In 2018, Auburn University became a certified Bee Campus USA affiliate, and it is the first university in Alabama to join. The Laboratory of Insect Pollination and Apiculture, better known as The Bee Lab, at Auburn has made great efforts to become a Bee Campus. It is now one of 39 campuses across the United States that strive to raise awareness of the impact pollinators have on our very existence and the factors which threaten the bee population.

According to a study published by Auburn researchers, between the spring of 2017 and spring of 2018, our nation’s beekeeper saw a 40 percent decline in their managed colonies.

Winter is already a typically tricky time for the population of bees, as we see mortality rates rise due to a slowdown in productivity or a complete standstill. There is usually an uptick when the temperature increases and colonies can begin to collect nectar again. But if the flowers aren’t in bloom or there is a delay in temperatures rising, it can spell trouble.

No matter their level of expertise and resources, a beekeeper can only do some much to combat hostile weather changes or threats from wildlife, like a bear munching on a hive. However, there is a verifiably deadly threat that lives inside the colony. If gone unnoticed or unmanaged, it can devastate your colonies.

Those considering adopting beekeeping in their lives should diligently do their research and educate themselves on the realities of managing honey bee colonies. Colony Collapse Disorder is a phenomenon with many known and unknown causes. The number one cause of colony dismay is the varroa mite.

Varroa mites are the most common enemy of beehives and beekeepers. The presence of varroa mites, or even other pests, in hives is not uncommon. In fact, it’s to be expected to a degree.

They are highly reproducing and spread very quickly from colony to colony, hitching rides on the backs of worker bees and drones. Varroa mites also spread viruses as they feed on bees.

So, what can be done to manage these tiny killing machines? There are chemical solutions that beekeepers can use to treat their colonies with an overly active presence of varroa mites. Some beekeepers choose to seek a more natural treatment for their colonies, using methods like pouring powdered sugar into the hive once a week for 5-6 weeks.

The powdered sugar coats the bees causing the mites to lose their grips on them and fall off. Beekeepers collecting and selling honey might want to consider the timing of this treatment based on whether or not they want powdered sugar in their honey.

Another thing beekeepers can do to be proactive is to watch the national parasite levels. The Bee Lab at Auburn University is also a partner with Bee Informed’s Sentinel Apiary Program. It is an interactive resource for beekeepers to track nectar flows and parasite activity across the United States. Beekeepers can also participate in the program and contribute to the colony health monitoring program.