Powdered Sugar Shake – Counting Varroa Mites using icing sugar

Powdered sugar shake

A “Powdered Sugar Shake” is another method of counting Varroa mites that beekeepers can use, it’s more intrusive than a drop count with a kiwimana meshboard. But it gives you an instant indicative count of the mites in your hive. Here is a step by step guide on “How to do a Powdered sugar shake”.

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc
photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

Icing sugar is the same as Powdered Sugar in some other countries, its ground down sugar granules. That you can either make yourself in a coffee grinder or buy in packets.

When the bees are coated with the icing sugar the varroa mites can’t hang on and are dislodged from the bee.

This method would be handy for commercial beekeepers that don’t have the time to return to the apiary after three days to check on the drop counts. Or for people that have remote hives away from home. You can do a Powdered Sugar Shake during your normal bee inspection.

How do a sugar shake and count mites in your hives

What you need

  • A 500 ml preserving jar “Sugar Shake Jar” (The ones with the metal ring tip)
  • A Table Spoon of Powdered Sugar/Icing Sugar
  • Something to collect the bees
  • White Plate with water

The centre ring of the preserving jar is replaced with mesh that bees can not fall through, but varroa mites can.

NB: 1/2 cup is a three hundred bee sample

The Process

    Fill Jar with 300 Bees
    Fill Jar with 300 Bees
  1. Fill the Sugar Shake Jar to 1/3 full, this is about 300 Bees. Collect Bees from at least three Brood frames, be sure not to collect the Queen by mistake.
  2. Gently roll the bees for 3–5 minutes to ensure all bees are coated in the icing sugar. Leave the bees for one minute in a shaded location.
  3. Shake Sugar and mites out of Sugar Shake Jar for around one minute, onto a white surface or plate. If the plate has water in it, it makes it much easier to see the mites.
  4. Return bees to hive. They will groom themselves and will be fine.

Count mites that have fallen out of jar.

Reading the Results – Thresholds

According to the great book by Mark Goodwin and Michelle Taylor “Control of Varroa – A Guide for New Zealand Beekeepers”, Section 10.3 “Economic Thresholds”

The threshold in New Zealand is 40 mites per three hundred bees, the book also states that this threshold may need to adjusted when Deformed Wing Virus is more widespread in New Zealand.

We read Randy Oliver’s great article from 2006 “Reconnaissance Mite sampling methods and thresholds” and he recommends:-

As a general goal, try to keep the mite level below a 1% infestation of adult bees at any time
This translates to:-

Ether roll or Powdered Sugar Shake of 300 beesabout 3 mites
24-hr natural sticky fallabout 10 mites
10-min sugar dust dropabout 5-10 mites

Sugar Shake Jars

We are going to sell these Sugar Shake Jars already made up, there are a good quality preserving jar with a stainless steel mesh at the top. Here is the product page:-

Here is a gallery of the process:-

3 thoughts on “Powdered Sugar Shake – Counting Varroa Mites using icing sugar

  1. Avatar photo
    Julia says:

    Is the Sugar Shake any more bee-friendly than an Ether Roll? Obviously the bees aren’t killed (which is a good thing!), but vigorously shaking the bees in sugar above a white tray can’t be much fun for the bees? Do the bees mostly survive? Are they pretty angry when they are released from the jar? Just asking out of curiosity as I haven’t tried either, but would like to become more vigilant about sampling my bees for varroa. Thanks.

    • Avatar photo
      Gary Fawcett says:

      Hi Julia,

      Yes the bees seem to be fine, I guess its not ideal but its better than using ether and killing them all.

      It is important to try and gage the level of mites in your hives, if you live close to the hives you can also use the a meshboard to get a drop count. Which is less disruptive to the bees.

      The bees don’t seem angry once covered in icing sugar in my experience.


  2. Avatar photo
    Noah says:


    I liked this article.

    But I wanted to ask… if you do this a few times in a row, what are the chances of the hive becoming more defensive overall after this? Were you able to observe a change in defensiveness after this is done?

    I also wanted to ask also…if you had this as an alternative to the alcohol wash method, does this also mean there’s an alternative to oxalic acid?

    Hope to hear from you.

    Thank you for such a wonderful article.

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