Deformed wing virus

We have one hive of bees that we got as a swarm this year very early in the swarming season. At the moment we’re feeding them because we weighed the hive they’re well below the weight needed to get them through the winter. Yesterday morning I went to top up the feeder and there was lots of activity with plenty of bees coming in and out of the hive and lots of pollen coming in.

I stopped to watch the bees for a while and found three or four bees with deformed wing virus outside the hive and one of them had what looked like two mites on it. Our Warre hive doesn’t have windows so I don’t know what proportion of the bees have deformed wings inside.

Am I right to assume that seeing three or four bees outside the hive with deformed wings means that a lot of the bees in the hive will have this virus and that therefore there’s likely to be a lot of varroa in the hive that have spread the virus?

If that’s the case we can either do nothing and see if the bees can cope with the problem themselves or we can treat them. Having read about natural bee keeping and having done a natural bee keeping course earlier in the year I’d decided I would try to be treatment free. However, there was some discussion on our course about weaning bees off varroa treatment rather than going cold turkey (I can’t quite remember the details which is why I’m needing to ask this question now).

The bee keeper who collected the swarm for me is almost certain that the swarm came from a conventional bee keeper who’s bees are kept very close to where our swarm was found and who “lost” a swarm from one of his colonies that day. He told me that the bee keeper was up to date with all his treatments so I assume the parent colony where our swarm came from had been varroa treated.

I’m not quite sure how I would wean bees off treatment because surely I would either treat them or I wouldn’t and there isn’t an in between. As yet we haven’t been sugar dusting because I’ve wanted to open the hive as little as possible and we don’t have a mesh floor on the bottom to count a mite drop. I’m considering using one of the organic acids if I do treat. Any advice would be very gratefully received.


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5 Responses to Deformed wing virus

  1. Paul says:

    Well put it this way… I decided to go cold turkey on treatments last year. I had 2 colonies, one from Mr Simplebees – descended from a no-treatment breeding program of several years’ duration – which survived the winter; the other didn’t. Maybe varroa didn’t help.

    But I think the first thing you need to do is get more information. I suggest you do a partial inspection, simply to see how many bees on a comb have deformed wings. I’m not suggesting a full, invasive inspection. If you look at a couple of combs of bees it should give you an idea if there is lots of DWV present. Do this before the weather gets cold.

    As you are posting to this forum, where there are a range of views, steel yourself for some people telling you “let them die if they are weak… all treatments are evil…”. I myself am now using ferals / random swarms and ruthlessly selecting for treatment-free survivor genes, but I was sad when that colony died over winter. What I personally would do here is – assuming you find deformed wings are common in the colony – I would treat once with an organic acid. Give the bees a varroa gap to recover in. Then go treatment free in the new year. They’re in a Warre, with natural comb and excellent thermal / humidity control, and this will give them the best chance of rebooting their natural parasite-control behaviours.

    Now, before you rush out and dribble / sublimate acid everywhere, let’s just sit back and see what other comments are posted… maybe someone knows more about DWV and whether this is a “lot” of bees with it.

  2. Jackson says:

    This also happened to me, wanting to go treatment free, I neglected to think that once we hived them we have to assist them in the transition. Once you see DWV, there are sure lots more within those brood that will be emerging. I currently only use organic acid to treat for varroa and I guess until mine fully transitions into natural combs they would need assistance from time to time.

  3. jonbinspired says:

    I had an identical situation 2 years ago. Bait hive captured a treated swarm from a nearby conventional apiary. The swarm had deformed wing virus (Dozens of bees crawling all around the hive every day for much of the early summer). This is what I did:

    1. Bait hive left where the bees found it and operated as full hive
    2. No sugar feeding, or any treatments*
    3. Hive never opened, very thick quilt and water proof breather membrane winter cover
    4. Double height warre continuous brood nest to allow for quicker establishment, moving quickly to four box (two empty boxes with top bars underneath) as soon as hive established. Over wintering in this configuration also; empty box and partially empty box underneath for winter.
    5. The bees only have their own honey as feed … this I think is very important for building immunity. If bees are sick, they should not also be pushed to provide a honey crop.

    * In my opinion sugar dusting is a poor treatment. Sugar reduces immunity (reduced P450 enzyme) of the bees and the multiple openings of the hive for a partially effective treatment do more harm than good in lost nest atmosphere and increased stress.

    The result two years on:

    The hive has thrown 4 swarms this year. 1 failed to gain size but the others including the mother hive are some of the strongest hives I have seen in the past 10 years and heavy with honey. I see very little sign of DFW in the mother hive and none in one of the swarms I kept. I could not be happier with their development.

    All beekeepers in our beekeeping group (over 35 now) do not treat. One has not been treating since 2000. The losses are much better than average (none last year).

    Summary: Keep the bees, warm, dry, away from the ground, well fed with their own honey and as little stress as possible. Something all hives like 🙂

    Jonathan (Somerset UK)

  4. therichcow says:

    Thank you for the advice so far. As expected, the advice is somewhat conflicting, but that’s what’s great about this forum! If I do treat with an organic acid I think it has to be formic acid at this time of year. I’ve looked online for the instructions for using MAQS formic acid strips but there isn’t much info on using them with a Warre. In the instructions it says to use MAQS on a “colony cluster covering a minimum of 6 brood frames (approximately 10,000 bees).” Does anybody know what an equivalent of this would look like in a Warre? I don’t know how many bees we have because I haven’t properly looked in the hive yet. Do I put the strips straight on top of the top bars of the top box? The instructions say that an entrance the full width of the hive is required for ventilation. Is moving the boxes forward slightly enough?


  5. solarbeez says:

    I’m strictly no treatment. I have a Warre hive that swarmed at least twice, possibly three times before May 10th. It had come from a swarm from my log hive which showed Deformed Wing Virus from time to time. After May 10th, my Warre’s numbers started dropping. I noticed the traffic on the landing board as well as looking through the observation windows. In late June, I just knew that hive was ‘going down.’ I waited through July and was happily surprised that it didn’t get robbed after the nectar flow. In late August the numbers started picking up. In early October, the comb thickened up and you could see lots of honey. I’ve got pictures and a video here…
    Maybe it’s just luck, but this hive came back with no help from me. I would never use treatments because they could kill the beneficial mites too. I like the idea of letting the bees figure it out for themselves…(Hopefully they are not too domesticated and reliant on human intervention)

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