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Varroa - an exotic parasitic mite of honey bees

Russell Goodman, Knoxfield

Updated: July 2006 AG1183 ISSN 1329-8062

Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is a parasite of adult honey bees and honey bee brood. It weakens and kills honey bee colonies and can also transmit honey bee viruses. This parasite will be a major problem to commercial and hobby beekeepers should it become established in Australia.

Adult female varroa are reddish-brown, shaped like a scallop shell, about 1.1 mm long and 1.7 mm broad and visible to the naked eye. Adult males are smaller and are yellowish-white. Both sexes have eight legs. The eggs are 0.5 mm long, milky-coloured and at first rounded. Females of Varroa jacobsoni, another exotic species, are smaller than females of V. destructor, being about 1.0 mm long and 1.5 mm wide.

Individual females lay up to six eggs, beginning about 6070 hours after the cell was capped and thereafter at intervals of about 30 hours. The first egg laid is male and all the others are female. Eggs are laid on the base and walls of the cell, and sometimes on the developing bee. Development of female varroa from egg to adult takes about 8 to 10 days. The long interval between the laying of individual eggs means that mites of different stages of development may be seen in the one cell. Protonymphs hatch from eggs about 12 hours after laying. A larger duetonymph stage occurs before the final adult stage.

Photo 2. An open brood cell showing adult varroa and offspring. Photo courtesy Denis Anderson. CSIRO Entomology, Canberra.

Photo 1. Varroa destructor. Photo courtesy Scott Bauer, USDA ARS Image Gallery.

Life cycle
Varroa only produce offspring when honey bee brood is present in hives. Mated female varroa enter drone and worker brood cells containing mature larvae just before hive bees cap the cells. The female varroa move to the base of the cell and submerge themselves in the larval food. When the cell is capped, the submerged mites move to the larva and begin feeding. Photo 3. An adult female varroa (oval-shape) feeds on the thorax of a developing worker bee. Photo courtesy Scott Bauer, USDA ARS Image Gallery.

© State of Victoria, Department of Primary Industries

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In Australia. Photo 4. Female mites may be found on adult bees. Field diagnosis The Agricultural Note ‘Field diagnosis of exotic honey bee parasites and pests in beehives’ (AG 1076) provides detailed notes on the field diagnosis of varroa. Don’t mail or forward any samples until advised to do so by a Department of Primary Industries (DPI) apiary officer. Mark the lid and all boxes of the hive with the same identification number. The daughter mites feed on adult bees and after a short period enter other brood cells to lay eggs. When the new adult bee emerges from its cell. Department of Primary Industries . Photo courtesy Lila De Guzman. gloves veil and hat in plastic bag and leave them at the apiary site until advised by a DPI apiary officer. The mites may be seen on drone and worker pupae in sealed brood cells. Canberra. Mark the hive with a waterproof felt pen (or similar) so it can be easily identified later. In the case of foragers. Before leaving the apiary. USDA ARS Image Gallery. gloves (and gauntlets). 4. Varroa is not spread in honey. Thoroughly wash hands. Collect a specimen of the suspect varroa mite and place it in a small jar of methylated spirits. newly emerged adult bees with deformed wings. Photo 6. Mite numbers increase slowly within a hive. © State of Victoria. Patchy brood patterns may also be seen in advanced infestations. In lightly infested colonies they are mostly found in sealed brood cells. legs and abdomens may be found at the hive entrance. Photo courtesy Denis Anderson. The transport of hives. How varroa spreads The mites are very mobile and readily transfer between adult bees. Varroa spread between colonies and apiaries when hive components. 2. hive tool. They may be found between the first abdominal segments of an adult bee where they hide between the sclerites. Steps if you find or suspect presence of varroa in your apiary It is important when varroa is suspected in an apiary that the following steps are taken by the beekeeper to reduce the risk of spread: 1. When this occurs. Reassemble the opened hive to its normal position. Foraging and drifting bees and swarms can also spread varroa. Colonies affected to this extent will usually die. Keep the jar in a cool. Honey bee with two Varroa mites on its thorax. Check the Page 2 Photo 5. 5. the young varroa females and mother mite also leave the cell. inspect your vehicle to make sure there are no bees trapped inside or on the radiator. The males live for only a short time inside sealed brood cells and are never seen outside the cell. Photo courtesy Stephen Ausmus.Varroa . Never take live specimens away from the apiary as this may help to spread varroa. It is first necessary to uncap these cells and remove the pupae for examination. often on the emerging bee. the spread of varroa is expected to be fast over long distances because of the migratory nature of the beekeeping industry. 6. Place overalls. infested brood and adult bees are interchanged during normal management apiary practices. especially in over-wintering colonies that have no honey bee brood. CSIRO Entomology. Don’t remove bees or any hive components from this apiary as this could help spread varroa. USDA ARS Image Gallery. The brownish-orange bumps on these bees are exotic parasitic mite of honey bees AG1183 The single male varroa mates with its sisters while they are in the brood cell. It may not be until the fourth year of infestation that numbers are sufficiently high for honey bee larvae to be parasitised by several females. 3. All stages of the mite are difficult to detect. Varroa on pupa of worker bee. used beekeeping equipment and queen bees by beekeepers is also a very effective means of spread. mites can move from the bee to a flower and then hitch a ride with another bee or insect visiting the same flower. smoker and any other equipment to ensure varroa is not carried from the apiary. safe place away from sunlight.

© State of Victoria. Life cycle of varroa (Varroa destructor). Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. you must notify an Inspector of Livestock (DPI apiary officer. ute or trailer as well. Ararat Peter Kaczynski Telephone 5355 0527 Mobile 0417 547 623 Bairnsdale Ray Gribbin (Sept . To not notify is to break the law. animal health officer or veterinary officer) without delay and by the quickest means possible.Varroa . Boxes of combs and other hive material on your vehicle which bees might enter must be left at the apiary. loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication. Illustration reproduced with permission from the American Bee Journal Volume 127. every day of the year). The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. tray of the truck. The easiest way to do this is to ring the Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 (24 hours a day. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error. • Figure 1. Early recognition of varroa is one of the most important factors influencing the chance of controlling the disease and reducing its economic and social impact on the whole community.April) Telephone 5152 0600 Mobile 0428 399 105 Bendigo Bill Shay Telephone 5430 4495 Mobile 0419 337 276 Wangaratta Joe Riordan Telephone 5723 8600 Mobile 0417 348 457 • • • Apiary officers The following DPI apiary officers are available to provide additional advice: Knoxfield Russell Goodman Telephone 9210 9324 The previous version of this note was published in May 2005. Notification is required by the Livestock Disease Control Act (1994). Department of Primary Industries Page 3 . Varroa – a notifiable disease If you see or suspect varroa is present in your apiary. November exotic parasitic mite of honey bees • AG1183 7.