Have you lithium-chlorided your bees yet?

Varroa mite on bee.   (Image credit: Piscisgate)

A friend (Thanks, Thomas!) sent a note this morning about a new mite treatment. It was developed at the University of Hohenheim, Apicultural State Institute, Stuttgart, Germany. Findings were published in Nature.  So, I am guessing that the science – as presented in the paper (Lithium chloride effectively kills the honey bee parasite Varroa destructor by a systemic mode of action), is probably solid.  Nature is offering the paper as “Open” which means that you can read it freely. So, take a look.

Lithium chloride powder: LiCl

The researchers may be on to something.  Rather than fumigating an entire hive to kill varroa, bees uptake lithium salts. Later, when the mites suck honey bee haemolymph, they get poisoned.  (The research paper calls varroa the “haemolymph-sucking ectoparasitic” mite.)  This treatment is a different approach to controlling mites.

There may be some advantages.  If we feed a miticide to bees via sugar syrup, the hive contamination might be reduced. (Except, of course, if the bees are allowed to actually store the syrup!)  And, of course, this could be another tool in the battle against nasty ectoparasites.

A big drawback may be worker bee mortality, which increases significantly at LiCl doses high enough to be effective against mites. We don’t know what will happen in actual hive conditions.  With long-term feeding of lithium chloride to bees, the researchers tell us:

“…different concentrations of LiCl were continuously fed until the last caged bee died to investigate response to long-term exposure. Here, the treatment significantly reduced the average lifespan of freshly hatched worker bees from 26 days in the untreated control cages to 23 and 22 days for 2 mM and 10 mM LiCl, respectively (n = 60 bees, P = 0.024, log-rank test; Supplementary Table S6). In bees that received the highest concentration of 25 mM LiCl the lifespan was significantly reduced to 19 days on average (Fig. 3a).”

With this in mind, overdosing might be easy, resulting in dead bees.  Beekeepers will have to learn to curb their sloppiness. (Always a big problem.)

Lithium chloride is harsh. It’s used in industrial chemistry. It’s toxic to mites, bees, and beekeepers:  “Acute poisoning in man reported after 4 doses of 2 g each of lithium chloride, causing weakness, prostration, vertigo, and tinnitus.”  [To repeat:  Beekeepers will have to learn to curb their sloppiness. (Always a big problem.)]

However, I can see this – or something similar – developing into an effective treatment.  Maybe someone could correct me, but I don’t think we have any current treatment that works from the inside of the bee out (like lithium chloride does) but instead, all miticides work within the bees’ exterior environment (the hive).

For me, the concept is interesting. On the other hand, I’d keep my distance from lithium chloride. And, effective and clever as this idea might be, you are feeding bees a poison which then poisons varroa.   Though lithium chloride may have a role to play as other miticides lose their efficacy,  it makes sense to wait. Over time, will repeated use of lithium chloride kill your bees? Will it contaminate your equipment?  Have you lithium-chlorided your bees yet? I hope not.

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 Diseases and Pests, Save the Bees, Tools and Gadgets and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Have you lithium-chlorided your bees yet?

  1. Erik says:

    I’m not sure that powerful poisons are the answer. We’d prefer not to injure the beekeepers.

    By the way, and totally unrelated, do you listen to the podcast Pollination from Oregon State University? Recent topic is about beekeeping in Saskatchewan, and I thought of you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. susan rudnicki says:

    A much more effective, sustainable and viable way is to only keep honey bee survivor stock that, through the concepts Darwin wrote about, develop resistance through selective pressure. Thousands of beeks in the Americas, and probably millions worldwide, are keeping these venerable bees—NOT treating with chemicals that foster pest resistance.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. We are sure the notion of toxifying bees against varroa while keeping the bees themselves healthy has occurred to many but we know of no one achieving it.
    For ourselves Samuel Ramsey’s work showing varroa feeding on fat bodies rather than hemolyph has us musing about polar bear liver, which contains sufficiently concentrated amounts of vitamin-A to be quite toxic to a consumer, and wondering if there is some such substance a bee could harmlessly concentrate in its fat body to the detriment and demise of hungry mites.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Thanks, interesting idea. We could kill polar bears for their livers and feed that to bees, maybe as a spring protein supplement. (I know that’s not what you wrote. I’m just reporting another interesting idea.) But I remain confused about what the mites are actually eating – the paper in Nature about LiCl calls Varroa the “haemolymph-sucking ectoparasitic mite” but some folks are saying the mites eat lipids and fats.
      An interesting element from the study is that lithium chloride was a serendipitous discovery. The experimenters began with an RNAi method and realized that the curing chemical was the agent of action, reminding us to always, always run a control as similar to the test as possible.


  6. susan rudnicki says:

    Yeah, this came up on BeeSource last year,
    “Samuel Ramsey, a PhD student working with Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp at the University of Maryland, gave a presentation at the Maryland State Beekeepers’ Association meeting titled: “Varroa Mites: What are they Really Eating?” He also spoke at EAS this summer. While his research does not appear to be published yet, his persistence (with the help of undergrad students) in creating experiments to determine that varroa actually feed on the vitellogenin in bees’ fat bodies, not on the hemolymph, is impressive. His research clarifies why colonies with high mite counts crash in the fall and winter as the bees do not have the fat body reserves to overwinter (and explains why guanine deposits are found in hives that crash from mites).

    Not only was Sam’s research novel, but Sam was an engaging presenter, and I hope those on the list get the opportunity to hear him speak. Unfortunately, his research emphasizes what an efficient parasite the varroa mite is. We can only hope that Sam will build on this research to find a way to limit varroa reproduction.”

    and Randy Oliver has written some fascinating stuff about vitellogenin (fat bodies) stores


    Liked by 2 people

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Wow! That really helps a lot! Thanks, Susan.
      I was hearing mixed messages so now I know where it’s coming from. We’d need to see his work published and replicated – enthusiastic self-expression is great if it’s a supplement and not a substitute for good science. This new finding explains a few things I was wondering about. Ramsey is likely right.


  7. Joel Rambaud says:

    Almost an interesting debate ,
    Let see I have just been diagnosticated with Cancer so please all peoples with good intention , Should we let natural selection take it course? I will let you explain your reasoning to my Family .
    Will I take the chemio , you better believe it , even if loose all my hair Gilette will loose a Customer , Will I take the radiation “which by the way is also used to safely sterilize food” yes I will even if I glow in the dark .

    On behalf of natural selection , please remove all medications from the market 

    and shut down all hospitals , let stop all medical research on flue , cancer and so on ,
    Couples of advantage it will result in great population control , property value will be inexpensive , there will not be enough peoples to fight wars on invade other Country , Darwin would most likely never had seen the light ….

    On the other hand we might give the Bees the boost they need , incidentally if as they say 6 grams of lithium eliminate the mites , let do some basic math , in a 10 frames you will get around 50 kg of honey or 50000 grams , assuming that all the 6 grams of lithium are still present most of will not as the dying bees take the chemical with them , the ratio lithium to honey is so low it cannot meet any therapeutic level , you are most likely consuming more Lithium via the food you eat .
    Lithium is found everywhere , On the one City in the USA has one of the lowest ratio of suicide , and domestic violence El Paso , That City also has the highest level of lithium . {Nature is the biggest lab}.
    None of the bee keeper would put their nose on the oxalic acid smoke ………why not ?
    I am going to hang a Bible in front of a beehive to see it’s effectiveness , I will get a Crucifix which I will have soaked in water from Lourdes. I will post the results .
    It will be just like the” Bless You” when someone sneeze , which go back to the day of the black plague in Europe , nothing to do with courtesy , cold hard reality !
    Some will tell you it is not legal , well if we have followed the “LAWS” Columbus would have never sailed away that heretic , we would not have flown , never mind cars you use every days the only reason Lithium is not on the market is because someone want to cash on it . And file a patent on something that is of already wide use , the recipe I have been given 250 grams of natural evaporated non GMO cane sugar “bees love it” 250 grams of non chlorinated water mixed cold , 12 grams of lithium chloride , paint a bead in front of the hive 2 days in a row , repeat 3 weeks later . Apparently this recipe is already on the web .


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Best wishes for a healthy recovery.
      Regarding lithium – perhaps it works. It needs carefully studied for doasage, contamination factors, and safety levels for bees and people before it is cooked up in a kitchen and smeared onto a beehive.


  8. Steve Hahus says:

    The mites are feeding on the fat bodies of the bees. This is an something that is unique to insects and carries out many metabolic functions for the bees. It would be analogous to parasites feeding on the human liver as it carries out many of the functions that the fat body carries out in the bees.


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  10. Mark says:

    I’ve been testing with LiCl for mites all season this year. It is effective and the dosage is so small that exposure to humans should not be considered a hazard as long as you don’t spill it, use appropriate protective gear and keep concentrations low. Lithium is 27th most abundant element on earth. From this article (https://www.scribd.com/document/302034197/Toxicity-Of-lithium-s96de854s5f12fd0dsf): Lithium salts are not very toxic except for the highly corrosive and irritant lithiumhydrides, lithium tetrahydroaluminate (LiAlH4) and lithium tetra-hydroborate (LiBH4). Please see https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ipcsneng/neng0711.html for acute hazards (exposure).


    • Susan Rudnicki says:

      I would offer the opinion that ANY human applied chemical management to pests and disease simply supports the strengthening of constant resistance in pests and weakening of the hosts. Darwinian concepts of evolution via selective pressure is the mechanism employed over millions of years for any species persisting IN STASIS with background stressors. Apis cerana, the original host for Vd, has developed this pattern of existence, and keepers around the world working with the vulnerable Apis ligustica should be paying a lot more attention to this time worn model of success. I have just returned from a international beekeeping conference, “Learning From the Bees” in Holland and heard much of this opinion supported by the research of Peter Neumann, Institute of Bee Health, Bern, Thomas Seeley, Cornell University, Heidi Hermann, Natural Beekeeping Trust, UK, and Torban Schiffer, University of Wurzburg, DE (a colleague of Jurgne Tautz). There is no “silver bullet” but we humans keep banging our collective heads against that wall


      • mijoka says:

        You can be part of the problem or part of the solution .

        You can treat your beehives or cry in the spring that you have lost 50% of them .
        Did all these bright minds told you that most European native species have been eradicated since the Mites invasion ??? conveniently No!
        Did any of these bright mind still have the concept that the mites are feeding on the bees {Hemolymph or blood , if so then turn your back and forget about their opinions , they are no different than these Monday’s quarter back sipping cheap yellowish foaming liquid made in vat recycled for their local oil Co .

        In short if they still have either or both opinions they are the equivalent of any commuter today using a Ford T to commute to work .

        You really want to know on what the mites feed , Allow me to save You an expensive trip . Look up the work of Doctor Samuel Ramsey , Better yet , if you can attend His lecture then do so , even if you are paying $100 it is worth every Cents .
        He is a Young African American , This alone must have been Hell for Him , He did his Studies at Cornell university and His Doctorate at the Maryland University , there like every respectable Scientist He went against the grain of established concept of the Mites feeding on Bee’s blood and proved 38 years of self proclaim so called Expert they were all wrong ,
        His discovery is a game changer and will lead to targeted drug .
        He is a bright Man with a great Future , and rightfully deserve the Agricultural Nobel Price .
        Yes He is that good ! in addition He does have a good Humor. Unlike the Majority of these constipated Experts

        I let everyone look up His research and discovery , just like I will not give my formula for the lithium syrup , I will simply say some of the paper published on the net is way to strong .

        I have used lithium this year , had 2 harvest , illness prevented me to do a third , never mind the fact the temperature has been an average of 17 degrees below normal I am just staring to harvest my raspberries and had a few tomatoes out of 16 plants , the figs are just coming around ….

        I applied in a syrup before spring a solution with 0.018 Grams of lithium , you know how much honey I harvest , you do the math , my Pharmacist told me why don’t you go leak a rock … I applied 4 the syrup on the landing of the beehive only , several times , some dripped on the ground , because it was before production no honey was affected , contrary to that nasty Oxalic fume which gather on the Comb residue stay there .

        My cost for the entire year was for 10 frames $ 0.15 slightly less for the 8 frames . Did not come in a fancy plastic and aluminum wrapper . Did not pay for some arrogant jackass vacations , new mansion, private plane ,exotic car ….or lobbying the Politicians .
        I am curious as why they have pulled countless patent for a formula widely available on the net , My solution is far lower than the published paper and unlike their publication I had to apply several times at regular interval .

        I used absolutely nothing , no antibiotic , no junk , no food , I am the drug Co worst nightmare .

        I will have to split these hives and will positively contribute to the bee population .

        I will go one step further to everyone reading my post , when you are sick , do you seek medical treatment or do you let what ever illness is affecting you run it’s course ? Sorry I choose the first. Did you get vaccinated ? no different here , simply giving the Bees the boost they need .

        As far as my honey you do not have to worry , I destroyed it because I did not want to end up in legal trouble , the fact is Lithium in small amount is beneficial , as a matter of fact it has been extensively studied all over the Globe by Scientist which did not understand why some area had Zero suicide , extremely low violence of all Kind and in every instances they had measurable amount of lithium in their water , Just like they did not understand why in some town , residents were going to their grave with all their teeth and never saw the dentist , Sodium Fluoride . Which is now in almost every City’s water , an ounce of prevention goes a long way . I do not and will never advocate systemic treatment , nor do I advocate treating during honey production .

        As a European I Thank you very much for visiting our side of the pond .



      • Ron Miksha says:

        OK, Mjoka. I can see that you are energized. But please no more personal insults, or you will be banned from posting on my site. I suspect that Susan will want to respond to you – she doesn’t “treat your beehives or cry in the spring that you have lost 50% of them”. She will likely tell you why.

        I want to caution everyone that it is illegal to add any chemical to a bee colony unless it’s been tested and approved. Mjoka apparently threw away all of his honey after treating with LiCl.

        Finally, Mjoka, thank you for mentioning Dr Ramsay. For those unfamiliar with his work, here is a YouTube link of him describing his thesis:



      • Susan Rudnicki says:

        Hi, your post makes a lot of assertions about what I must know about honey bees, varroa feeding habits, my bee losses, and other things. But you did not engage with any of the points I made about the evolutionary adaptation processes I was writing about and which was the main theme of the conference in Holland I mentioned. In the nine years I have been keeping locally adapted, feral survivor stock honey bees, gathered from swarms and structural cutouts, I have never treated for any parasites or diseases. I use foundtionless, Langstroth frames and boxes, no queen excluders for an unlimited brood nest. I do not lose ANY every winter. The only time I have lost colonies was failure to supercede their queen, and those have been very few. I do not buy queens. There ARE mites in my colonies, but the number is well managed by the bees themselves and the loss to DWV and other viruses is minimal. In order for the immune and behavioral challenge response to remain well honed, the pathogen must be present at a minimal level. This is fundamental to survival fitness. This concept was at the center of the studies of the Arnot Forest Bees done by Thomas Seeley of Cornell and which he has published about in books. Modern targeted breeding and heavy management of pathogens has removed the evolutionary adaptive process that ALL organisms employ and certainly applies to honey bees. As in the rapid resistance developing to antibiotics used for controlling human and animal bacterial diseases, Vd is rapidly becoming resistant to our devised management via treatments.


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  14. Enzo Gorlomi says:

    I would like to say that, in my humble opinion, you are focusing on the less interesting part of the article.

    The reduced lifespan you mentioned is about feeding bees with lithium ad libitum and for the their entire life! And this is not on an entire swarm, where administration to all bees is difficult. This is really a case limit.
    But the article also says that just one day of lithium administration (10.6 µg per bee in the chloride form) kills all the varroa in the next two days, without any shortening of their lifespan. Sir, this is astonishing. I repeat, this is really impressive.

    About lithium itself, as pointed out by someone before, lithium cannot be really considered a poison. Yes, it is toxic like a lot of other substances that animal naturally ingest, but this is about dosage, since it is useful in very low amount and already present in water. Even vitamins are really toxic at a high dosage. What is tricky for humans (I do not know if is the same for bees) is that his toxicity grow exponentially with the increased dosage, but still appear at relatively high amounts. Your example about the past use as a salt substitute is to be taken with a grain of salt, since speaking of grams for human consumption is really a mega-dosage. As we know that even at therapeutic dosage, that we count in a range milligrams, we have health related side effects, suggesting that we are already taking a high amount, we know that speaking of grams is a ridicolous high amount for a human and that anecdote (the use as a salt substitude) was a huge and stupid choice.

    So in the end I think that these results are really promising (and have being replicating since then). The possible contamination of products is without concern for human health at that dosage and it seems to me that also the cost-benefit ratio for bees is really favorable. Obviously, since it is not regulated, no one should use it (especially commercial beekeeper), but if a hobbyist tries to replicate the experiment using the safest protocol on one hive and see the result, I would not much be worried about bees safety.


  15. Enzo Gorlomi says:

    Oh I was going to forget to add this.
    A group in Italy experimented with cold plasma since it is already use for sanitisation and the results on various seems good.



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