Varroa destructor

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Varroa mite
Varroa Mite.jpg
Scientific classification
V. destructor
Binomial name
Varroa destructor
Anderson & Trueman, 2000

Varroa destructor (Varroa mite) is an external parasitic mite that attacks the honey bees Apis cerana and Apis mellifera. The disease caused by the mites is called varroosis.

The Varroa mite can only reproduce in a honey bee colony. It attaches to the body of the bee and weakens the bee by sucking fat bodies. In this process, RNA viruses such as the deformed wing virus (DWV) spread to bees. A significant mite infestation will lead to the death of a honey bee colony, usually in the late autumn through early spring. The Varroa mite is the parasite with the most pronounced economic impact on the beekeeping industry. Varroa is considered to be one of multiple stress factors[1] contributing to the higher levels of bee losses around the world.

Physical description[edit]

The adult female mite is reddish-brown in color, while the male is white. Varroa mites are flat, having a button shape. They are 1–1.8 mm long, 1.5–2 mm wide and have eight legs.

Reproduction, infection and hive mortality[edit]

Mites reproduce on a 10-day cycle. The female mite enters a honey bee brood cell. As soon as the cell is capped, the Varroa mite lays eggs on the larva. The young mites, typically several females and one male, hatch in about the same time as the young bee develops and leave the cell with the host. When the young bee emerges from the cell after pupation, the Varroa mites also leave and spread to other bees and larvae. The mite preferentially infests drone cells, allowing the mite to reproduce one more time with the extra three days it takes a drone to emerge vs a worker bee. This can cause genetic defects such as useless wings or viruses and fungi in the bee.

The adults suck the "blood" (hemolymph) of adult honey bees for sustenance, leaving open wounds and transmitting diseases and viruses. The compromised adult bees are more prone to infections. With the exception of some resistance in the Russian strains and bees that have Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) (about 10% of colonies naturally have it), the European Apis mellifera bees are almost completely defenseless against these parasites. (Russian honey bees are one-third to one-half less susceptible to mite reproduction).[2]

The model for the population dynamics is exponential growth when bee brood are available, and exponential decline when no brood is available. In 12 weeks, the number of mites in a western honey bee hive can multiply by (roughly) 12. High mite populations in the autumn can cause a crisis when drone rearing ceases and the mites switch to worker larvae, causing a quick population crash and often hive death.

Low temperature scanning electron micrograph of V. destructor on a honey bee host

Once infected with a Varroa destructor mite, there are two ways for which the honey bee may be damaged. Firstly, the mite’s consumption of hemolymph weakens both the adult bee and the larva, in particular it significantly decreases the weight of both the hatching and adult bee. Additionally infected adult worker bees have a lower lifespan than ordinary worker bees, they furthermore tend to be absent from the colony far more than ordinary bees which could be due to their reduced ability to navigate. Secondly, the mites are vectors of various viruses, in particular the Deformed wing virus [3]

After the initial developmental stages, when the young bee matures it leaves the brood cell and takes the mite with it. Varroa destructor then leaves the young bee for an older one, preferably for a nurse bee because nurse bees spend more time near the brood giving the mite more ample opportunity to reproduce. In fact because the nurse bee spends more time around the drone brood rather than the worker brood many more drones are infected with Varroa destructor.[3]

Varroa mites have been found on Tricia larvae of some wasp species, such as Vespula vulgaris, and flower-feeding insects such as the bumblebee, Bombus pennsylvanicus, the scarab beetle, Phanaeus vindex, and the flower-fly, Palpada vinetorum.[4] It parasitizes the young larvae and feeds on the internal organs of the hosts. Although the Varroa mite cannot reproduce on these insects, its presence on them may be a means by which it spreads short distances (phoresy).

Varroa mites on pupa
Varroa mites on pupae
Varroa destructor on bee larva

Introduction around the world[edit]

Varroa mites originally only occurred in Asia, on the Asian honeybee, Apis cerana, but this species has been introduced to many other countries on several continents, resulting in disastrous infestations of European honeybees.[5]

As of mid-2012, Australia is thought to be free of the mite.[12][13] In early 2010, an isolated subspecies of bee was discovered in Kufra (southeastern Libya) that appears to be free of the mite.[14] The Hawaiian islands of Maui, Kauai, Molokai, and Lanai are all free of the mite.


Until recently, V. destructor was thought to be a closely related mite species called Varroa jacobsoni. Both species parasitize the Asian honey bee, A. cerana. However, the species originally described as V. jacobsoni by Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans in 1904 is not the same species that also attacks Apis mellifera. The jump to A. mellifera probably first took place in the Philippines in the early 1960s where imported A. mellifera came into close contact with infected A. cerana. Until 2000, scientists had not identified V. destructor as a separate species. This late identification in 2000 by Anderson and Trueman corrected some previous confusion and mislabeling in the scientific literature.[15]


The infection and subsequent parasitic disease caused by Varroa mites is called varroosis. Sometimes, the incorrect names varroatosis or varroasis are used. A parasitic disease name must be formed from the taxonomic name of the parasite and the suffix -osis[16] as provided in the Standardised Nomenclature by the World Association for the Advancement of Veterinary Parasitology.[17] For example, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) uses the name varroosis in the OIE Terrestrial Manual.[18]

Treatments have met with limited success. First, the bees were medicated with fluvalinate, which had about 95% mite falls. However, the last 5% became resistant to it, and later, almost immune. Fluvalinate was followed by coumaphos.

Control or preventive measures and treatment[edit]

Honeybee coated with oxalic acid to protect from mites

Chemical measures[edit]

Varroa mites can be treated with commercially available miticides. Miticides must be applied carefully to minimize the contamination of honey that might be consumed by humans. Proper use of miticides also slows the development of resistance by the mites.

Synthetic chemicals

Naturally occurring chemicals

  • Formic acid as vapor or pads (Mite-Away)
  • Powdered sugar (Dowda method), talc, or other "safe" powders with a grain size between 5 and 15 μm (0.20 and 0.59 mils) can be sprinkled on the bees.
  • Essential oils, especially lemon, mint and thyme oil[20]
  • Sugar esters (Sucrocide) in spray application
  • Oxalic acid trickling method or applied as vapor
  • Mineral oil (food grade) as vapor and in direct application on paper or cords
  • Natural hops compounds in strip application (Hopguard)

However the most effective long-term way of protecting bees against the Varroa destructor is by breeding bees that are resistant to these mites.[3]

Physical, mechanical, behavioral methods[edit]

Varroa mites can also be controlled through nonchemical means. Most of these controls are intended to reduce the mite population to a manageable level, not to eliminate the mites completely.

  • Perforated bottom board method is used by many beekeepers on their hives. When mites occasionally fall off a bee, they must climb back up to parasitize another bee. If the beehive has a screened floor with mesh the right size, the mite will fall through and cannot return to the beehive. The screened bottom board is also being credited with increased circulation of air, which reduces condensation in a hive during the winter. Studies at Cornell University done over two years found that screened bottoms have no measurable effect at all.[21] Screened bottom boards with sticky boards (glue traps) separate mites that fall through the screen and the sticky board prevents them from crawling back up.
  • Heating method, first used by beekeepers in Eastern Europe in the 1970s, later became a global method. In this method, hive frames are heated to at least 104 °F (40 °C) for several hours at a time, which causes the mites to drop from the bees.[22][23] When combined with the perforated bottom board method, this can control varroa sufficiently to aid colony survival.[22] In Germany, anti-varroa heaters are manufactured for use by professional bee keepers. A thermosolar hive has been patented and manufactured in the Czech Republic.[23][24]
  • Limited drone brood cell method limits the brood space cell for Varroa mites to inhabit (4.9 mm across — about 0.5 mm smaller than standard), and also enhances the difference in size between worker and drone brood, with the intention of making the drone comb traps more effective in trapping Varroa mites. Small cell foundations have staunch advocates, though controlled studies have been generally inconclusive.
  • Comb trapping method (also known as the swarming method) is based on interrupting the honey bee brood cycle. It is an advanced method that removes capped brood from the hive, where the Varroa mites breed. The queen is confined to a comb using a comb cage. At 9-day intervals, the queen is confined to a new comb, and the brood in the old comb is left to be reared. The brood in the previous comb, now capped and infested with Varroa mites, is removed. The cycle is repeated. This complex method can remove up to 80% of Varroa mites in the hive.[citation needed]
  • Freezing drone brood method takes advantage of the Varroa mites' preference for longer living drone brood. The beekeeper will put a frame in the hive that is sized to encourage the queen to lay primarily drone brood. Once the brood is capped, the beekeeper removes the frame and puts it in the freezer. This kills the Varroa mites feeding on those bees. It also kills the drone brood, but most hives produce an excess of drone bees, so it is not generally considered a loss. After freezing, the frame can be returned to the hive. The nurse bees will clean out the dead brood (and dead mites) and the cycle continues.
  • Drone brood excision method is a variation applicable to top bar hives. Honey bees tend to place combs suitable for drone brood along the bottom and outer margins of the comb. Cutting this off at a late stage of development ("purple eye stage") and discarding it reduces the mite load on the colony. It also allows for inspection and counting of mites on the brood.

Genetic engineering[edit]

Researchers have been able to use RNA interference to knock out genes in the Varroa mite. There have also been efforts to breed for changes in the honey bees. Two strains have been developed in the United States that can detect damaged pupae under cappings and remove them before the infestation spreads further.[25][26] The “IN”/Indiana strain is under development at Purdue University to develop lines that groom off and bite phoretic Varroa to kill the mites.[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Goulson, D.; Nicholls, E.; Botias, C.; Rotheray, E. L. (26 February 2015). "Bee declines driven by combined stress from parasites, pesticides, and lack of flowers". Science. 347 (6229): 1255957–1255957. doi:10.1126/science.1255957. ISSN 0036-8075. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  2. ^ J. Raloff (August 8, 1998). "Russian queens bee-little mites' impact". 154 (6). Science News: 84.
  3. ^ a b c Rosenkranz, P., Aumeier, P. & Ziegelmann, B. (2010) Biology and control of Varroa destructor. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology [online]. 103, S96-S119.
  4. ^ Peter G. Kevan; Terence M. Laverty & Harold A. Denmark (1990). "Association of Varroa jacobsoni with organisms other than honeybees and implications for its dispersal". Bee World. 71 (3): 119–121.
  5. ^ Invasion Biology Introduction: Varroa mites University of Columbia. Accessed 26 April 2017
  6. ^ Pinto, F.A.; Puker, A.; Barreto, L.M.R.C.; Message, D. (October 2012). "The ectoparasite mite Varroa destructor Anderson and Trueman in southeastern Brazil apiaries: effects of the hygienic behavior of Africanized honey bees on infestation rates". Arquivo Brasileiro de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia. 64 (5): 1194–1199. doi:10.1590/S0102-09352012000500017.
  7. ^ Helen M. Thompson; Michael A. Brown; Richard F. Ball & Medwin H. Bew (2002). "First report of Varroa destructor resistance to pyrethroids in the UK" (PDF). Apidologie. 33 (4): 357–366. doi:10.1051/apido:2002027.
  8. ^ McMullan, John (2018). "Adaptation in Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Colonies Exhibiting Tolerance to Varroa destructor in Ireland". Bee World. 95 (2): 39–43. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  9. ^ "Varroa Mite, Varroa destructor". MAF Biosecurity New Zealand. June 30, 2009. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  10. ^ Nina Wu (April 25, 2007). "Bee mites have spread on Oahu". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  11. ^ "Varroa Mite Information". State of Hawaii. 2013. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  12. ^ Holland, Malcolm (June 26, 2012). "Varroa mites could devastate our honeybee industry". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved June 26, 2012.
  13. ^ Jopson, Debra (August 18, 2010). "It's a bee nuisance – and food growers are more than a mite scared". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
  14. ^ "Honigbienenart in der Sahara entdeckt" [Honey bee species discovered in the Sahara] (in German). Die Zeit. July 2010. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  15. ^ D. L. Anderson & J. W. H. Trueman (2000). "Varroa jacobsoni (Acari: Varroidae) is more than one species". Experimental and Applied Acarology. 24 (3): 165–189. doi:10.1023/A:1006456720416. PMID 11108385.
  16. ^ Kassai T., 2006, Nomenclature for parasitic diseases: cohabitation with inconsistency for how long and why?, Veterinary Parasitology, 138, 169–178, Archived 2014-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-03-04. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Mark Ward (March 8, 2006). "Almond farmers seek healthy bees". BBC News. Retrieved May 2, 2009.
  20. ^ Natalia Damiani; Liesel B. Gende; Pedro Bailac; Jorge A. Marcangeli & Martín J. Eguaras (2009). "Acaricidal and insecticidal activity of essential oils on Varroa destructor (Acari: Varroidae) and Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae)". Parasitology Research. 106 (1): 145–152. doi:10.1007/s00436-009-1639-y. PMID 19795133.
  21. ^ Northeast Beekeeper Vol 1 #1 Jan 2004)
  22. ^ a b John R. Harbo (2000). "Heating Adult Honey Bees to Remove Varroa jacobsoni" (PDF). Journal of Apicultural Research. 39 (3–4): 181–183.
  23. ^ a b "Czech teacher battles bee-killing disease with hot hive". 28 May 2017 – via Reuters.
  24. ^ US application 2014134920 
  25. ^ "A Sustainable Approach to Controlling Honey Bee Diseases and Varroa Mites". SARE. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
  26. ^ Victoria Gill (December 22, 2010). "Genetic weapon developed against honeybee-killer". BBC News. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  27. ^ Hunt, Greg; Given, J Krispn; Tsuruda, Jennifer M.; Andino, Gladys K. (April 2016). "Breeding Mite-Biting Bees to Control Varroa" (PDF). Bee Culture.
  28. ^ Hunt, Greg; Given, J Krispn; Tsuruda, Jennifer M.; Andino, Gladys K. (March 23, 2016). "Breeding Mite-Biting Bees to Control Varroa". Retrieved February 23, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]