Sugar Shake Testing, Explained

What is Sugar shaking?

It's a surveillance method to detect external parasites such as Varroa, Tropilaelaps mites and Braula fly.  It is quick and simple – and does not kill the bees being sampled. The process of shaking bees in fine sugar dislodges the parasites' so they can be collected and examined.

When is a good time to perform a sugar shake?

It is a good idea to start incorporating the test into your spring and winter preparation checks – or anytime you are concerned about your bees.

Pick a warm day, as the test works better then.

What equipment is required for a sugar shake?

  • Sugar shaker jar
  • dry icing mixture
  • spoon
  • bucket or bowl with some clean water
  • newspaper and white coffee filter paper or kitchen towel
  •  few hundred bees from a brood frame

Sugar shake jars are available from beekeeping suppliers. Or you can make your own.

*Jars should not be shared between beekeepers as they can harbour disease.

The Department of Primary Industries has a two-page handout on Sugar Shake Testing.

What about the sugar covered bees? 

The bees should be returned onto top bars of the brood frames just in case you had included the queen in the sample.  The sugar will stimulate grooming behaviour and the bees will soon be cleaned off.

What next? 

If the sugar was shaken into a bucket or bowl of water, the sugar will dissolve and the parasites will float on the surface. Inspect the water surface thoroughly. The water can be poured through a white coffee filter paper or onto a sheet of white kitchen towel to make inspection easier.

Found something suspicious?

If you think you have found Varroa mites, Tropilaelaps mites or Braula fly, contact the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline 1800 084 881 immediately. This line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Will I be in any trouble for making the call if no parasites are found?

No.  It is better to report all suspicious sightings rather than allowing destructive pests to spread through Australia's bee population.

In fact, under biosecurity regulations, you MUST make a report if you suspect any notifiable diseases or pests.

The Biosecurity Manual for Beekeepers clearly explains what to look for. It is available as a free download. Beekeeping clubs may have copies for members.