Understanding the Honey Bee’s Biggest Threat

The Varroa Mite

The Life Cycle of Varroa Mites and their Effect on Honey Bee Colonies

Varroa destructor, commonly known as the varroa mite, is a parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on honey bees. As a parasite, varroa mites weaken and transmit viruses to their host honey bees, causing a disease called varroosis. While varroa mites may be small, an infestation is a big problem for honey bee hives. In fact, millions of colonies around the world have died in recent years from varroa mites, making them the number one threat to honey bee health.

How Varroa Mites Spread in a Hive

To understand how to combat varroa mites, we must understand the life cycle. Varroa mites hitch a ride on adult bees to enter a hive. Once inside, the mites slip undetected into uncapped brood cells with vulnerable developing bees. Here, the mites wait until the bees cap the brood cell, and then begin to feed off the developing bee and reproduce under the brood cap.

When the baby bee emerges from its cell, more mites emerge with it, and transfer to other brood cells on the backs of adult bees. Due to the exponential nature of varroa reproduction, colony infestation levels can quickly get out of control. Viruses accumulate in the colony, and higher varroa levels further weaken the bees, rendering them unable to survive.

Breaking Down the Way Mites Feed off Bees

Varroa mites feed off bees’ fat body tissues and not bee blood. Check out the Samuel Ramsey’s research for the latest breakdown of what Varroa destructor is actually eating when they feed off honey bees

Spread of Varroa Mites Around the World

How Varroa Mites Multiply

Varroa mites multiply under the brood cap, doubling in population every 22 days.

In four months, just one mite becomes 15 and it only takes one female mite.

In 12 weeks, the number of mites in a western honey bee hive can multiply about 12 times.

Tools for Varroa Management Guide

The Honey Bee Health Coalition offers a guide for managing Varroa mites.

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