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Bee Health, Medication, and Environmental Challenges

Table of contents

Ah, bees! These small buzzing creatures play a colossal role in our ecosystems and agriculture. Did you know they face a slew of challenges, especially when it comes to their health? Between parasites, various diseases, and pesticides, our bee friends really need a helping hand. However, caring for these little insects is not as simple as it seems. Let’s delve into this adventure together to understand the stakes of their medication, the regulations to follow, and how climate change is shaking things up.

1. Developing a Medication: A Balancing Act

Firstly, imagine the complexity of creating medications for a creature as small and unique as the bee. It’s not like treating your cat or dog. Bees have their own way of life, organized in society, highly sensitive to chemicals, and crucial for pollination and honey production.1-2 To concoct the right remedy, one must consider their well-being both individually and collectively, ensuring not to poison their environment or our plates with contaminated honey. In short, it’s a true scientific and ethical puzzle.


Add to that the variability of environments within hives, not to mention the omnipresent threats of parasites3, pathogens, and pesticides. This complex alchemy requires deep and innovative thinking in medication development, where each variable must be carefully considered to ensure effective and respectful protection of these hardworking nature’s laborers.

2. Regulatory Challenges in Medication Approval

Developing medications for our bee friends also involves embracing the world of veterinary regulation. This rigor serves only one purpose: to oversee the safety of these pollinators, beekeepers, and consumers of hive products; while ensuring treatment effectiveness and minimizing our footprint on the environment.4 The backstage of this scientific adventure is filled with crucial steps, ranging from efficacy tests to toxicological evaluations, not to mention meticulous residue analyses and environmental impact studies. These explorations are often conducted in various regions to test multiple climatic conditions.


But the adventure doesn’t stop there. For these innovations to see the light of day in compliance with the strictest standards, additional steps are necessary: stability studies are conducted with care, accompanied by validation of manufacturing processes. Like pieces of a puzzle, each document, each test contributes to building a solid file, in harmony with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and regulatory guidelines. It’s this quest for precision and excellence that paves the way for obtaining valuable authorizations, opening the door to the marketing of veterinary medication for our precious bees.

3. Key Factors: Understanding Kinetics, Formulation, and Concentration

At the heart of developing treatments for our bees lies an essential trio: the kinetics (dynamics) of medications, with appropriate formulation and precise concentration (dosage).5  It’s important to understand pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, i.e., how medications are absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and eliminated by bees, as well as how active ingredients interact with receptors. This understanding is fundamental for effectively combating diseases while limiting side effects.


Formulation is crucial for the product’s kinetics, stability, and to ensure easy and controlled administration. Dosage (concentration) also plays a critical role, as it’s about finding the right balance between treatment efficacy and toxicity minimization, thus ensuring bee safety and colony health. These elements are vital to avoid the emergence of resistance and to maintain the effectiveness of therapeutic approaches over the long term.

4. Risks of Overdosing and the Importance of Integrated Parasite Control

Playing with the dosage of medications in hopes of more effectively defeating parasites may seem appealing at first glance. However, this approach can prove counterproductive, leading to higher toxicity, development of resistance, environmental damage, and unnecessary cost escalation.6 

In reality, the efficacy of a medication largely depends on its formulation – its composition and method of application – which can radically alter its action, even at identical concentrations. Two medications at equal concentration can behave entirely differently depending on their composition and application form. This topic warrants a deeper exploration, which we will delve into in a forthcoming article.

Rather than blindly increasing doses, adopting an integrated approach to combat parasites offers a more thoughtful and effective solution. Managing bee colonies, similar to managing a farm, requires a strategy where breeding practices are as crucial as medication use.7 

The integrated pest management (IPM) approach embraces this philosophy, combining cultural, biological, and chemical control for sustainable impact.7,8  Its aim? Minimizing effects on non-target organisms, reducing resistance risk, and safeguarding bee health and our ecosystems.9,10,11

This thoughtful approach underscores the importance of considering all aspects of bee health, the environment, and the broader implications of our interventions, guiding towards more sustainable practices respectful of life in all its forms.

5. The Issue of Unauthorized Treatments in Beekeeping

In the world of beekeeping, the attraction to using unauthorized bee medications, “home-made” treatments, or products imported from abroad remains a major concern. Despite the existence of legal and approved treatments in beekeeping, the complexity of hive management, economic challenges, and a general lack of awareness may drive some beekeepers towards illegal options.

It’s not uncommon to see treatments intended for other animals, such as cattle, diverted from their initial use. These risky practices are not without consequences: they threaten bee health12, encourage resistance emergence13, can contaminate hive products due to improper dosage or excessive application14,15, and lead to environmental repercussions.

The use of these illegal treatments is, naturally, prohibited and exposes to severe legal consequences. Emphasizing the importance of this issue to beekeepers is crucial. It’s essential to promote access to treatments developed and specifically tested for bees and to address economic issues that may incentivize turning to such practices. Furthermore, it’s about fostering a culture of responsibility and encouraging legal and ethical beekeeping practices, thereby contributing to a safer and more sustainable environment for our precious bees and consumers of hive products.16,17

6. Climate Challenge: Adapting Bee Care to a Changing World

Climate change also poses new challenges in bee health and affects the effectiveness of treatments administered to them18,19,20. Between the vagaries of the thermometer, disruptions in metabolic rhythms, the emergence of new diseases/parasites, changes in foraging habits, and the multiplication of environmental stressors, it becomes imperative to rethink our approach to veterinary medicine for these essential pollinators.

This new climate era forces us to anticipate, innovate, and consider adapting existing treatments, as well as designing new medication solutions that consider these constantly evolving variables. Tomorrow’s medications must be designed with a perspective where climate change is a central consideration for their effectiveness and safety.

Climate change also accentuates the challenge of bee nutrition, with dwindling resources and rising temperatures threatening their food supply. Facing this changing reality is not only a scientific and technical challenge but also an ecological imperative to ensure bee survival and, by extension, the survival of our food system.

7. Beekeeping and the One Health Principle: An Integrated Vision for the Future

Beekeeping plays a fundamental role in the balance of our ecosystems, impacting not only bee health but also that of all living beings. The principle of “One Health” 10,11,15 – we didn’t invent it, it’s the WHO that talks about it – which recognizes the interconnectedness of human, animal, plant, and our shared environment health, emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach in managing bee colony health and well-being. This “One Health” principle may not ring a bell to you, but it encourages a deeper understanding of the reciprocal effects between beekeeping practices and the global ecosystem.

The bee as an individual represents the pinnacle of this One Health challenge, having a foothold in agriculture and a direct impact on pollination, in human health through apitherapy and consumption products (honey, pollen…), as well as in animal health with the “colony” superorganism.

In this context, collaboration becomes essential: beekeepers, scientists, policymakers, and the public must work together to develop strategies that support bee health while preserving biodiversity and ensuring healthy environments for all.21

By aligning beekeeping practices with the goals of “One Health“, we can contribute to building a future where the health of our planet is considered in an integrated manner, recognizing that the well-being of bees is inseparable from our own health and that of our environment.10,11,15

This integrated approach is not just a utopian vision but a practical necessity to address the complex challenges of our time, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and emerging health threats.



  1. Khalifa, S.A.M.; Elshafiey, E.H.; Shetaia, A.A.; El-Wahed, A.A.A.; Algethami, A.F.; Musharraf, S.G.; AlAjmi, M.F.; Zhao, C.; Masry, S.H.D.; Abdel-Daim, M.M.; et al. Overview of Bee Pollination and Its Economic Value for Crop Production. Insects2021, 12, 688. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12080688.

  2. Patel, V., Pauli, N., Biggs, E. et al. Why bees are critical for achieving sustainable development. Ambio 50, 49–59 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-020-01333-9

  3. Rosenkranz P., Aumeier P.& Ziegelmann B. (2012). – Biology and control of Varroa destructor. J Invertebr. Pathol., 103 (1) 96-119 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022201109001906?via%3Dihub

  4. Tauber, J.P.; Collins, W.R.; Schwarz, R.S.; Chen, Y.; Grubbs, K.; Huang, Q.; Lopez, D.; Peterson, R.; Evans, J.D. Natural Product Medicines for Honey Bees: Perspective and Protocols. Insects2019, 10, 356. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects10100356.

  5. The formulation makes the honey bee poison. Christopher A. Mullin, Jing Chen, Julia D. Fine, Maryann T. Frazier, James L. Frazier. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology. Volume 120, May 2015, Pages 27-35.

  6. Bogdanov S. (2006). – Contaminants of bee products. Apidologie, 37 (1), 1-18. https://www.apidologie.org/articles/apido/abs/2006/01/M5401/M5401.html

  7. Vanengelsdorp D, Meixner MD. A historical review of managed honey bee populations in Europe and the United States and the factors that may affect them. J Invertebr Pathol. 2010 Jan;103 Suppl 1:S80-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jip.2009.06.011. Epub 2009 Nov 11. PMID: 19909973.

  8. Pecenka, J.R., Ingwell, L.L., Krupke, C.H. et al. Implementing IPM in crop management simultaneously improves the health of managed bees and enhances the diversity of wild pollinator communities. Sci Rep 13, 11033 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-38053-5

  9. Keith S Delaplane, Jennifer A Berry, John A Skinner, James P Parkman & W Michael Hood (2005). Integrated pest management against Varroa destructorreduces colony mite levels and delays treatment threshold, Journal of Apicultural Research, 44:4, 157-162. DOI: 1080/00218839.2005.11101171.

  10. Lena Wilfert, Mark J.F. Brown, Vincent Doublet. One Health implications of infectious diseases of wild and managed bees. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, Volume 186, 2021, 107506, ISSN 0022-2011. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jip.2020.107506.

  11. Mackenzie, J.S.; Jeggo, M. The One Health Approach—Why Is It So Important?  Med. Infect. Dis.2019, 4, 88. https://doi.org/10.3390/tropicalmed4020088

  12. Tarek E. Abd El-Wahab, Shalaby S., Al-Kahtani S. (2020). Mode of application of acaricides against the ectoparasitic mite (Varroa destructor) infesting honeybee colonies, determines their efficiencies and residues in honey and beeswax. https://coloss.org/articles/1581/

  13. Bartlett L., Baker C., Bruckner S. (2023) No evidence to support the use of glycerol-oxalic acid mixtures delivered via paper towel for controlling Varroa destructor (Mesostigmata: Varroidae) mites in the Southeast United States. J Insect Sci.2023 Nov; 23(6): 18.

  14. Albero, B., Miguel, E. & García-Valcárcel, A.I. Acaricide residues in beeswax. Implications in honey, brood and honeybee. Environ Monit Assess 195, 454 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-023-11047-6

  15. Wallner K. (1999). – Varroacides and their residues in bee products. Apidologie, 30, 235-248 https://hal.science/hal-00891581/document

  16. One Health, One Hive: A scoping review of honey bees, climate change, pollutants, and antimicrobial resistance. Etienne J. de Jongh, Sherilee L. Harper, Shelby S. Yamamoto, Carlee J. Wright, Craig W. Wilkinson, Soumyaditya Ghosh, Simon J.G. Otto. PLOS ONE. doi: 1371/journal.pone.0242393

  17. Lozano a., Hernando M.D., Uclés S., (2019) Identification and measurement of veterinary drug residues in beehive products, Food Chemistry, Volume 274, 15 February 2019, Pages 61-70 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.08.055

  18. Dave Goulson et al. Bee declines driven by combined stress from parasites, pesticides, and lack of flowers. Science 347,1255957(2015). DOI:1126/science.1255957

  19. Simon Klein, Amélie Cabirol, Jean-Marc Devaud, Andrew B. Barron, Mathieu Lihoreau. Why Bees Are So Vulnerable to Environmental Stressors?. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Volume 32, Issue 4, April 2017, Pages 268-278.

  20. Le Conte & M. Navajas. Climate change: impact on honey bee populations and diseases. Rev. sci. tech. Off. int. Epiz., 2008, 27 (2), 499-510.

  21. Good beekeeping practices for sustainable apiculture, FAO, Rome, 2021. https://www.fao.org/documents/card/es/c/cb5353en/
Effects of rising temperatures due to global climate change on honey bee colony development and health have been suggested in the past and are increasingly being investigated.
Clinical case honey bee losses

Table of contents As the saying goes, “a practical example is worth a thousand words.” With this in mind, we have begun collaborating with veterinarians to share clinical cases they’ve

Video – Understand the varroa mite life cycle
5’30min animated video to better understand how varroa mites feed, reproduce and impact honey bee colonies.