Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada
Clickable Guide
Moths Butterflies Flies Caterpillars Flies Dragonflies Flies Mantids Cockroaches Bees and Wasps Walkingsticks Earwigs Ants Termites Hoppers and Kin Hoppers and Kin Beetles True Bugs Fleas Grasshoppers and Kin Ticks Spiders Scorpions Centipedes Millipedes


Mite on honey bee - Varroa destructor - female

Mite on honey bee - Varroa destructor - Female
Santa Fe National Forest, San Miguel County, New Mexico, USA
April 4, 2017
Size: 1.13 mm BL
Download high resolution image here.

M. B. Bode collected this bee with mite attached from a Varroa destructor infested Apis mellifera hive at 35°48'11.8"N 105°26'26.6"W at 8400 ft. elevation, Rociada 7.5’ quadrangle, on Rincon Montoso near the Sapello River, Santa Fe National Forest, San Miguel Co., NM. The bee was taken from a newly hived population from BeeWeaver Apiraries, Navasota, TX.

One sees in this first image the back half of the mite's dorsal shell protruding from between two terga. Other specimens collected have the mite inserted between two sterna. The mite blends in with either fairly well. Honey bees defend themselves from V. destructor by removing mites from each other(1) with their mandibles. The mite avoids this by mimicking the bee's features to make detection more difficult. This includes the bee's chemical signature(2). I have found no references discussing visual and tactile mimicry in V. destructor, but one sees in the linked images similarities in the mite's dorsal shell and the bee's terga and ventrites in their shape, reticulated surface texture, spine-covered setae, and in having a yellower shade of brown near the posterior boundary.

One difference between the appearance of the terga and the mite's dorsal shell is that the bee's setae are longer and thicker, and the spines along their length are longer and more numerous. Note, though, the mite presumably adapted to mimic its natural host Apis cerana. It was only introduced to A. mellifera by human activity(3). One sees in a side-by-side comparison of the two bee species that A. cerana gaster setae are much shorter and cover less area. Setae spikes cannot be resolved in these images, though.

The mite's color is also a darker shade of brown than the terga. Brown is a combination of red and green on the RGB scale. The difference implies a higher percentage of red in the reflected light spectrum of the mite. However, bees do not see red. The second image is a crop of the first from area around the mite, but with red removed (leaving mostly green). This image suggests that the mite and terga appear to have very similar color patterns seen by other bees. The camera does not record UV, though, which bees do see.

The specimen was soaked in water, and mite then removed and mounted for the rest of the linked images.

Antennophorus sp. is another mesostig ectoparasite of a social hymenopteran that appears to avoid removal by mimicking the host's gaster:

This image is from a Helicon Focus processed stack of 249 images with a 7.7 µm step taken with a Mitutoyo M Plan APO 10×/0.28 ∞/0 mm microscope objective + Nikon 135 mm F2.8 AIS telephoto lens + Nikon D810 camera (magnification 6.75×; technique described here).

Images of this individual: tag all
Mite on honey bee - Varroa destructor - female Mite on honey bee crop, red removed - Varroa destructor - female Mite, dorsal - Varroa destructor - female Mite, dorsal rear margin - Varroa destructor - female Mite, anterior - Varroa destructor - female Mite, ventral - Varroa destructor - female Mite, ventral head and legs - Varroa destructor - female Mite, ventral-lateral head - Varroa destructor - female