Health for humans, animals & plants

Bee Health

Honey bees and wild bees perform an important function in ecosystems and, together with other insects, are indispensable for the pollination of flowering plants and thus for biodiversity and food security. Only a healthy, intact bee colony can fulfill these tasks.

Unlike other farm animals, honey bees are free-flying and choose their own food from the surrounding natural environment. Thus, honeybees and their health are in constant interaction with the environment and its use by humans (e.g., the type of land management, the use of pesticides and biocides, treated seeds, and genetically modified organisms). Climate change as well as globalized economies pose further challenges for bees and beekeeping, as they alter habitats and living conditions as well as open the door to a global spread of pathogens, parasites and pests that are dangerous to bees. This also applies to bumblebees and solitary bees, which, together with honeybees and other flower-visiting insects, make an indispensable contribution to the biodiversity of flora and fauna in the ecosystem through their pollination activities and contribute to food security.

When it comes to bee losses, scientists agree that they are influenced by many factors. Bee habitat, beekeeping and apiculture, bee health, and the availability of "bee repellents" all play a role.

Our Bee Science and Bee Protection Department is happy to answer questions about bee health (notifiable diseases) and bee protection, as well as other bee-related concerns. Our goal is the sustainable protection of the bee population in Austria.

Bee Diseases & Pests

Bee diseases

Various bee diseases and pests can become a problem for bee colonies and cause great damage to bee colonies. Early detection and correct diagnosis of diseases in bees is therefore crucial.

An overview of how to diagnose various bee diseases and pests can be found on our Bee Disease Diagnosis Guide page.

Basically, a distinction is made between notifiable and non-notifiable bee diseases.

Notifiable bee diseases

According to § 3 of the Bee Diseases Act 1988, the following regulation applies:

Notifiable is:

  • any of the following diseases:
  • any suspicion of such diseases
  • any imminent or actual death of at least 30% of the colonies in an apiary.

The notification is to be made immediately to the competent authority (district administration or magistrate). The official veterinarian orders the sampling by a bee expert or carries it out himself, enters the data into the Veterinary Information System (VIS) and forwards the sample to the inspection body.

Non-notifiable bee diseases

Small hive beetle

Lifting of traffic restrictions on bees, bumblebees and beekeeping equipment from Sicily.

In Sicily, infestations of the small hive beetle were detected in individual apiaries in both November 2014 and June 2019. These cases could be attributed to isolated incidents of carryover from the mainland and were eradicated through strict control measures accompanied by extensive monitoring.

Due to the successful eradication of the small hive beetle from the region of Sicily, the situation was reassessed in Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2021/597. It was decided that the ban on the dispatch of honey bees, bumble bees, unprocessed apiculture by-products, apiculture equipment and apiculture products intended for human consumption in combs will apply only to the region of Calabria from 21.4.2021.

Origin and distribution areas

The small hive beetle originates from Africa, south of the Sahara. It belongs systematically to the family of glossy beetles. In the meantime, the dangerous bee pest has already been spread to many other countries. For example, it first appeared in the USA in 1996 and in Australia in 2002. It currently occurs in North, Central and South America, the Philippines, South Korea and, since 2014, southern Italy. For Europe, the latter occurrence represents already the second introduction. For the first time, the larvae of the hive beetle had been discovered in queen shipping cages after a queen import from Texas to Portugal (2004). However, due to the rapid discovery and rigorous regulatory measures, no establishment occurred and the infestation was eradicated.

The damage caused by an infestation includes not only direct damage to bee colonies, but also severe economic losses due to import and export bans on bees and queens from infested areas.

Since 2014, the small hive beetle has also been established in southern Italy. In the region of Calabria, the area of first occurrence in 2014, there have been findings of the small hive beetle in bee colonies every year since, despite the very rigorous and ongoing monitoring and control measures.

Starting in 2015, monitoring trays (so-called "sentinel colonies") were set up by the veterinary authorities in Calabria and Sicily to obtain a picture of the infestation situation. In the rest of Italy, monitoring activities have so far not resulted in any findings of the small hive beetle.

Appearance and way of life

The adult beetle is 5-7 mm long and 2.5-3.5 mm wide. It is brightly colored after hatching, later it can become brown-black. The larva grows up to 1 cm long, is creamy white, has three pairs of legs, and has two rows of bristles on its back. The eggs are about one-third smaller than bee eggs and are usually laid in clusters or singly in crevices.

Adult beetles live in the bee colony, but can also survive outside. Unlike the varroa mite, it does not depend on bees as a means of transport, but can actively fly itself at least 10 km to seek out a bee colony. After entering the colony, the female lays a large number of eggs in several spurts. The larva hatches from the egg and eats brood, pollen stores and honey in the colony. Fully grown, it leaves the colony and pupates in the soil near the colony. Depending on the climate, one to six generations per year are possible. The adult beetles can overwinter in the winter cluster and thus survive even in cold regions (e.g. USA, Canada).

Legal regulations for the importation of bees

Since there is also a risk of introduction of the beetle in Austria, it is absolutely necessary to comply with the legal regulations for importing bees. The EU regulations for intra-community trade in live bees and bumble bees state that "bees/bumble bees must originate from areas where there are no restrictions in force in relation to the suspected or confirmed presence of the small hive beetle within a radius of at least 100 km" (Part 2 of Annex E to Directive 92/65/EEC). Since the whole region of Calabria is subject to restrictions as a surveillance zone (according to 2021/597/EU), movement of bee colonies from the region of Calabria, as well as a 100 km buffer zone encompassing this region, is not allowed.

By the amendments of November 20, 2017 (Implementing Decision (EU) 2017/2174 of November 20, 2017, amending Annex E to Directive 92/65/EEC of the Regulations on Trade in Bees and Bumblebees), the following smaller minimum distances from infested areas of the small hive beetle apply to the transport of queens in cages (single queen with a maximum of 20 care bees per cage):

The distance to the borders of a protection zone, which itself has a radius of at least 20 km around a confirmed occurrence of the small hive beetle, must be at least 30 km. Therefore, at least 50 km distance to a confirmed case is required. This is provided that regular official controls of the area take place with well-defined statistical reliability. For the movement of bumblebee colonies, breeding must take place in a facility shielded from the outside world.

The basic requirements for any movement are valid veterinary certificates from the country of origin, notification of the movement through TRACES, and notification to the competent veterinary authority of the recipient country. Thus, both the authorities of the country of origin and the receiving country are informed about the movement of bees or bumble bees and can carry out targeted controls.

Precautionary measures to prevent introduction

For precautionary reasons, neither bee colonies nor queen bees should be moved from Italy or brought back to Austria in the course of migration.

Varroamilbe

The varroa mite(Varroa destructor) originates from Asia and parasitizes bees and bee brood. Different bee viruses are transmitted by the varroa mite. Both the parasitization and the bee viruses damage bees and their brood stages. The varroa mite has been present in Austria since about 1980, and today it can be found in every bee colony. The varroa mite sometimes causes colony collapses and is often responsible for high winter losses.

Since 01.01.2014, agents for varroa control in Austria require approval as veterinary medicinal products (TAM). Bees may only be treated with substances approved for this species (Regulation (EU) No. 37/2010) (§ 4 (5) TAKG).

Only approved veterinary medicinal products may be used for control. The veterinary medicinal products approved in Austria for Varroa control can be found in the Register of Medicinal Products of the Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG), where directions for use as well as expert information can be retrieved for each preparation.

In our pathogen database you will find extensive information on varroa mites, varroosis, varroa control and seminars or descriptive videos on the biology and control of varroa mites.

Further information

In 2017, bienengesundheit.at was launched to provide assistance in the effective control of the varroa mite, following the example of the warning services in the field of crop production. Here you will find the Varroawetter service as well as a lot of additional information on the varroa mite.

Suspected poisoning

Possible causes of poisoning damage

  • Plant protection products: Poisoning by plant protection measures in agriculture and forestry or in gardens; largest share of poisoning damages
  • Freelander damage: bees are poisoned wantonly
  • Industrial fumes (e.g. emissions containing arsenic, lead or fluorine)
  • Tracht poisoning from toxic nectar or pollen

Signs of poisoning

  • Mass mortality on the ground before the flight front, on the flight boards and in the hives
  • Conspicuous behavior of bees at the flight hole
  • Sharp and sudden decrease in bee flight and colony strength. If the flight bees in the field are hit by agents of high acute toxicity, many of them die already during the flight.
  • Brood changes: Plant protection products from the group of growth regulators that damage brood development leave characteristic damage patterns (white-gray crescents on the inner edge of the compound eyes) on dead pupae and young bees that do not appear until 10 to 25 days after spraying.

The competent authorities in case of suspected poisoning are the district administrative authorities (BH, Magistrat). In case of suspected outrage, a report must be filed with the police.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sample submission

Our offer for examinations on bee health and bee products

We are at your disposal as competent contact persons and partners for the examination of bee diseases and pests as well as for the testing and evaluation of honey and bee products. You can send us samples of your bee colony if you suspect a disease. We will perform the requested examinations for you. The current price list applies to examinations for which a fee is charged. You can find it under Downloads at the bottom of the page.

We kindly ask you to enclose a written request form with the sample submission. The application form can be found in the downloads. For details on sample types, sample size, packaging and shipping, please refer to the enclosed information sheet on sending in private samples.

Samples can be submitted Monday through Thursday from 9am-12pm and 1pm-3pm and Friday from 9am-12pm.

Bee Pasture & Pollination

Food basics of a bee colony

For the healthy and undisturbed development of a bee colony, the sufficient availability of appropriate food (water, pollen, nectar, honeydew) is absolutely necessary. In addition, other substances such as putty resin (propolis) are needed.

Bee pasture is the term used to describe those flowering plants that bees seek out for food. The importance of individual plant species for bee nutrition varies. In this context, research projects on bee pasture make an important contribution to biodiversity and, with the energy crop Silphium also offer alternatives to corn.

Genetically modified plants and bees

Bees can come into contact with genetically modified plants and products derived from them via various routes:

  • Food sources (nectar, pollen).
  • Bee feed derived from GMO plants (e.g. pollen substitutes based on GMO soy meal) or using enzymes produced by GMO microorganisms (e.g. corn starch syrup).

For food and feed there are corresponding legal regulations regarding tolerance thresholds and labeling.

Bee nutrition - feed sugar

For the overwintering of the bees or the bridging of gaps in the honey harvest, the extracted honey is usually replaced by feed sugar in our latitudes.

Further information can be found in the MERKBLATT of the BVL on hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) in bee feed under Downloads at the bottom of this page.

Further information

Flowering Landscape Network

Bee pasture catalog of the Ministry of Food, Rural Areas and Consumer Protection Baden-Württemberg

Values for pollen and nectar in bee pasture

Article by Andrea Holzschuh, Carsten F. Dormann, Teja Tscharntke & Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter: Expansion of mass-flowering crops leads to transient pollinator dilution and reduced wild plant pollination.

Bee health in sugar beet growing areas 2019/20

For the states of Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Styria, there was an emergency approval for the use of sugarbeet seed treated with neonicotinoids in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 growing seasons. Certain conditions were attached to the emergency approval; among them was the requirement to conduct bee monitoring to detect potential exposure of bees to the aforementioned substances. The monitoring was carried out in the years with emergency approval. In this context, apiaries in sugar beet growing areas were selected, observed and sampled.

Exposure monitoring was primarily based on pollen cup samples collected with pollen traps and analyzed for residues. If increased bee mortality occurred, damaged or dead bees were also analyzed for residues. Honey samples from the spring harvest were examined if clothianidin, thiamethoxam, or imidacloprid were detectable in the pollen cup samples at the respective stand.

Research questions

The following questions were investigated:

  • Does the use of sugarbeet seed dressed with clothianidin or thiamethoxam in the course of the emergency approval result in
    • increased bee mortality during the sowing period?
    • Residues in pollen pellets collected during the sowing period in spring?
    • Residues in pollen pellets, collected at flowering time of subsequent crops or catch crops in summer/autumn?
  • If residues are found in pollen socks or in the bee deadfall,
    • From which plant species does the contaminated pollen originate?
    • Are residues of the neonicotinoids used to dress the beet seed detectable in the extracted honey?
    • If so, is the extracted honey marketable in accordance with the provisions of food law (Residue Limits Ordinance)?

Results

No exposure of bees to clothianidin was detected in 2019 and 2020. In the 2019 monitoring, however, exposure to thiamethoxam and imidacloprid was detected on some stands. There had been an emergency approval for both active ingredients in sugar beet seed in 2019. There was no emergency approval for the two active ingredients thiamethoxam and imidacloprid in 2020. In the 2020 monitoring, there was also no detectable exposure of bee colonies to these substances in the study area.

The complete report on bee monitoring can be found in the downloads at the bottom of the page.

Bee health projects

Contact

Leitung

Dr. Josef Mayr

Last updated: 18.01.2022

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