How To Test Honey Bees For Mites? Sugar or Alcohol Wash?

Varroa Destructor: The Tiny Threat to Honey Bees


Honey bees are not just makers of sweet, golden honey; they are essential pollinators, playing a crucial role in our ecosystem and agriculture. However, these remarkable insects face numerous challenges, one of the most significant being the presence of mites that can severely impact their health and the survival of their colonies. In this article, we will delve deep into the importance of test honey bees for mites, the types of mites to watch out for, and provide you with a step-by-step guide to ensure your bee colony’s well-being.

Understanding the Mite Menace

Before we dive into the testing process, let’s get to know the two primary mite species that pose a significant threat to honey bees: Varroa destructor and Tracheal mites.

  1. Varroa destructor: These are perhaps the most infamous of bee mites. Varroa mites are external parasites that attach themselves to honey bees, feeding on their bodily fluids, particularly their hemolymph. As they feed, they weaken the bees and transmit harmful viruses, eventually leading to colony collapse if left untreated.
  2. Tracheal mites: Unlike Varroa mites, tracheal mites infest the honey bee’s tracheal system, making it difficult for bees to breathe and causing a slow decline in the colony’s population.

The Significance of Testing Honey Bees for Mites

Testing honey bees for mites is not merely an optional task for beekeepers; it’s a critical aspect of beekeeping for several reasons:

  1. Early Detection: Regular mite testing allows beekeepers to catch infestations early when they are more manageable and less likely to cause significant harm to the colony.
  2. Preventive Measures: Identifying mites in your colony can prompt you to take immediate action, preventing further damage and the potential collapse of the hive.
  3. Colony Health: Maintaining mite-free colonies leads to healthier bees, increased honey production, and better pollination services.
  4. Sustainable Beekeeping: Sustainable beekeeping practices start with maintaining healthy bee populations, free from the debilitating effects of mites.

Step-by-Step Guide to Test Honey Bees for Mites

Now, let’s walk you through a step-by-step guide on how to effectively test your honey bees for mites:

1. Gather Your Materials

Before you begin, assemble the necessary tools:

  • A powdered sugar shaker
  • A white, shallow tray or sheet
  • A screened bottom board (optional but recommended for easier mite counting)
  • A mite testing kit (available from beekeeping suppliers)

2. Prepare the Bees

On a warm, sunny day, select a frame with brood from your beehive. Shake the bees from this frame into a container, ensuring you have approximately 300 bees for an accurate test.

3. The Sugar Shake Method

  • Place the collected bees into the powdered sugar shaker.
  • Add about two tablespoons of powdered sugar to the shaker.
  • Shake the container vigorously for about a minute. The powdered sugar will coat the bees and dislodge mites from their bodies.

4. Collection

  • Shake the sugar and bees onto the white tray or sheet.
  • Observe closely. Mites will fall onto the white surface, making them easier to spot against the contrast.

5. Count the Mites

Carefully count the mites you find. Be thorough, as even a few mites can be harmful to the colony.

6. Assess the Infestation Level

To determine the severity of the infestation, calculate the percentage of mites found relative to the number of bees tested. If you find a high mite count, it’s crucial to take immediate action to save your colony.

Healthy Bees, Healthy Hives: Importance of Testing

7. Treatment

If the mite count is above a certain threshold (consult your local beekeeping association for guidelines), consider implementing a mite treatment plan to protect your bee colony. There are various treatment methods available, including organic and chemical options, so choose one that suits your beekeeping philosophy and local conditions.


Regularly testing honey bees for mites is not just a duty of responsible beekeepers; it’s a necessity for the survival of these incredible insects. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can contribute to the well-being of your bee colony and play a crucial role in ensuring the continued pollination of our crops and the health of our ecosystems.

For more information on beekeeping practices and sustainable beekeeping, check out our article on buying packages of bees. Bee well, beekeepers!