Have These Kids Found a Way to Kill Varroa?

Why not just brush off the mites?

I am a skeptic when it comes to ‘miracle’ cures to fight varroa. I think that the various expensive heat/sauna systems are a waste of time and money. A lot of natural treatments (icing/powdered sugar; essential oils; screened bottoms) are marginally helpful – they won’t keep a hive alive, but they might delay the funeral. When I heard about a system developed by some youngsters in Spain, I was not quick to don my credulity cloak.  I’m not sold on their invention, but I won’t disparage it outright.

Here’s the story. A group of young scientists have engineered a 7-mm-wide beehive entrance reducer outfitted with tiny brushes. As bees return to their hive, they maneuver through the little doorway while brushes rub varroa mites off their backs. Mites are removed outside the hive. The student-scientists used a  3d printer to make the little plastic entrances. The youths, aged 14 to 16, live in Valencia, Spain. This summer, their device will compete at the FIRST LEGO Asia Pacific Open in Sydney, Australia. Presently, a crowd-funding campaign is raising the money to take them from Europe to Australia to participate.

Will it work? Perhaps. I’m sure that you can think of reasons it won’t. Even if some varroa are scraped off, it only takes one lucky mite to colonize a hive. Mites which do fall off could later crawl into the hive – they live a few days without a bee host and they are mobile. A side issue is the restricted entrance which reduces air flow and forager traffic. On the other hand, the inventors point out that their narrow entrance blocks wasps. Unchecked, wasps destroy colonies so this is a welcome side-benefit. Concerns about air flow and traffic control issues might be alleviated if beekeepers use a large number of the tiny doors on each hive.

The idea is cheap and it might reduce mites. I don’t think it will save honey bees from succumbing to varroa, but it could be one more weapon in the beekeeper’s toolkit. What do you think?

These are the kids with the 3d-printed mite brush.  Support them here.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Beekeeping, Diseases and Pests, Save the Bees, Science, Tools and Gadgets and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Have These Kids Found a Way to Kill Varroa?

  1. Kendell Killian says:

    Do u think the doors will damage wings, shorten the life of the wing??


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Hi, Kendell! If designed correctly, it shouldn’t hurt the bees. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that it will greatly reduce varroa. (But I could be wrong.) It needs field tested.


  2. I wonder about the loss of pollen, in effect the pollen collector trap that some beeks put on hives. A screened bottom board would help with the ventilation. But the real damage is centered in the vectored diseases from mites within cells, not the phoretic mites. Genetic resistance and eschewing propping up weak stock with acaricides is likely the long term objective. Think of all the pastoral beeks worldwide that don’t get counted by the official research—the beeks without the money or wherewithall to obtain chemical treatments and are using local survivor stock. Many of us in the TF world are using these resilient bees with great success in the US, too.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ron Miksha says:

      You are correct indicting the pollen-swiping that would be done by such a device. And we know that virus infections spread by varroa is likely the greater problem than the blood-suckers themselves.


  3. Emily Scott says:

    It sounds similar to the Bee Gym device which lets bees scratch varroa off their backs. A clever and worthwhile effort by the young scientists, but as Susan says most of the mites are busy reproducing in the cells. In the winter when there’s less or no brood and more of the mites are on the adult bees, unfortunately the bees are leaving the hive a lot less.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Ah, yes. The Bee Gym! A video link is below. Maybe the next step is a robo-bee that wanders through the hive, grabbing mites and squishing them with mechanical vices. Don’t laugh – it’s coming and maybe this group of young Spanish robotics engineers will do it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Have These Kids Found a Way to Kill Varroa? | Raising Honey Bees

  5. bgarciar says:

    Congratulations to the team! You have done an excellent research and a great project!
    These young promises are an example of entrepreneurship, constancy and effort.
    I give you my full support.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Thanks, bgarciar! We are losing track of the simple fact that these kids are brilliant and that they are seeking a creative solution for a big problem, We also give them our full support!


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