Vampire mites are parasites that attach themselves to bees and cause many problems for the insect and their beekeepers. This tick-like mite, also known as a varro mite or beekeeping mite, lives on individual bees, spreading from one hive to another. They feed on the fluid of the bees, transmitting disease and spreading bacteria through colonies. A group of vampire mites can destroy an entire hive of bees.
Vampire mites serve as a large threat within the bee community. They were found in Southeast Asia in 1904, and by 1962-62, they were found on different species of bees in Hong Kong and the Philippines, after which time they began to spread rapidly. With the leeching onto of different kinds of host bees, the movement of queen bees from infected areas, and the movement of infested colonies, the problem of vampire mites reached the United States by 1979. After a single mite was found in Maryland, inspections were made of Florida bees, where none were found in 1984. By 1987, however, it was found in Wisconsin and has been known to be in the United States in small numbers since.
Adult vampire mites are about the size of a small pinhead, are visible to the naked eye, and range from red to dark brown to black in color. They are crab-shaped and usually feature a curved body that fits into the abdominal breaks in the bee’s body. Vampire mites have eight legs, and pinchers capable of piercing a bee’s hide to feed.
The life of vampires mites is begun on a 10-day birthing cycle. A mother will deposit eggs into an unborn bee brood, and then soon expire. The mites are born as the bee is born, and feed off of this new host, developing with the developing young bee. The parasite generally will die as the host dies, leaving the vampire mites alive as long as the bee remains alive in most cases. An infestation of vampire mites in this manner can have varying results, ranging from deformed bees at birth to the premature destruction of an entire bee colony.
An infestation of such magnitude can ruin one hive, one beekeeper, or the production of honey from one small region. With one weakened colony, other colonies can move in producing devastating effects for the economic well-being of the beekeeper. Methods of control and detection are wide-ranging, though control must be done a certain length of time before or after a honey cycle, to preserve the natural integrity and safety of the honey.