Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Honeybees and pollinators, Honeybee diseases, Attracting wildlife

Apparently there has been some mystery about struggling honeybees lately, and today I saw what appeared to be a honeybee frantically grooming herself on a strip-upholstered lawn chair. I didn't know what to do for the creature, who eventually blew or flew away. What should I do if I see this in the future? Also, does the grooming behavior inform the mystery in any way?


You may want to talk directly with someone at the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association. They meet at 6:30p.m. every fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Washington Park Arboretum 2200 Arboretum Drive East, Seattle.

The following sites discuss varroa mites and bee behaviors, including grooming:

  • USDA
    Excerpt: "We're not the only ones to brush off an annoying mosquito or other buggy pest. Honey bees, when plagued by tiny tracheal mites, will use their legs like a fine-tooth comb to rid themselves of the life-threatening parasites. But, as entomologists with the Agricultural Research Service recently confirmed, some honey bees groom themselves more fastidiously than others."
  • Dave Cushman's bee site
  • Wikipedia page on varroa mites

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education website has information on honeybees and varroa mites, including breeding bees for grooming behavior. Here is an excerpt:
"Bees bred for hygienic behavior are able to detect and physically remove disease-infected brood from the colony before it becomes infectious. Hygienic bees are able to detect and remove diseased brood before the human eye can detect any sign of disease symptoms. When bees remove the disease in the non-infectious stage, it prevents the disease from spreading throughout the colony."

Studies of colony collapse disorder are underway at Washington State University: WSU Research news

What you observed in your garden could actually be a sign of a bee fighting off the mites. The best thing you can do is to grow a wide range of bee-attracting plants in your garden, avoid the use of pesticides, and encourage your neighbors to do the same. Below are links to information on bee gardening:
UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab's Gardening for Bees
Puget Sound Beekeepers Association list of honey bee-friendly plants for the Puget Sound area
University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
Xerces Society list of Pacific Northwest Plants for Native Bees

Date 2018-06-27
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