Invasive mite worsens honeybee viruses

Parasite’s move into Hawaiian islands lets obscure pathogen go big and bad

A mite that parasitizes honeybees can turn formerly small-time, local virus strains into widespread, dominant hazards.

Honeybees in Hawaii, like the one shown on the native Hawaiian tree “Ohi’a,” face worsening risks from deformed wing virus as the Varroa destructor mite spreads across the islands. Courtesy of Ethel M. Villalobos

As the Varroa destructor mite infiltrated Hawaiian bee colonies from 2007 to 2010, viral infection strength in local bees soared a million-fold, and a once-obscure but nasty strain of deformed wing virus surged to prominence. Even when beekeepers beat back the mite, the newly prominent virus remained abundant. Mite damage plus the virus shorten the lives of bees and can destroy colonies.

So far Hawaiian beekeepers have not reported the swifter, specific malady called colony collapse disorder (SN: 7/28/2007, p. 56), but the ability of the mite — now spreading globally — to reshape viral threats is worrisome, say Stephen J. Martin of the University of Sheffield in England and his colleagues in the June 8 Science.

Susan Milius

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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