Sugar Shake Test Detection of Varroa Mite
Note Number: AG1417
Published: February 2010
Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is a serious, exotic parasite of adult European honey bees and their brood. The mite occurs in beekeeping countries throughout the world but has not been detected in Australia. There are several surveillance projects for early detection of an incursion of varroa at and near shipping ports. Beekeepers are encouraged to test their own hives for varroa using the simple sugar shake (or roll) test described below.
When varroa mites are dusted with pure icing sugar, the fine granules stick to their pads (feet) and they are no longer able to grip the surface on which they cling. The dusting of adult bees with icing sugar causes mites to fall off the bee into the white sugar where they are more easily seen. The simple sugar shake detection method is now used by many beekeepers throughout Australia.
The collection of bees from hives, as described below, may agitate hive bees including guard bees. People inexperienced in handling bees should first read the Agriculture Note AG1240 'Safe beekeeping practices'. It is essential that adequate protective clothing, including a bee veil, is worn and techniques for safe handling of bees are understood before opening a hive and collecting bees for the sugar shake test.
- one 500 gram or 750 gram jar with a plastic or metal lid. Drill 50-70, 3-4 mm holes in the lid
- pure icing sugar (do not use icing mixture)
- plastic tablespoon for measuring icing sugar
- sheets of newspaper
- light coloured bucket (white or other light colour)
- fine close-weaved household cleaning cloth or coffee filter paper
- bee smoker, hive tool and protective clothing
- magnifying lens (if available)
- water-proof felt marking pen.
- half fill the bucket with clean water
- place a heaped tablespoon of icing sugar into the jar after removing
- light a smoker and open a hive to be tested
- shake some bees from three combs containing honey bee brood onto a double thickness of newspaper or upturned hive lid placed on the ground. If brood is not present, shake bees from one comb taken from the centre of the cluster of bees. If you find the queen on these combs, place her back into the hive
- scoop or pour about 300 bees (half a cup) into the jar. Place the lid on the jar to prevent bees from escaping
- gently rotate the jar for 2 minutes ensuring all bees are dusted with sugar. Wait 2-3 minutes, and rotate the jar a second time for 2 minutes. Be careful not to lose any sugar. (The hive may be reassembled during this waiting period)
- gently shake the icing sugar (and any mites) through the holes in the lid into the bucket half filled with water. The sugar will dissolve and any mites will float on the surface of the water. Do the shaking in a sheltered position protected from strong wind that could blow mites away
- release the bees from the jar onto the ground close to the hive entrance in case the queen is present.
Looking for varroa and collection of specimens
- examine the empty shaker jar and lid for varroa. If you wear glasses to read, wear them while looking for varroa. The mites are reddish-brown; 1.1 mm long and 1.7 mm broad
- inspect the water surface for varroa, other mites and insects. If you find any, carefully place them into a small jar with methylated spirits and place the jar in a cool position away from sunlight
- alternatively, pour the water through a piece of light coloured fine close-weaved household cleaning cloth, or coffee filter paper. Inspect the cloth or filter paper for varroa, other mites and insects. If any of these are present or suspected to be present, place and seal the filter cloth or filter paper in a small zip-lock plastic bag or other sealable container
- use a water-proof pen, label the specimen jar and/or ziplock bag and the hive tested with the same number for later identification.
Steps if you find or suspect presence of varroa in your apiary
It is important that when varroa is found or even suspected to be present in an apiary that it is not spread to another apiary. The following steps will help to reduce the risk of spreading it:
- don't mail or forward any varroa (and other mites and insects), until advised by a Department of Primary Industries apiary officer. Never take live specimens from the apiary as this may help to spread the parasite or pest
- don't remove bees or any hive components from this apiary as this could help spread the mite
- place overalls, veil, gloves (and guantlets) and hat in a plastic bag and leave them at the apiary site until advised by a DPI apiary officer
- before leaving the apiary, inspect your vehicle to make sure that there are no bees trapped inside or on the radiator. Spray and remove any bees that could be carried from the apiary. Check the tray of the truck, ute or trailer as well. Boxes of combs and other hive material on your vehicle which bees might have entered must be left at the apiary
- thoroughly wash hands, hive tool, smoker and any other equipment to ensure varroa is not carried from the apiary
- use a fine toothed comb or brush to remove any mites that may have lodged in hair or beards
- check clothing for any 'passenger' bees that could be carried by you when leaving the apiary. If another person is with you, have them check your clothing for passenger bees.
If you see or suspect varroa is present in your apiary, you must notify an Inspector of Livestock (DPI apiary officer, animal health officer or veterinary officer) without delay and by the quickest means possible. The easiest way to do this is to ring the Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 (24 hours a day, every day of the year).
Notification is required by the Livestock Disease Control Act (1994). To not notify is to break the law.Early reporting and recognition of varroa is one of the most important factors influencing the chance of controlling this parasite and reducing its economic and social impact on the whole community.
The Department of Primary Industries apiary officers listed below are available to assist beekeepers.
Wangaratta, Joe Riordan, Telephone 02 6030 4516, Mobile 0417 348 457.
Bendigo, Daniel Martin, Telephone 5430 4621, Mobile 0428 752 449.Knoxfield, Russell Goodman, Telephone 9210 9324 (Tuesday & Wednesday).
This Agricultural Note was developed by Daniel Martin, Joe Riordan and Russell Goodman in February 2010.
Published and Authorised by:
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
1 Spring Street
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