Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

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Varroa destructor
(Varroa mite)

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Datasheet

Varroa destructor (Varroa mite)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 20 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Vector of Animal Disease
  • Natural Enemy
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Varroa destructor
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Varroa mite
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Arthropoda
  •       Subphylum: Chelicerata
  •         Class: Arachnida
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • V. destructor is an ectoparasitic mite that attacks all lifecycle stages of many species of honey bees, including the common Apis mellifera and its subspecies. It is now almost cosmopolitan with the signif...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); extreme close-up of an adult female. Dorsal view, on the head of a bee larva. mite width ~2mm.
TitleAdult female
CaptionVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); extreme close-up of an adult female. Dorsal view, on the head of a bee larva. mite width ~2mm.
Copyright©Gilles San Martin, Namur, Belgium/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 2.0
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); extreme close-up of an adult female. Dorsal view, on the head of a bee larva. mite width ~2mm.
Adult femaleVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); extreme close-up of an adult female. Dorsal view, on the head of a bee larva. mite width ~2mm.©Gilles San Martin, Namur, Belgium/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 2.0
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); European honey bee (Apis mellifera) with a Varroa mite (arrowed) on its thorax. Major mite infestations cause disease and death in honey bee colonies.
TitleHost
CaptionVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); European honey bee (Apis mellifera) with a Varroa mite (arrowed) on its thorax. Major mite infestations cause disease and death in honey bee colonies.
Copyright©Scott Bauer/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); European honey bee (Apis mellifera) with a Varroa mite (arrowed) on its thorax. Major mite infestations cause disease and death in honey bee colonies.
HostVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); European honey bee (Apis mellifera) with a Varroa mite (arrowed) on its thorax. Major mite infestations cause disease and death in honey bee colonies.©Scott Bauer/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); an adult worker honey bee (Apis mellifera) with two Varroa mites on its thorax.
TitleHost
CaptionVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); an adult worker honey bee (Apis mellifera) with two Varroa mites on its thorax.
Copyright©Stephen Ausmus/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); an adult worker honey bee (Apis mellifera) with two Varroa mites on its thorax.
HostVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); an adult worker honey bee (Apis mellifera) with two Varroa mites on its thorax.©Stephen Ausmus/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor, a blood-sucking parasitic mite of honey bees (Apis mellifera).
TitleMite
CaptionVarroa destructor, a blood-sucking parasitic mite of honey bees (Apis mellifera).
Copyright©Scott Bauer/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor, a blood-sucking parasitic mite of honey bees (Apis mellifera).
MiteVarroa destructor, a blood-sucking parasitic mite of honey bees (Apis mellifera).©Scott Bauer/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); varroa mites found at the bottom of a honey bee brood cell.
TitleInfestation
CaptionVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); varroa mites found at the bottom of a honey bee brood cell.
Copyright©Scott Bauer/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); varroa mites found at the bottom of a honey bee brood cell.
InfestationVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); varroa mites found at the bottom of a honey bee brood cell. ©Scott Bauer/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); an adult female Varroa mite feeding on a developing bee.
TitleAdult female mite
CaptionVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); an adult female Varroa mite feeding on a developing bee.
Copyright©Scott Bauer/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); an adult female Varroa mite feeding on a developing bee.
Adult female miteVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); an adult female Varroa mite feeding on a developing bee.©Scott Bauer/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); entomologist Jeff Pettis examines a screen that separates live Varroa mites from bees, thus reducing mite levels in honey bee colonies.
TitlePrevention measures
CaptionVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); entomologist Jeff Pettis examines a screen that separates live Varroa mites from bees, thus reducing mite levels in honey bee colonies.
Copyright©Peggy Greb/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); entomologist Jeff Pettis examines a screen that separates live Varroa mites from bees, thus reducing mite levels in honey bee colonies.
Prevention measuresVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); entomologist Jeff Pettis examines a screen that separates live Varroa mites from bees, thus reducing mite levels in honey bee colonies.©Peggy Greb/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); although the 22% smaller size of starter honeycomb cells (b) can hardly be seen, the tighter, more natural spacing than (a) helps honey bees survive Varroa infestations.
TitlePrevention measures
CaptionVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); although the 22% smaller size of starter honeycomb cells (b) can hardly be seen, the tighter, more natural spacing than (a) helps honey bees survive Varroa infestations.
Copyright©Jack Dykinga/USDA-ARS
Varroa destructor (Varroa mite); although the 22% smaller size of starter honeycomb cells (b) can hardly be seen, the tighter, more natural spacing than (a) helps honey bees survive Varroa infestations.
Prevention measuresVarroa destructor (Varroa mite); although the 22% smaller size of starter honeycomb cells (b) can hardly be seen, the tighter, more natural spacing than (a) helps honey bees survive Varroa infestations.©Jack Dykinga/USDA-ARS
Varroa jacobsoni (Varroa mite); dorsal view. Similar species to V. destructor. Collected on Apis cerana.
TitleSimilar species
CaptionVarroa jacobsoni (Varroa mite); dorsal view. Similar species to V. destructor. Collected on Apis cerana.
Copyright©Ken Walker-2005/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU - www.padil.gov.au
Varroa jacobsoni (Varroa mite); dorsal view. Similar species to V. destructor. Collected on Apis cerana.
Similar speciesVarroa jacobsoni (Varroa mite); dorsal view. Similar species to V. destructor. Collected on Apis cerana.©Ken Walker-2005/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU - www.padil.gov.au
Varroa jacobsoni (Varroa mite); ventral view. similar species to V. destructor. Collected on Apis cerana.
TitleSimilar species
CaptionVarroa jacobsoni (Varroa mite); ventral view. similar species to V. destructor. Collected on Apis cerana.
Copyright©Ken Walker-2005/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU - www.padil.gov.au
Varroa jacobsoni (Varroa mite); ventral view. similar species to V. destructor. Collected on Apis cerana.
Similar speciesVarroa jacobsoni (Varroa mite); ventral view. similar species to V. destructor. Collected on Apis cerana.©Ken Walker-2005/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU - www.padil.gov.au

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Varroa destructor Anderson & Trueman, 2000

Preferred Common Name

  • Varroa mite

Summary of Invasiveness

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V. destructor is an ectoparasitic mite that attacks all lifecycle stages of many species of honey bees, including the common Apis mellifera and its subspecies. It is now almost cosmopolitan with the significant exception of Australia. Importation of queen bees from infested areas and movement of infested bee colonies for pollination have allowed rapid spread, and apiculture can be severely affected. Impacts include direct parasitism, and facilitation of the spread of bee viruses and diseases; if left unchecked, infestation can lead to colony collapse. Eradication from infested hives is not possible, though chemical, biotechnical and biological control methods mitigate the impacts.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Arthropoda
  •             Subphylum: Chelicerata
  •                 Class: Arachnida
  •                     Subclass: Acari
  •                         Order: Parasitiformes
  •                             Suborder: Mesostigmata
  •                                 Family: Varroidae
  •                                     Genus: Varroa
  •                                         Species: Varroa destructor

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The genus Varroa includes in excess of 18 genetically different strains of mites (Cobey, 2001). Varroa destructor and Varroa jacobsoni (Acari: Varroidae) are thought to be closely related (Zhang, 2000; Delaplane, 2001), both parasitizing the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana. However, V. jacobsoni, originally described by Oudemans in 1904, is not the same species as that which also attacks Apis mellifera, and Anderson and Trueman (2000) corrected previous confusion and mislabelling in the literature prior to 2000, recognising V. destructor as a separate species. The Korea and Japan/Thailand genotypes of V. destructor are the only Varroa mites that can reproduce in colonies of Apis mellifera.

Distribution

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V. destructor is thought to be native to the Far East where it parasitizes the Asiatic honey bee Apis cerana and is not invasive, though it has been introduced widely and is now a cosmopolitan species (Sanford et al., 2007), with Australia being the only large area not yet invaded.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

BangladeshNo information availableMarin, 1978; OIE, 2009
CambodiaNo information availableEhara, 1968; OIE, 2009
ChinaNo information availableTzien-He, 1965; Zhou et al., 2004; OIE, 2009
-GuangdongNo information availableZhou et al., 2004; OIE, 2009
-Hong KongNo information availableDelfinado, 1963; OIE, 2009
-YunnanNo information availableZhou et al., 2004; OIE, 2009
IndiaNo information availablePhadke et al., 1966; OIE, 2009
IndonesiaDisease never reportedOudemans, 1904; OIE, 2009
IranPresentCrane, 1979; Rahmani et al., 2006; OIE, 2009
IraqPresentOIE, 2009
IsraelPresentOIE, 2009
JapanPresentOIE, 2009
JordanNo information availableAlattal et al., 2006; OIE, 2009
Korea, DPRPresentTian, 1967In Sandford et al. (2007)
Korea, Republic ofNo information availableDelfinado and Baker, 1974; OIE, 2009
KyrgyzstanRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
LebanonPresentPopa, 1980; Sanford et al., 2007; OIE, 2009
MalaysiaPresentOIE, 2009
MyanmarNo information availableMarin, 1978; OIE, 2009
PhilippinesNo information availableDelfinado, 1963; OIE, 2009
SingaporeDisease never reportedSanford et al., 2007; OIE, 2009
TaiwanPresentAratanakul and Burgett, 1975In Sandford et al. (2007)
ThailandNo information availableLaigo and Morse, 1969; Chantawannakul et al., 2006; Warrit et al., 2006; OIE, 2009
TurkeyNo information availableÇakmak et al., 2002b; Crane, 1979; Çakmak et al., 2003; Warrit et al., 2004; OIE, 2009
VietnamNo information availableStephen, 1968; OIE, 2009

Africa

AlgeriaPresentBoecking et al., 2000; Nadir Alloui et al., 2002; Allsopp, 2004; OIE, 2009
EgyptDisease not reportedHassan and Mohamed, 2003; OIE, 2009
LibyaPresentCrane, 1979In Sandford et al. (2007)
South AfricaNo information availableLach et al., 2002; OIE, 2009
TunisiaDisease not reportedHaïfa et al., 2003; Sanford et al., 2007; OIE, 2009
ZimbabwePresentOIE, 2009

North America

CanadaPresentDenmark et al., 2000; OIE, 2009
MexicoPresentMedina et al., 2002; OIE, 2009
USAPresentOIE, 2009
-CaliforniaPresentBoyce et al., 2002Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
-FloridaPresentDenmark et al., 2000; Elzen and Westervelt, 2002; Pettis and Jadczak, 2005; Sanford et al., 2007
-GeorgiaPresentOIE, 2009
-HawaiiPresentIntroducedDanka et al., 2012; University of Hawaii Honeybee Project, 2014First reported in Oahu in March 2007 and in the Big Island in August 2008
-LouisianaPresentIntroduced1992Villa, 2004
-MainePresentPettis, 2004; Pettis and Jadczak, 2005
-MarylandPresentPettis and Jadczak, 2005; Sanford et al., 2007
-NebraskaPresentMacedo et al., 2002
-New YorkPresentSeeley, 2007Arnot Forest
-WisconsinPresentIntroduced1987Sanford et al., 2007

Central America and Caribbean

AnguillaWidespreadAllsopp, 2004
BelizeAbsent, reported but not confirmedOIE, 2009
Costa RicaPresentOIE, 2009
CubaPresentOIE, 2009
Dominican RepublicPresentOIE, 2009
GuadeloupePresentOIE, 2009
GuatemalaPresentOIE, 2009
MartiniquePresentOIE, 2009
NicaraguaPresentOIE, 2009
Saint LuciaPresentIntroduced Invasive Jn Pierre, 2008

South America

ArgentinaPresentMontiel and Piola, 1976; OIE, 2009
BrazilDisease not reportedAlves et al., 1975; Moretto and Leonidas, 2003; OIE, 2009
-Sao PauloDisease not reportedManrique and Soares, 2004; OIE, 2009
ChilePresentHinojosa and González, 2004; OIE, 2009
EcuadorAbsent, reported but not confirmedOIE, 2009
ParaguayPresentOrosi-Pal, 1975In Sanford et al. (2007)
UruguayPresentSanford et al., 2007; OIE, 2009
VenezuelaNo information availablePrincipal et al., 2004; OIE, 2009

Europe

AlbaniaRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
AustriaDisease not reportedGrabensteiner and Nowotny, 2001; OIE, 2009
BelarusPresentOIE, 2009
BulgariaDisease not reportedVelitchkov and Natchev, 1973; OIE, 2009
CroatiaPresentOIE, 2009
CyprusPresentOIE, 2009
Czech RepublicPresentVeselý, 2005; OIE, 2009
Czechoslovakia (former)PresentSamsinak and Haragsim, 1972In Sanford et al. (2007)
DenmarkPresentOIE, 2009
FinlandPresentOIE, 2009
GermanyDisease not reportedRuttner, 1977; OIE, 2009
GreeceRestricted distributionSantas, 1979; Kokkinis and Liakos, 2004; Bacandritsos and Papanastasiou, 2006; OIE, 2009
HungaryPresentBuza, 1978; OIE, 2009
IrelandPresentOIE, 2009; Fera, 2010
ItalyPresentMazzone et al., 2004; Parrella et al., 2004; Greatti, 2005; OIE, 2009
LiechtensteinPresentOIE, 2009
LithuaniaPresentOIE, 2009
LuxembourgPresentOIE, 2009
MacedoniaAbsent, reported but not confirmedOIE, 2009
MaltaAbsent, reported but not confirmedOIE, 2009
MontenegroPresentOIE, 2009
NetherlandsPresentOIE, 2009
PolandPresentSanford et al., 2007; OIE, 2009
PortugalPresentOIE, 2009
RomaniaRestricted distributionOrosi-Pal, 1975; OIE, 2009
Russian FederationPresentOIE, 2009
SerbiaPresentOIE, 2009
SlovakiaDisease not reportedVeselý, 2005; OIE, 2009
SloveniaPresentOIE, 2009
SpainRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
SwedenPresentOIE, 2009
SwitzerlandPresentOIE, 2009
UKPresentOIE, 2009; Fera, 2010
UkrainePresentAkimov et al., 2004; Veselý, 2005; OIE, 2009
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)PresentSantas, 1979; Sanford et al., 2007

Oceania

New ZealandPresentZhang, 2000; Goodwin et al., 2005; Stevenson et al., 2005; Biosecurity New Zealand, 2006; OIE, 2009

History of Introduction and Spread

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From its origins in the Far East, V. destructor has spread, facilitated by the movement of infested bee colonies for pollination. It remained confined to Asian Apis species as hosts until it appeared on the introduced A. mellifera, possibly in the 1950s, since when it has spread through much of the current range of this common (European) honey bee. 

It reached the UK in 1992, and by 2005 it was thought to be present in nearly all apiaries in England and Wales, and widespread in Scotland and Northern Ireland (Fera, 2010). It is present as far north as Sweden, although horizontal mite transfer may not be as important in its spread in Nordic climates where many bee colonies and their mites die over winter, compared with warmer climates (Fries et al., 2003).
 
It was first detected in the USA in 1987 and has since spread to most of North America, with Sanford (2001) providing a full description of the introduction, spread and economic impact of V. destructor.
 
V. destructor was recorded in New Zealand by 2000 (Zhang, 2000), with maximum local spread of V. destructor in North Island estimated at 12 (10-15) km per year (Stevenson et al., 2005).
 
It is also invasive in the Middle East and South America (Denmark et al., 2000).

Risk of Introduction

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Deliberate and illegal importation of bees from infested countries presents a possible long distance pathway for further introduction to new areas (Fera, 2010), and introduction to areas with A. mellifera not yet invaded is probable. CSIRO estimated that preventing the Varroa mite from entering Australia over the next 30 years would lead to savings of AUS $21.3-50.5 million per year.

Pathogen Characteristics

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Adult female mites are reddish-brown to dark-brown (Sanford et al., 2007), 1.00-1.77 mm long and 1.50-1.99 wide (Denmark et al., 2000), bodies curved, fitting into abdominal folds of adult bees, held in place by the ventral setae of the host so protected from the bee’s cleaning habits. Adult male mites are yellowish with slightly tanned legs, 0.75-0.91 mm long and 0.71-0.88 mm wide, with a spherical body. The male chelicerae are modified for the transfer of sperm, only occurring in sealed broods. For a full, detailed description of the protonymph and deutonymph stages see Delfinado-Baker (1984)

Morphological differences have been recorded in mites parasitizing honey bees in hive-logs. The winter generation had bigger dorsal and ventral shields, smaller gnathosoma, and increasing transversal body size, greater ventral shield size and smaller legs compared to the winter generation from hives (Akimov and Benedyk, 2004), and a lower morphological variability compared to summer generations (Akimov et al., 2004).

Habitat

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V. destructor can be present in any habitat where its hosts are found; these include A. mellifera native to Africa, Europe and the Middle East but now widely introduced, A. cerana, native to Asia east of Afghanistan, and A. koschevnikovi native to Borneo (Denmark et al., 2000).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial

Host Animals

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Animal nameContextLife stageSystem
Apis ceranaOther: All Stages
Apis koschevnikoviOther: All Stages
Apis melliferaDomesticated hostOther: All Stages

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics 

It is reported that 50 years ago, V. destructor switched from its original host (Apis cerana) and two distinct evolutionary lineages of V. destructor (Korean and Japanese) invaded A. mellifera (Solignac et al., 2005; Cornuet et al., 2006). V. destructor is made up of six haplotypes that infest A. cerana in mainland Asia (Anderson and Trueman, 2000), whereas only two out of the several known mitochondrial haplotypes of V. destructor have been found to be capable of reproducing on A. mellifera (Solignac et al., 2005). This parasitic mite is haplo-diploid and reproduces mainly through brother-sister matings which favours the fixation of new mutations (Cornuet et al., 2006). For further information on the two partly isolated clones of V. destructor, see Solignac et al. (2005).
 
Reproductive Biology
 
The entire life-cycle of V. destructor occurs within the hive. A female mite lays eggs in bee brood cells and developing mites feed on developing bee larvae (Denmark et al., 2000), preferring drone brood (Bessin, 2001). Males and females copulate inside the cell and the male dies, leaving the pregnant females to emerge from the cell with the bee host. Another cell is located to repeat the cycle, and the mite population increase may be significantly greater if the postcapping time is longer.
 
The mite develops to adulthood through two juvenile stages: the protonymph and deutonymph, and development time from egg to adult is 5-6 days for males and 7-8 days for females. Each female lays 5-6 eggs, the first being a male followed by 4-5 female eggs, laid at regular 30-hour intervals. The male emerges first, and 20 hours later the oldest daughter moults to adulthood. By laying only one male egg, Varroa mites increase the number of females that can reproduce at the next generation. Males cannot survive outside the cell, so the females must be fertilised before the bee emerges from the cell, otherwise they remain sterile (Fera, 2010).
 
The life expectancy of Varroa mites depends on the presence of brood and will vary from 27 days to approximately 5 months. During the summer in the UK, Varroa mites live for approximately 2-3 months. In this time, providing brood is available, they can complete 3-4 breeding cycles. In the winter, when brood rearing is restricted, mites only overwinter on adult bees within the cluster, until brood rearing commences the following spring (Fera, 2010).
 
Physiology and Phenology
 
The development time of V. destructor is dependant on the development time of its bee host; therefore not all mites reach maturity and mate before the bee emerges from the cell, and immature females cannot survive outside the cell (Fera, 2010). It is thought that the hormones or pheromones of honey bees are necessary for the mite to complete its development (Denmark et al., 2000).
 
Nutrition
 
V. destructor is highly adapted to its natural and adopted honey bee hosts, A. cerana and A. mellifera. Adult female mites perforate the integument of bee pupae in such a way that they and their progeny can feed on the blood from the adult bees and developing brood (Kanbar and Engels, 2005).
 
Associations
 
The parasitic life style of V. destructor means that it requires associations with bee hosts for survival. It has also been found to be associated with other flower-feeding insects, such as bumblebees Bombus pennsylvanicus (Hymenoptera: Apidae), flower flies Palpada vinetorum (Diptera: Syrphidae) and rainbow scarab beetles Phanaeus vindex (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae); however, it cannot reproduce on these hosts, although these associations may be important for dispersal (Denmark et al., 2000).
 
Environmental Requirements
 
In Egypt, outside temperature and reproduction of Varroa are positively correlated but only between 28 and 35°C, and reproductive rates of mite colonies in cultivations of marjoram (Origanum majorana) were lower than those on clover (Trifolium alexandrium) (Hassan and Mohamed, 2003).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic) 

Mites are mobile and can easily spread within a bee colony (Fera, 2010) though they are unable to travel outside of the hives without a vector.

Vector Transmission (Biotic)
 
Mites can be spread from colony to colony via drifting workers and drones within an apiary and when bees rob smaller colonies (Bessin, 2001). In addition to being carried on honey bees, this mite has been recorded on flower-feeding insects such as bumblebees Bombus pennsylvanicus (Hymenoptera: Apidae), flower flies Palpada vinetorum (Diptera: Syrphidae) and rainbow scarab beetles Phanaeus vindex (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae). These insects will aid in short distance dispersal, but V. destructor can only reproduce on honey bees (Kevan et al., 1990; Denmark et al., 2000).
 
Accidental Introduction
 
The movement of infested colonies of bees has facilitated the rapid local spread of V. destructor (Denmark et al., 2000), and is the main means of spread over long distances (Fera, 2010).
 
Intentional Introduction
 
Deliberate illegal importation of bees from infested countries and the importation of infested goods are possible pathways of introduction of the Varroa mite (Fera, 2010), and the assumed means for international introductions.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Breeding and propagation Yes Yes Fera, 2010

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Host and vector organisms Yes Denmark et al., 2000

Vectors and Intermediate Hosts

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Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Economic/livelihood Negative

Impact

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One of the most significant potential impacts of Varroa mite includes economic, social and environmental concerns. Insect pollinated crops are estimated to provide approximately one third of human food, and about 80% of this pollination is provided by the European honeybee, Apis mellifera. Thus, a loss in numbers of A. mellifera due to infestation by V. destructor could lead to substantial negative but indirect impacts from lower crop yields due a lack of adequate pollinators.

As well as their direct effects on the bees, Varroa mites also have an impact by spreading diseases. Viruses causing mortality of bees infested with Varroa mite include Kashmir bee virus, showing virus transmission from mite to bee pupae and a virus transfer rate of over 50% from mite to mite (Chen et al., 2004; Todd et al., 2004). Other viruses thought to be transmitted by V. destructor are Deformed wing virus, Sacbrood virus, Acute bee paralysis virus (Tentcheva et al., 2004; Chen et al., 2005) and Slow paralysis virus. European foulbrood caused by the coccoid bacteria Melissococcus pluton [M. plutonius] (Kanbar et al., 2004), and Paenibacillus, which causes American foulbrood, may also be transmitted by V. destructor (Rycke et al., 2002). Benoit et al. (2004) reported on the potential of V. destructor to disperse spores of Aspergillus, Penicillium, Fusarium, Trichoderma, Alternaria, Rhizopus and Mucor throughout bee colonies. The fungi have only been recorded on the surface of mites and not internally, indicating that the mite is not a fungivore. The mould fungus, Aspergillus flavus is the agent of stonebrood disease in honey bees and V. destructor is implicated as a vector (Benoit et al., 2004).

Economic Impact

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Apiculture is severely affected by the activities of V. destructor, either by direct parasitism or indirectly by facilitating the spread of bee viruses and diseases. If left unchecked, mites can infest hives beyond an economic threshold and lead to colony collapse (Fera, 2010). Since being first recorded in New Zealand in 2000, Varroa has caused an approximate 50% reduction in the number of beekeepers.

Environmental Impact

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V. destructor attacks all life cycle stages of bees by sucking blood through punctures made in the host body wall, using its sharp mouthparts, weakening the insect and shortening lifespan, and also acting as a virus vector in colonies and aiding the harmful effects of other bee diseases such as acarapisosis caused by tracheal mites Acarpis woodi (Fera, 2010).

Honey bees offer an immeasurable contribution to floral biodiversity and conservation. The horticulture and agriculture sectors rely on pollinating insects such as Apis spp. V. destructor is devastating to bee colonies and a reduction in pollinating bees could result in reduced pollination and ultimately decreased overall yields and crop quality; for example the threat of invasion into Australia by this mite is considered as one of the greatest threats to insect pollination and thus to agriculture (Cunningham et al., 2002).
 
Morretto and Leonidas (2003) stated that the impact of V. destructor is related to climatic conditions and the race of A. mellifera invaded, and a study in southern Brazil found mite infestation to be low (2 mites per 100 bees), and comparable to infestation levels 5 years previously.

 

Social Impact

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Collapse of colonies and the spread of bee diseases can have a serious affect on apiculture and thus is of particular concern to those who rely on beekeeping for their livelihoods (see Allsopp, 2004). Also, V. destructor has such a negative impact on beekeeping that it is possible some will forfeit their organic status in order to use varroicides not approved by organic certification bodies, to combat the problem with synthetic pesticides considered to be more effective (Biosecurity New Zealand, 2006).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Has high reproductive potential
Impact outcomes
  • Host damage
  • Increases vulnerability to invasions
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Parasitism (incl. parasitoid)
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally illegally
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field
  • Difficult/costly to control

Detection and Inspection

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Calatayud and Verdu (1993) first described the method where mites are collected and counted from a board at the bottom of the hive to assess levels of mite infestation in bee hives. However, counting the natural fall of mites in shorter periods of time reduces the counting period and can be successfully used to determine when to treat colonies in commercial apiaries (Flores-Serrano et al., 2002).

Mites can also be dislodged by shaking adult bees in a jar of ether, or powdered sugar (Sanford et al., 2007), and they stick to the glass.
 
A mathematical model called VARROAPOP predicts the influence of the Varroa mite on honey bee colony population growth and survival, taking into account weather conditions and honey bee and V. destructor biology, and the effects of miticides and immigration of mites into colonies on the population growth of Varroa and colony survival are also predicted (Degrandi-Hoffman and Curry, 2005).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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V. destructor was first described as Varroa jacobsoni by Oudemans (1904) from Java on Apis cerana (Sanford et al., 2007) though it was later discovered that the mite infesting A. mellifera was a different species and thus named V. destructor. After studying mtDNA sequences and morphological characters of V. jabonsoni populations globally, Anderson and Trueman (2000) considered V. jacobsoni to be a species including V. jacobsoni s.s. infesting A. cerana in the Malaysia-Indonesia region, and V. destructor infesting A. cerana in mainland Asia and A. mellifera worldwide. 

Adult females of V. destructor are significantly larger and less spherical than V. jacobsoni females, from which they are reproductively isolated (Anderson and Trueman, 2000).

V. destructor is also often confused with the bee louse, Braula coeca Nitzsch (Diptera: Braulidae); however, the latter has 6 legs, and is more circular and slightly larger at 1.5 mm long (Bessin, 2001).

References

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
BeeBasehttps://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/BeeBase is the website of the Fera (Food and Environment Research Agency, UK) National Bee Unit.
Biosecurity New Zealandhttp://www.biosecurity.govt.nz
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS)http://griis.org/Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Contributors

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21/05/08 Original text by:

Claire Beverley, CABI, Nosworthy Way, Wallingford, Oxon OX10 8DE, UK

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