: honeycombs must be cyclically changed and the tools must be cleaned.

For sure, the beekeeper must be the first one in taking care of everything both for the bees and their balance. Inspections are fundamental to catch any warning sign in time, at that point a veterinary must be called.

Which are these bee diseases?

Now I don’t want to make you bored with thousands details about each disease. I just wanted to outline them in general. Bees diseases can be divided in those that affects the brood and those that damage the adult bee. They can be caused by mushrooms, bacteria or virus.

Among the most famous ones:

  • The acarus varroa: this is an acarus that causes malformations, weakening and wounds to the bees. It seems it affects especially the drones but yet it hits indiscriminately any bee in the hive. For this reason it’s important to undergo every family to an anti-varroa yearly treatment.
  • American pest: it attacks the brood. The spores are extremely strong and difficult to wipe out (till the point that fire must be used to get rid of it)
  • European pest: in this case too, the bacillus kill the brood. If compared with the American one, what changes is basically the appearance of the damaged brood. Unfortunately for both pests, there is no way to understand what is going on enough in advance: you can find them out only with analysis made by the vet or otherwise you can recognize it only when it’s really to late.
  • Acarapis woodi: this is an acarus that affects the adult bee, specifically her breathing apparatus. The bee dies suffocated. At that point the acarus starts again its research and choose another victim.
  • Nosema Apis: this too affects adult bees. This is a mushroom that enters bees´intestine through what bees eat. The mushroom compromises intestine’s functions and the bees won’t be able to feed the brood. Its spores will spread through their excrements.
  • Nosema ceranae: it shortens the life of adult bees. Bees are shaking and can’t fly. The family gets weaker and weaker till disappearing.

How can you fight against bees diseases?

A part from varroa, where every year you take care of with an ad hoc treatment to limit the effects, for the other cases there’s much hard work to do. On one side, honey, wax and all the beehives products can be used anyway as long as they don’t get in contact with bees – that’s true. You can use the wax for making candles, but you can’t use it then for producing wax sheets. We can eat honey without any issue, but we can’t give it to the bees. This is the reason why it’s better to avoid giving honey to bees, if you are not 100% sure that it comes from healthy ones. There are not antibiotics or vaccinations for these bees diseases. Once rescued what possible, especially if the disease is at a very late-stage, the beekeeper has to burn everything. That’s why I was telling, it’s a very hard work for the heartbroken beekeeper.


We hope that this article will clarify a bit more the bee diseases topic. This all is very important not only for beekeepers, but really for everybody. Reaching this awareness makes you understand for example how much is important to avoid giving honey to bees. It makes you understand how much their balance may be fragile. How much bee-friendly plants are essential, because the more nectar sources exist, the stronger and healthier bees are. This makes you aware as well of the beekeeper job, that can’t absolutely be taken for granted. Unfortunately, bees too get sick and we must keep it in mind. Have you ever heard about bees diseases?

For any question, curiosity, comment, we are here!

A hug,

The Gäblini

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