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Varroa mites feed on honey bee hemolymph

Note: This post is due for an update.

The mite known as Varroa destructor lives by attaching to an immature or adult bee and sucking on the hemolymph or “bee blood.” Not only does this weaken the bee but it allows for the spread of viral diseases.

Anything with the last name of  “destructor” has to be bad. Unchecked, Varroa mites will eventually cause the death of a colony, usually between late fall and early spring. Most scientists believe that the spread of this parasite has been the single most devastating development in the history of beekeeping.

Below are some pictures of Varroa mites. The top photo shows how they appear on a sticky board. The bottom photo shows one attached to an immature bee.

Adult Varroa mites on a sticky board. Flickr photo by Blumenbiene
Adult mite on a honey bee. Flickr photo by jbaker5

Comments

Janette Marshall
Reply

This quite nasty little varroa mite can certainly be destructive within a hive, however, most experienced bee-keepers appear to be able to control this somewhat. It is perhaps wise to learn good bee-keeping practices for those new to the game. I would like to hear of more experienced bee keepers acting as mentors to pass on their knowledge, particularly as this art is becoming far more popular due to the almost daily stories about disappearing honey bees.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Janette,

I agree with you completely that mites are “somewhat” controllable and it’s good to have a mentor. One of the difficulties with learning how to control mites is that different beekeepers have vastly different opinions on how it should be done. Also, how you handle Varroa is somewhat dependent on how you are using your hives. If you are producing honey you might make different choices than someone selling pollination services. If you want a “natural” hive you will handle them differently than someone who prefers to use commercial miticides. A third consideration is location. Your mite-control schedule will differ with your latitude.

So, if you’re looking for a mentor, I’d say you need to find someone who has roughly the same goals and values as well as a pretty good feeling for your geographical area.

I don’t know how often you read my blog, but I try to stay away from saying that my way is the only way. There are almost as many ways as there are beekeepers, and I always keep in mind that what is best for one beekeeper is not necessarily best for another.

That said, however, I don’t think we should be poisoning our environment or anything in it. I do not use “hard” chemicals, but I do use organic acids and other so-called “natural” compounds (such as essential oils) if I have a bad infestation. I also use mechanical controls such as screened bottom boards, drone trapping, and sugar dusting. I also believe that the very best thing you can do for your bees is keep them healthy–a healthy bee has a better chance of coping with any parasite or pathogen than an unhealthy bee.

One by one I’m trying to cover the things I do to control mites. However, I will gladly post new ideas and “try-its” as I hear about them. If you know of any advancements in Varroa control–or any other aspect of beekeeping–I would love to hear about them.

Over the next few weeks I plan to write about organic acids, essential oils, sugar dusting, and Varroa-resistant breeding stock. Varroa control is an evolving field, and there is something new to learn every day.

Thank you so much for writing, Janette. I hope you are able to find a suitable mentor and are able to learn something from this site as well.

Elsa
Reply

Hey, so I am doing a big presentation on bees and CCD, and I was wondering if it was okay to use resources and take notes from this website, as well as maybe interview whoever the creator is. I dont think an interview will be able to be done, because I live in the North East, but I just need to know if it is okay to use info from this amazing blog.

Steve Fonke
Reply

Rusty,

I know that I most likely have some high mite counts but haven’t done a sugar shake yet. However, when inspecting a new package yesterday that I installed back in April I noticed something in the brood pattern that stumped me and so far has stumped the local experts. I’m waiting on a reply from NC State Univ. but none as of yet. I thought you might have a stab at it. I’ve attached a link to my online photo storage (Amazon) that I hope works. Zoom in on the uncapped cells with pupae. I don’t know if it’s mite related but otherwise the colony looks very healthy. Thanks in a advance for whatever insight you may have.

Steve

https://www.amazon.com/photos/share/M530BEuBaFUuHvxLfHfcuptaaOnRz4AphCAVTlp93v1

Rusty
Reply

Steve,

I don’t know, but notice the raised ridges around those cells. Those ridges are usually made to accommodate drone cells; it the first step to capping drones. But since it’s time to evict drones maybe these bees just stopped capping and are getting ready to evict. That’s just a guess, but the ridges signal drones. Let me know what the experts say.

Danny
Reply

Hi Rusty, you might update this post to mention there is new information regarding what mites eat from the bees. Samuel Ramsey believes (and may have his thesis presented) that varroa eats vitelogenin

Rusty
Reply

Danny,

Thanks for reminding me. I have this on my incredibly long to-do list, but you are correct that it should be a priority.

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