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regular and small bee cells

Helping Honeybees Withstand Mites and Winter

By Dennis Senft
May 23, 1997

A combination of cold weather and infectious mites have decimated domestic and wild honeybees in recent years. Some commercial beekeepers have lost half their hives and some wild populations were hit even harder.

That’s not good because the insects pollinate U.S. crops worth $10 billion annually.

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service say getting honeybees to build smaller cells--the six-sided cubbyholes where bees rear their young and store honey--may help bees survive mite attack.

Into hives, the scientists placed “starter” cells smaller than those commercially used. The bees apparently used the small cells as a blueprint, building smaller than normal architectural units on top of them. Scientists suspect building the smaller cells puts less stress on bees, so they can better cope with mite infestations.

In test hives infested with Varroa mites, bees in the small cells had a 40 percent survival rate compared to zero for those in standard size cells.

A report on the ARS studies appears in the May 1997 issue of ARS’ Agricultural Research magazine. The report can also be found on the World Wide Web at:


Another way scientists could help is by locating hives of wild and domestic bees that might have natural resistance to Varroa mites. They already have found bees that have some resistance to tracheal mites. These two mites are major pests of bees. Mite-resistant honeybees might form the genetic basis for improved strains.

Scientific contact: Eric H. Erickson, ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Laboratory, Tucson, Ariz.,, phone (520) 670-6481, fax 670-6493, e-mail