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Varroa destructor mites
Varroa destructor mites – MSU/Zachary Huang

According to a new study from Michigan State University, the Varroa destructor (Vd) mite is mimicking the chemical communication codes of bees to infiltrate their hives unnoticed and attack.

The Varroa mite is the most-serious threat to honeybees worldwide, particularly European honeybees (Apis mellifera) which have seen a concerning rise in infestations. It carefully infiltrates a hive by hijacking the chemical codes that the honeybees use to recognize one another and mimics the necessary communication. This access allows the mite to prey on the honeybee population while avoiding detection. The study, “Varroa destructor changes its cuticular hydrocarbons to mimic new hosts” is published in the June issue of Biology Letters.

The research team, led by MSU entomologist Zachary Huang, examined how a particular group of mites–those native to Asian honeybees (Apis cerana)–dealt with the European honeybee and whether or not they are capable of mimicking and adapting to the new chemical codes, known as cuticular hydrocarbons (HCs). In their abstract, the scientists explained that “by transferring mites between the two honeybee species, we further demonstrate that Vd is able to mimic the cuticular HC of a novel host species when artificially transferred to this new host. Mites originally from A. cerana are more efficient than mites from A. mellifera in mimicking HC of both A. ceranaand A. mellifera. This remarkable adaptability may explain their relatively recent host-shift from A. cerana to A. mellifera.”

 

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