What Makes Formic Acid So Special?
Author: Heather Broccard-Bell, Ph.D., Honey Bee Health Researcher
Not all miticides are created equally—and no two apiaries are the same either. Yet, there are some common factors all beekeepers should carefully consider when deciding which product to use in their operations to control Varroa destructor.
Whether you have a few backyard hives or run a large commercial operation, regularly monitoring for mites (video) and developing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program will help ensure your colonies get the right treatment, at the right time. We encourage beekeepers everywhere to think critically about their treatment plans ensuring the health of their colonies—and honey bees worldwide.
So, what’s the big deal about formic acid?
We’re often asked the question: what makes formic acid so special? Two of NOD’s key products, Mite Away Quick Strips™ (or MAQS) and Formic Pro™ use formic acid as the active ingredient. Formic acid has a number of useful properties that make it an ideal miticide, no matter if you manage five or five thousand colonies.
1. Nature’s Own Design
Formic acid is an organic acid that is naturally present within honey bee colonies, thus it does not introduce a substance into your hives that is not already there. Formic acid is non-lipophilic, meaning that the molecules do not stick to fatty materials, like wax . Studies have shown that honey harvested from supers in place during treatment with either MAQS or Formic Pro do not contain levels of formic acid above what is normally found in untreated honey .
Both products are made with all-natural ingredients that leave no residues in honey, wax or hive components, ensuring the wholesomeness of your honey. Since MAQS and Formic Pro are safe for use with honey supers on, you have more flexibility to treat when needed.
2. Ready-Made Strips Make for Easy Application
Beekeepers have been using formic acid to successfully control Varroa mites in their colonies for many years. At NOD, we wanted to create a product that would be safer to handle, allowing the use of formic acid to be more accessible to beekeepers. The NOD team created a unique delivery system using a sugar solution infused with formic acid. The resulting gel was molded into the safe and easy-to-use strips, now known as MAQS. We later modified our formula to produce Formic Pro, which offers an extended shelf life of 24 months.
Both MAQS and Formic Pro strips are wrapped in Eco-paper designed to act as a wick that controls the release of the formic acid vapours over the length of the treatment period. The Eco-paper is an important part of our delivery system, and it should not be removed during application.
The ready-to-use strips result in quick and easy application of the proper dose—taking the guess work and measurement step out of your treatments. Bonus: MAQS and Formic Pro strips are fully biodegradable. After the treatment period, the strips become inert, so you can leave them in the hive until your next inspection then simply compost the spent strips.
3. MAQS & Formic Pro can Kill Varroa Mites Under the Brood Cap
One of the most valuable properties of formic acid is its ability to penetrate under the brood cap . To see why this is so important, we must first understand a bit about the life cycle of Varroa mites (video). There are two basic parts of Varroa destructor’s life cycle:
- the reproductive stage that only occurs under the brood cap; and
- the dispersal phase, sometimes called “phoretic”, during which mature female mites leave the brood cell, and are visible on adult bees throughout the colony.
Most other miticides target only mites in the dispersal phase, and require adult bees to contact miticide-impregnated strips or gel solution. But just treating for mites found on adult bees is only half the battle. Varroa mites spend a significant proportion of their lives out of sight, under the brood cap—and in fact, males never leave the cells at all. Killing only dispersal-phase mites leaves a whole population of pregnant female mites alive under the caps that are free to emerge with their honey bee hosts, ready to begin the cycle again.
MAQS and Formic Pro are known as “brood treatments” because the strips are applied directly in centre of the brood nest. Formic acid molecules are small enough to penetrate the thin wax capping layer and the cocoon of the developing baby bee to reach the mites. The bees help by fanning the formic acid vapours throughout the hive to kill both dispersal-phase mites and mites under the brood caps, where about 80% of mite population is found.
4. Quick Treatments and No Resistance
In beekeeping, timing is everything. NOD’s formic acid products offer fast-acting treatment options that enable you to control Varroa mites—fast. The best way to ensure that you are taking full advantage of MAQS or Formic Pro is to follow our product labels. To obtain the greatest under the cap kill rate, recommended for all critical treatments, you will want to use the full, 2-strip treatment option of either MAQS or Formic Pro. Place on the top bars of the bottom brood chamber, and leave in place for the full 7 days (MAQS) or 14 days (Formic Pro). Temperatures during the treatment period should not exceed 30°C (85°F), and you’ll need to ensure your brood boxes are properly ventilated (refer to product label for specific instructions on ventilation options). Post treatment monitoring should be done 21 days after the date of application.
MAQS or Formic Pro can be added to your IPM program to extend the life of synthetic treatment use. While mites can become resistant to synthetic treatments—especially when they are used repeatedly or at low levels—no such resistance has ever been observed in the 30+ years beekeepers have been using formic acid.
MAQS and Formic Pro: An investment in your colony’s future.
When used according to our label recommendations, MAQS and Formic Pro provide superior Varroa control that is safe, easy-to-use, and sustainable. The ability of formic acid to target all mites in the colony means that treatment with our products has long-lasting, positive effects. To learn more about using formic acid in your honey bee hives, check out our FAQ videos or get in touch with our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Heather Broccard-Bell, Ph.D.
Dr. Heather Broccard-Bell is the Honey Bee Health Researcher at NOD Apiary Products. She is a scientist and educator with over 15 years research and teaching experience. Heather has been focused on investigating issues surrounding honey bee health and communication since 2014. When Heather’s not in the lab, you can usually find her in the bee yard or on a trail hiking with her many pawed pals.
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Featured photo credit: H. Broccard-Bell.
 Bogdanov, S., Charrière, J. D., Imdorf, A., Kilchenmann, V., & Fluri, P. (2002). Determination of residues in honey after treatments with formic and oxalic acid under field conditions. Apidologie, 33(4), 399-409.
 TestApi (2017). A Study of the impact on the acidity levels in honey produced by honey bee colonies (Apis mellifera L.) treated with Formic Pro™ versus MAQS® Bee Hive Strips.
 Syntech (2014). Field Study to test the efficacy of the test items MAQS®-ESL(R10) and MAQS® in the control of Varroa destructor (varroosis) applied in Layens and Dadant type hives.