Grooming behaviour of dark European Honey bee Apis mellifera as a potential biological control against the introduced parasitic mite Varroa destructor

Grooming behaviour of dark European Honey bee Apis mellifera as a potential biological control against the introduced parasitic mite Varroa destructor

Project Title: Grooming behaviour of the dark European Honey bee Apis mellifera as a potential biological control against the introduced parasitic mite Varroa destructor

Funding Body: IRCSET

Period: October 2009 - October 2012

Researcher: Maria Kirrane

Project Description: 

Project description: The Varroa mite is native to South-East Asia, its native host being the Asian bee Apis cerana. However, since it shifted host to the European honey bee in the 1960’s, the mite has spread throughout the world to every continent except Australia. Beekeepers must now treat colonies regularly to keep them alive, however, resistance to the more effective miticides has recently developed in a number of countries.  An untreated colony will typically die within two to five years and this has brought about the almost complete loss of wild populations of Apis mellifera

One mechanism employed by the mite’s native host, in order to control mite populations, is that of grooming behaviour.  This behaviour involves the bee removing the phoretic mite from its body, often damaging it in the process and eliminating it from the hive.  Grooming behaviour is a hereditary trait performed by all bees, however, in those species that are resistant to Varroa the response is exhibited to a very high degree.  Studies that I have already carried out, on honey bee populations in the Cork area, have revealed that some colonies exhibit high levels of this behaviour.  The aim of this PhD is to establish a selective breeding programme that will increase the prevalence of the grooming response in Irish populations of Apis mellifera, thereby improving their resistance to the mite and enabling survival without treatment.

Environmental Research Institute

University College Cork, Lee Road, Cork

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