Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Honey Bee Tracheal Mites

A great die-off of honey bee colonies occurred in the U.S. in 1984. Beekeepers found their hives largely depleted of adult bees. A parasitic mite of microscopic size was found living in the breathing tubes of bees in the affected colonies. Honey bees breathe through breathing tubes, called trachea, located on the sides of their thorax. The thorax is the middle of the three segments of the bee’s body. These tracheal mites live almost all of their entire life within the breathing tubes of the adult bees. They weaken their host bee by puncturing the bee’s breathing tube and then sucking the bee’s blood. The puncture also leaves the bee exposed to a number of secondary infections. The life of the tracheal mite begins with a female mite entering a breathing tube of a very young honey bee, usually within the first 24 hours after the bee emerges as an adult. The tracheal mite lays eggs; they progress through a larval stage and develop into adults. Still within the breathing tubes, the tracheal mites mate with their siblings. The mated female mite leaves the breathing tube and moves to a newly emerged honey bee to begin the reproductive cycle again.

Beekeepers can interfere with the tracheal mite’s ability to reproduce by placing vegetable oil patties in the hive. These patties, made of solid vegetable oil and sugar, are taken up by the bees because of the sugar. The oil is distributed among the bees in the hive, thinly coating all of the bees. Tracheal mites are less successful in finding day-old bees when all of the bees are coated with oil. At Peace Bee Farm, we keep vegetable oil patties on the hives at all times. We add spearmint and lemon grass essential oils to the mix to make the patties more attractive to the bees. Vegetable oil patties are part of our integrated pest management plan. Resistant strains of honey bees have made the tracheal mite less of a killer today.

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