Mighty Mite

Sep 4, 2008

It's a mighty mite and it's causing beekeepers fits.

The varroa mite (see photo below) is an external parasite that attacks honey bees. It sucks blood from the adults (apparently preferring drones, the male bees) and from the brood (immature bees).  "It's commonly found in most hives,"  says UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen.

Untreated infestations of varroa mites can weaken and kill honeybee colonies

Initially from Asia, the eight-legged reddish brown parasite was first detected in the United States in 1987. It was discovered in two states that year: Florida and Wisconsin (from the same beekeeper colonies). It's now all over the United States.

"Bees try to brush it off with their legs," Mussen said.

Mussen, editor of the bi-monthly newsletter, "from the UC Apiaries," writes about varroa mites in his July-August edition.   He's been writing the newsletter since 1976.

You can read the current editions online. You can also subscribe by e-mail or by snail mail. See instructions. Or contact Mussen at ecmussen@ucdavis.edu for more information.

In addition to the UC Apiaries newsletter, Mussen writes Bee Briefs, where you can read about such topics as "getting started in beekeeping," "removing swarms" and  "honey bees and California native plants."

Both publications are invaluable to the beekeeping world and to folks who just want to know more about bees.

Mussen, a Cooperative Extension apiculturist at UC Davis for more  31 years, is the 2008 recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.

In national demand for his expertise on honey bees, Mussen appeared on Good Morning America on March 12, and has also been interviewed for The Lehrer Hour, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the television documentary, California Heartland. Coverage also includes Sticky Stuff of Modern Marvels, the History Channel.

“Eric is the primary conduit of information on apiculture, certainly for the entire western U.S. and perhaps even broader than that,” said UC Davis entomologist Larry Godfrey, past president of the Pacific Branch of ESA.

Widely recognized for his work, Mussen received the California State Beekeepers’ Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999; Apiary Inspectors of America’s Exceptional Service Award in 2000, and the California State Beekeeper Association’s Beekeeper of the Year Award in 2006.

In 2007, the American Association of Professional Apiculturists honored him with an Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture, one of only five awards the group has presented in 20 years.


By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

A female varroa mite on a drone (male bee). The mite is the reddish-brown parasite on the bee's thorax. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Mite on drone

Eric Mussen, UC Davis apiculturist, with a panel of bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Eric Mussen with panel of bees