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What are Vampire Mites?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 21, 2024
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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are vampire mites?

Vampire mites are tiny arachnids that feed on the blood of other insects, particularly bees. They are known for their parasitic relationship with their hosts, often causing harm and sometimes transmitting diseases. Varroa destructor, a species of vampire mite, is notorious for its impact on honeybee populations, contributing to colony collapse disorder.

How do vampire mites affect bee colonies?

Vampire mites, particularly Varroa mites, attach to bees and weaken them by sucking their hemolymph (insect blood). They can spread viruses like deformed wing virus, leading to developmental issues in bees. According to the USDA, infested colonies can be significantly weakened or even destroyed if the mite infestation is not managed properly.

Can vampire mites infest human homes or pets?

Vampire mites primarily target insects and are not known to infest human homes or pets like other mite species can. They have a specific host range, mainly bees, and do not pose a direct threat to humans or common domestic animals. However, their impact on bee populations can indirectly affect human agriculture and ecosystems.

What methods are used to control vampire mite populations?

Control methods for vampire mites include chemical treatments, such as miticides, and biological controls like breeding mite-resistant bees. Beekeepers also use mechanical methods, like drone comb removal and powdered sugar dusting, to reduce mite numbers. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies are recommended for sustainable control.

Are there any natural predators of vampire mites?

There are a few natural predators of vampire mites, including other mite species like Stratiolaelaps scimitus, which can prey on the young stages of Varroa mites. Additionally, some insects and fungi have been observed attacking vampire mites, but these natural controls are not yet widely used or effective enough to rely on solely for managing mite populations.

What is the impact of vampire mites on global bee health and agriculture?

Vampire mites pose a significant threat to global bee health, impacting both wild and managed bee populations. The decline in bee health can lead to reduced pollination services, which are crucial for many crops. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 75% of the world's food crops depend at least partly on pollination, highlighting the importance of combating vampire mite infestations to maintain agricultural productivity and biodiversity.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By winterstar — On Dec 21, 2009

They say that honey bees are disappearing, maybe this is part of the reason. Certainly they've examined the dead bees, wait, they have been finding dead bees haven't they?

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