Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Understanding the enemy: a review of the genetics, behavior and chemical ecology of Varroa destructor, the parasitic mite of Apis mellifera.

Abstract

Varroa destructor (Mesostigmata: Varroidae) is arguably the most damaging parasitic mite that attacks honey bees worldwide. Since its initial host switch from the Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) (Hymenoptera: Apidae) to the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) (Hymenoptera: Apidae), Varroa has become a widely successful invasive species, attacking honey bees on almost every continent where apiculture is practiced. Two haplotypes of V. destructor (Japanese and Korean) parasitize A. mellifera, both of which vector various honey bee-associated viruses. As the population of Varroa grows within a colony in the spring and summer, so do the levels of viral infections. Not surprisingly, high Varroa parasitization impacts bees at the individual level, causing bees to exhibit lower weight, decreased learning capacity, and shorter lifespan. High levels of Varroa infestation can lead to colony-wide varroosis and eventually colony death, especially when no control measures are taken against the mites. Varroa has become a successful parasite of A. mellifera because of its ability to reproduce within both drone cells and worker cells, which allows populations to expand rapidly. Varroa uses several chemical cues to complete its life cycle, many of which remain understudied and should be further explored. Given the growing reports of pesticide resistance by Varroa in several countries, a better understanding of the mite's basic biology is needed to find alternative pest management strategies. This review focuses on the genetics, behavior, and chemical ecology of V. destructor within A. mellifera colonies, and points to areas of research that should be exploited to better control this pervasive honey bee enemy.