Bee Buzz Box June 2024 Mite Bee Part III – Easy Rider Honey Bee Mites and Pests

Alan Wade

The mighty mites

All this talk about honey bee mites and other honey bee pests taking an easy ride: ‘How and when were they discovered?’ And ‘how did they learn to hitch a ride?’ Can they be defeated?

Mites, all eight-legged, are typically midget spider and scorpion-like arachnids in a distinctive Acari sub class all of their own. The alphabet mite soup – about a million species (30,000 or so described) – rival the number of stars in the sky: their fossil record reaches back to the Early Cretaceous 410 million years ago.

Peter Fonda (Wyatt) and Dennis Hopper (Billy) in the classic 1969 film Easy Rider.

Out of this primordial mite soup emerged many invertebrate (a few honey bee), plant, crop and animal pests. The majority of hive mites are scavengers or raiders of pollen in stored bee comb.

Mites not the only pests taking a free ride

There are myriad other pests and diseases of honey bees and it is interesting to reflect on the arrival in Australia of some of the more important interlopers (Table 1). Importantly and missing to date in Australia are the giant honey bee ‘tropi’ mites, Tropilaelaps mercedesae and Tropilaelaps clareae, and the Asian hornets Vespa velutina and Vespa mandarinia.

Pest or disease Causative agent Incursion date Notes
American FoulbroodiPaenibacillus larvaeIncursion date not known but likely spreading.Differentiated from EFB in 1906. Absent from NT and Kangaroo Island (SA)
Sacbrood virus (SBV)iiSacbrood virus genotype AM (genotype AC less lethal)1913 (first characterised in US but widespread)Separate genotypes for Apis mellifera and Apis cerana
Braula flyiiiBraula coeca1932 (Tas)Detected in Vic 2023
Cane toadivRhinella marina1935 (Qld)Now widespread in tropics
European or German waspvVespula germanica1959 (Tas)Now widespread in SE Australia, southern South Australia and SW Western Australia. Common wasp Vespula vulgaris also in Vic
Nosemavi (Apis mellifera origin)Nosema apis1961 (first isolated in SA)
Isolated in UK in 1955.
Nosema cerana
Nosema neumanni
now most common in Uganda.
Black queen cell virus (BQCV)viiBlack queen cell virus1974 (first characterised in UK)Widely known to kill queen larvae in Australia in 1993
European FoulbroodviiiMellisococcus pluton1977
(NSW, Vic, SA)
Absent from WA and NT
Buff-tailed BumblebeeixBombus terrorists1992 (Tas)1909 attempt to introduce bumble bees to Tas failed.
ChalkbroodxAscosphaera apis1993 (Qld)Spread to all states by 2001
Small hive beetlexiAethina tumida2002 (NSW)Was absent from WA until a load of irradiated beehives with shb was moved to the Kimberly
Asian honey beexiiApis cerana2007 (Qld)Established near Cairns
Nosemaxiii (Apis cerana origin)Nosema ceranae2009First isolated in Taiwan in 1996
Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV)xivIsraeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV)2017 (identified by Roberts et al)
Lake Sinai virus (LSV1 and LSV2)Lake Sinai virus2017 (identified by Roberts et al)
Varroa mitexvVarroa destructor22 June 2022 (NSW)Detected at Port of Newcastle, NSW (previous incursions at Townsville 2016, 2019 and 2020)
Small red dwarf honey beexviApis florea
(Euvarroa sinhai)
6 July 2023 (WA)Burra Peninsula near Karratha WA
Varroa mitexviiVarroa jacobsoni27 February 2024News report of PNG Varroa import

Table 1 Arrival timetable of common honey bee pests and diseases in Australia.

Global identification of phoretic hitchhiker mites

Phoretic or hitchhiker mites are new to Australia although the seemingly innocuous Ascarapis dorsata and Ascarapis externus are known to be here on Apis melliferaxviiiand are common enough in southern Asia and likely elsewhere. Of course the June 2023 establishment of Varroa destructor, first detected at the Port of Newcastle and found well established nearby, has had all the headlines. But what of the discovery of mites in general?

The Leptus mite genus, common enough parasites of arthropodsxix, are the latest mites to be found making an easy meal of honey bees. Leptus ariel infest Africanised honey bees in Brazil and Guatemala but were only recognised around 1980.xx Leptus and many other mites parasitise a broad spectrum of arthropods, including several unidentified Leptus species that also attack bees.xxi

Figure 1 Leptus mites on Africanised honey bee in São Paulo, Brazil
Photos Erica W. Teixeiraxxii

First off the rank to be discovered, however, were the varroa mites of the Varroa jacobsoni–Varroa destructor group (Figure 2). They were first described by Oudemans in 1904 from mites found on the Asian honey bee Apis cerana.xxiii There are many Varroa destructor halotypes and likely yet more species including Varroa rindereri that parasitises Apis cerana and Varroa underwoodi that parasitises its close associate Apis koschevnikovi.xxiv

More widely known by the early 20th century was the tracheal mite Ascarapis woodi. It devastated European beekeepingxxv but the origins of widespread mites in the Ascarapis genus are unknown while the origins of the outbreaks, then widely attributed to Ascarapis woodi, has been recently attributed to other causes. The existence of two relatively innocuous external mites Ascarapis externus and Ascarapis dorsalis in Asian honey bees suggests a source of the genus lies in deeper time. The tracheal mite, Acarapis woodi, though recently reported as causing high colony mortality in Asian and American (western) honey beesxxvi, is no longer regarded as a threat

Figure 2 Adult Varroa destructor mite on Western Honey Bee.xxvii

There are other mites on the horizon, ones we have all read about being the tropi or Tropilaelaps mites. Mercedes Delfinado and Edward Bakerxxviii were the first to describe such mites. In the same study Tropilaelaps clareae mites (the type species) were found on field rats and honey bees at the Gangstas Apiaries at Mataasna-Kahoy, Lipa in the Luzon district in the Philippines. That was in 1961.

Originally confined to tropical giant honey bees, another tropi mite Tropilaelaps mecedesae, with its also newly acquired western honey bee host, is spreading elsewhere and into cold-temperate climes. The source of tropi mite re-emergence in regions where honey bees become broodless for extended periods has not been identified. However it seems likely that Tropilaelaps will likely naturally displace Varroa wherever colonies maintain at least some brood year round. While tropi mites breed faster, both mites are persisting in a dynamic equilibrium on Apis mellifera in more temperate climes.xxix

Significantly the Mercedes-Baker duo described a new family of honey bees mites, type species Euvarroa sinhai, on Apis florea from an apiary in New Delhi in One can only trust that the likes of Leptus species and Tropilaelaps clareae, not just Tropilaelaps mercedesae, do not emerge to become even more serious pests of honey bees.


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