Virus Monitoring

Changed on: 04.01.2022

The research project "Future of Honey Bees" ("Zukunft Biene") enters the second round. The Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism (BMNT) has approved a follow-up project called "Zukunft Biene 2" ("Future of Honey Bees 2"). The project focuses especially on the various bee viruses, but of course data on the winter losses of Austrian colonies will continue to be collected. "Zukunft Biene 2" is largely conceived as a "Citizen Science" project. With the involvement of beekeepers from all over Austria as hobby researchers, the state of health of native honey bees in their different living environments will be investigated. With the participation of the population, scientific questions can be collected and dealt with more comprehensively in a shorter time.

Honey bee infected with Deformed Wing Virus (DWV): Bee with varroa mite and wing stumps as DWV symptom.
Larvae infected with the Sacbrood Virus (SBV) with Varroa mite on top.
In black and shiny bees only a test gives certainty whether an infestation by the Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) is present.

Future of Honey Bees 2 - Successful start of virus monitoring for beekeepers

"We do the virus check with our bees because it is a valuable support to protect my bee colonies from the effects of the Varroa infestation", Manfred Sackl, beekeeper from Carinthia.

What are the most common bee viruses in Austria and are these viruses associated with high winter losses of local bee colonies? To answer these questions, 200 beekeepers from all over Austria are working as Citizen Scientists in the "Future of Honey Bees" follow-up project. The apiaries for this study were selected at random from voluntary reports from a Facebook campaign of the AGES and a call in the beekeeper magazine "Bienen aktuell" and from "Biene Österreich".

In "Future of Honey Bees 2" in project module A, the colonies of 200 apiaries throughout Austria are tested for the seven most important bee viruses for three years free of charge. It applies to clarify the question: What are the most common bee viruses in Austria and are they associated with high winter losses? At the same time, basic and necessary information about bee viruses is collected. 

The beekeeper searches the sample colony for the correct comb for sampling.
Ten workers per colony are captured in a queen cage equipped with food.
Five cages with living bees are sent by post to the AGES Department 'Apiculture and Bee Protection'
The bees are killed by cold in the AGES and exactly ten bees are counted for analysis.
The homogenized concentrate is bottled and ready for virus analysis.

In September 2018, the hobby researchers sent bee samples from their apiaries. In the last weeks the AGES received 198 packages. This means that 99% of the selected participants have successfully completed the first of three samples.

The samples were taken by the beekeepers themselves and the materials and instructions were made available to them by us. They sampled five of their colonies by filling five queen cages with about ten bees each. They then submitted a questionnaire with detailed information about their operation.

Many of the participants then fulfilled a voluntary additional task: they looked through the sample colonies for disease symptoms that could be associated with virus infestation and also entered these observations in the questionnaire.

The queen cages, together with the questionnaire, were sent by post to the AGES-Department for Apiculture and Bee Protection. Arrived there, the packages were immediately frozen and the bees were killed quickly and gently.

The virus level of the sent in bees is determined in the next months and announced to the beekeepers.

What must participating beekeepers do?

  • Select an apiary with at least five colonies and announce it to the AGES.
  • Collect and send bee samples from selected colonies (material and instructions provided by AGES)
  • Answering a short questionnaire on the beekeeping Operation and the apiary
  • The results of the overwintering success of the sampled colonies and the other colonies of the apiary will be announced in the following spring.

What does the project bring to participating beekeepers?

  • Free virus check for three years (1 time per year)
  • Annual Report of the virus results in the sampled bee colonies
  • Information on annual changes in virus occurrence
  • A sharpened, fact-based picture of the health of their colonies
  • The certainty to something useful to maintain the health of the own bee colonies.

Further information can be found on the project homepage If you have any questions about virus monitoring, please contact the AGES-Department for Apiculture and Bee Protection at:

"Future of Honey Bees 2 - Basic research project for the promotion of bee protection and bee health".

Starting Position

According to the current state of science, bee viruses such as the Deformed Wing Virus and the Acute Bee Paralysis Virus are jointly responsible for high winter losses. However, other viruses, such as the Sacbrood Virus or the Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus, are also a major problem for bee colonies. Unfortunately, we currently only have limited knowledge about the occurrence and frequency of these bee viruses in Austria. Up to now, virus tests have usually only been carried out when damage to the colony has already occurred. Research results from the USA and European neighbouring countries showed that many viruses occur just as frequently in inconspicuously appearing colonies as in clearly damaged ones.

Goal of the project

Within the framework of "Future of Honey Bees" an overview of the frequency of three bee viruses in Austria has already been gained. This knowledge will be deepened in an Austrian virus monitoring of AGES lasting several years and the examination spectrum will be extended by four more viruses. Vetmeduni Wien will test innovative approaches to improve virus diagnostics in honey bees. To date, viral infections in honey bees have been diagnosed by the detection of viral material using "polymerase chain reaction" (PCR). These PCR test procedures are very complex and expensive and only ever detect one virus species. The aim of the module is therefore to develop a virus test that detects viral antigens (proteins). The test methods to be developed are inexpensive and can be automated, so that beekeepers will be able to test the health of their colonies and react to the virus infestation with targeted measures without great financial expense. The University of Graz will continue the COLOSS study on winter losses in Austria. With the conclusion of "Zukunft Biene 2", 14 years of uninterrupted winter loss data will be available from which important conclusions can be drawn about trends and cycles. In addition, important questions regarding the economic significance of winter losses, methods of winter loss collection and the problems and expectations of young beekeepers will be scientifically dealt with.

Research topic: Bee health
Acronym: Future of Honey Bees 2 - Basic research project for the promotion of bee protection and bee health
Project duration: 12/2017 to 09/2021 
Project Management: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Karl Crailsheim, University of Graz
Project consortium: Karl-Franzens-University Graz (Institute of Zoology), University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Institute of Virology), AGES - Österreichische Agentur für Gesundheit und Ernährungssicherheit GmbH (Department of Apiculture and Bee Protection, Department of Molecular Biology, Department of Statistics)
Project funding: Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism (BMNT), Federal Provinces and Beekeepers' Umbrella Association Austria as well as own funds of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz, the Veterinary University Vienna and the AGES

Logo der Citizen Science Plattform "Österreich forscht"

Wir freuen uns, dass das Projekt die Citizen Science-Qualitätskriterien auf der Plattform Österreich forscht erfüllt. Herzlichen Dank an das gesamte Projektteam:

Citizen Scientists (Proben- und Datensammlung): 200 Imkerinnen und Imker aus ganz Österreich
Projektleitung "Virenmonitoring" (Kommunikation, Berichtlegung): Linde Morawetz
Projektdurchführung (Ausarbeitung, Vorbereitung Materialien): Katharina Etter, Irmgard Derakhshifar (pensioniert), Hemma Köglberger, Rudolf Moosbeckhofer (pensioniert)
Analytiklabor (Methodenentwicklung, Analyse): Adi Steinrigl, Sigrid Träger
Statistik (statistische Analyse): Antonia Griesbacher
Projektleitung Gesamtprojekt "Zukunft Biene 2" (Projektmanagement): Robert Brodschneider
Kooperationspartner "Zukunft Biene 2" (Beratung): Robert Brodschneider, Benjamin Lamp