Monday, 20 October 2014

Do the shake

We're doing the shake....................the sugar shake, that is.

DEPI Varroa surveillance sugar shake kit
As you may be aware, Australia is the only country that does not have the dreaded varroa mite and we're trying to keep it that way. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) is running several surveillance programs for early detection of an incursion of varroa at, and near, shipping ports.  At a recent bee club meeting, Daniel Martin, the DEPI Apiary Inspector from Bendigo gave us a presentation on the department's programs.
In addition to the port surveillance programs, DEPI also runs a sugar shake detection program. This is where we urban beekeepers can do our bit to help with varroa detection. The program encourages beekeepers to test their own hives for varroa using the simple sugar shake (or roll) test. This test works as follows - 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. This process does not harm the bees.

Beekeepers who volunteer to join the DEPI sugar shake program receive a kit, along with a letter explaining the requirements of the program.  Participants will receive 3 requests from DEPI during the year to test their hives using the equipment supplied.  It seemed like a good thing to do so we signed up.  A few weeks later the kit came in the mail. 

The kit consisted of:
  • a 500g plastic container with a screw-top mesh lid. Instructions on how to perform the test were stuck to the side of the container.

  • a 100 ml plastic measuring vessel

  • a bag of pure icing sugar

In addition to the supplied kit, the following equipment is also required:
  • 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.

The actual test and reporting proces is described below. This information and the  accompanying photos have been taken from the DEPI website. Check out the website for further information on varroa and beekeeping in general.


  • half fill the bucket with clean water
  • place a heaped tablespoon of icing sugar into the jar after removing lid
  • 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.

Photo 2. Shake some bees from 3 combs on to newspaper

Photo 3. Pour about half a cup of bees into the jar

Looking for varroa and collection of specimens

Photo 4. Gently shake the sugar into the bucket containing water

  • 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.

Notifiable disease

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).


The test instructions seem fairly straightforward. Still, I think it might be a good idea for us to have a practise run before getting the call to do it for real....

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