In 2017, new guidelines issued by the US Food and Drug Administration mandated that all livestock animals receiving “medically important” antibiotics require a prescription or veterinary feed directive. This includes those antibiotics used to prevent or treat honey bee diseases, notably European and American Foulbrood (AFB and EFB, respectively), now requiring a veterinarian to prescribe antibiotics to beekeepers.
This directive was motivated by the rise of antibiotic resistance of several livestock diseases, meaning that in many cases, antibiotics have been used excessively and/or incorrectly, allowing the pathogens to no longer be killed by the antibiotic treatments and thus for disease to continue. Often, antibiotics such as oxytetracycline are used preventatively in honey bee colonies, which can inadvertently lead to bacterial resistance to the drug and thus infections that are more difficult to clear. Trained in animal health and wellbeing, veterinarians possess valuable skills to evaluate the overall health of beekeeping operations and can work with beekeepers to ensure antibiotics are being used appropriately.
Resources for Beekeepers
Below, we've listed New York State Veterinarians who are trained to diagnose and treat honey bee diseases (including with antibiotic prescriptions) and are willing to visit your apiary. We will continue to update this list as more vets are trained and become available.
|Full Name||Phone||Location||Practice name|
|Cathy Parent||docparent99 [at] yahoo.com||518-319-7705||Churubusco, NY||Parent Veterinary Practice|
|Elizabeth Balter||greenerpasturesvetservices [at] gmail.com||413-717-8612||Copake Falls, NY||Copake Veterinary Hospital|
|Wayne Herr||ksbabybug [at] roadrunner.com||716-668-0503||Depew, NY||Suburban South Veterinary Hospital|
|Edward Chapman||chapvet [at] aol.com||315-247-8228||Fayetteville, NY||Fayetteville Vet Hospital|
|Amanda Craig||amcraig297 [at] gmail.com||518-399-9196||Glenville, NY||Glenville Veterinary Clinic|
|Chris Cripps||chris [at] betterbee.com||Greenwich, NY||Betterbee|
|Hannah Smith||southportvet [at] gmail.com||607-734-5755||Horseheads, NY||Southport Veterinary Services, PLLC|
|Rolfe M. Radcliffe||rmr45 [at] cornell.edu||607-253-4314||Ithaca, NY||College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University|
|Robin W. Radcliffe||rwr32 [at] cornell.edu||607-253-3778||Ithaca, NY||College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University|
|Claude Grosjean||drgro [at] optonline.net||631-283-0611||Southampton, NY||Olde Towne Animal Hospital|
Veterinarians: do you work with honey bees or know another veterinarian who does? Are you on this list and need to update your information? Please email shm33 [at] cornell.edu and we will add or update your listing.
Resources for Veterinarians
Are you a veterinarian interested in learning more about adding honey bee health services to your practice?
Dr. Scott McArt and members of Cornell University’s Dyce Lab hold annual, in-person training workshops in multiple regions of New York State. Check for notifications for these events on the Dyce Lab Facebook page or by emailing Dr. McArt (shm33 [at] cornell.edu) in the spring of each year.
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst has developed an instructional series of videos and factsheets demonstrating how to conduct a honey bee colony inspection and diagnose common bee diseases.
- Join the Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium (HBVC) to access more resources and hear from honey bee health experts!
- Gear up in a bee suit, veil, and nitrile gloves and light your smoker.
Use new nitrile gloves between colonies, or at least every apiary, to reduce disease transmission.
Use clean hive tools between apiaries, too. (Scrape off propolis/wax and sanitize.)
Always change your suit, gloves, and hive tool after finding AFB or EFB. Bee suits should be washed after finding AFB or EFB.
- Observe the pollen and nectar sources in bloom around the apiary.
- Are there ample flowering plants? Or are there few plants, suggesting a dearth?
- Do you notice any robbing behavior? ie. Masses of forager bees from one colony entering a nearby colony to steal resources.
- This can indicate there is a scarcity of resources in the environment and/or the colony being robbed has been weakened by disease or malnutrition
- Before opening the colony, note the forager bees at the entrance of the hive. How many bees are collecting resources? Are there big pollen baskets on the returning foragers?
- Upon opening the colony, pay attention to the odor, particularly for any notes of rot. This can accompany advanced disease.
- Note the population of bees in the colony. Dense bees are healthy bees! If there are few bees in the top colony box, this may indicate a weak/diseased colony or a recent swarm. Continue opening further boxes to get more information!
- How much space do the bees have? If there are lots and lots of bees and not much empty space on frames, the bees may be running out of room. In spring, if you notice honey/nectar in the brood comb, the queen will run out of space to lay eggs and you may suggest providing an extra empty super box with drawn-out comb to prevent the colony from swarming.
- Check if the bees have enough honey and nectar stores. Uncapped nectar represents more current nectar flow. There should be a combination of capped and uncapped nectar and pollen cells.
- In the brood box, locate the queen or look into cells to locate eggs. If there are eggs, the queen has been active in the last 3 days.
- If you find the queen but don’t find eggs, the queen may no longer be efficiently laying eggs (too old, sick, etc.). You may suggest requeening, though mite treatments may also cause a pause in egg-laying.
- Observe the brood pattern and quality. A healthy brood frame is a mostly solid block of capped cells.
- Problematic patterns include “patchy” patterns with many gaps between capped cells and partly opened/uncapped brood where the nurse bee detected a problem in the cell.
- Continue observing bees and brood to determine if any pathogens and parasites are present. Use Vita Bee field ELISA tests to confirm AFB or EFB.
- Chalkbrood: chalky cadavers of dead brood (often on the bottom board of the colony)
- Nosema: excessive poop on the outside of the colony wall
- AFB: sunken, concave, or perforated brood cappings; brown, mucoid pre-pupae laying flat on the lower cell wall that will string out into about 2 cm ‘ropes’ when prodded with swab; and noticeable foul odor
- EFB: yellow/brown, twisted, and scaled larvae
- Viruses: visibly deformed wings, brown/diseased brood that is negative for AFB and EFB
- For more information on diagnosing honey bee diseases, watch the Dyce Lab's one-hour video tutorial on diagnosing brood diseases or visit our pests, parasites, and disease factsheet page.
- Perform a Varroa mite check, even if there are no mites visible on bees. Suggest mite treatment if mite counts are higher than 6 mites per 300 bees in May - July or 9 mites per 300 bees in August - September. To learn how to monitor and treat for mites, download our Varroa mite factsheets.
Often symptoms of American Foulbrood (AFB) and European Foulbrood (EFB) may look similar, and a diagnostic test should be used to determine the disease. EFB infection does not require regulation, and antibiotic treatment is up to the beekeeper. If the infection is determined to be AFB, the following steps must be carried out.
- Use a Vita Bee Diagnostic Test Kit. Determine if larvae present the characteristic “roping out” symptom
- Mark the suspected hive and quarantine the apiary
- Contact Cornell’s Dyce Lab: Scott McArt (shm33 [at] cornell.edu) and the State Apiculturist: Joan Mahoney (Joan.Mahoney [at] agriculture.ny.gov)
Send a sample of brood to the USDA Beltsville Laboratory for confirmation. Collect a 2-in x 2-in piece of comb with brood (no honey) and wrap it loosely in newspaper. Mail the sample in a cardboard box. Learn more about how to submit samples to the USDA Bee Lab on their website.
Bee Disease Diagnosis
Bee Research Laboratory
10300 Baltimore Ave
Bldg. 306 Room 316
Beltsville, MD 20705
- If the colony is confirmed to be positive for AFB it must be destroyed by burning. Uninfected colonies may be treated with antibiotics if the beekeeper prefers (generally Oxytetracycline hydrochloride)
Download our hive inspection field guide
We have condensed the hive inspection guidelines for veterinarians into a printable one-page fact sheet. It is a useful reference for guiding apiary visits with beekeepers.