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Varroa life cycle

It is important for beekeepers to know it

I think it is important for beekeepers, even beginners, to know the life cycle of Varroa destructor, otherwise it is difficult to understand what we are trying to achieve with various treatments, or even non or reduced treatments.

It is difficult for the ordinary beekeeper, including me, to work out for themselves what the life cycle is from our own observations, so I set out below what is the most likely, based on the most authoritative information I can find. The information available varies considerably in timing, but I think it is more important to know what happens, rather than exactly when. The observations may have been made under different conditions, hence the variation.

Varroa mites can only reproduce under capped brood cells. They emerge with the bees to take up a second stage that is commonly called the "phoretic stage", which is now known to be inaccurate. We now know the mites feed on adult bees as well, but before they are seen on the backs of individual bees. It is often stated that adult mites only enter worker and drone cells, with a preference for drone, but on several occasions I have seen them in queen cells, even in very lightly infested colonies.

In a simplified form, the following is what happens when there is brood in the colony. For more detailed information please consult more authoritative sources, but please remember it does vary somewhat, so even the experts disagree. For that reason, I only give the basics, which I think is all the ordinary beekeeper needs to know. When there is no brood, adult varroa mites are apparently able to live for 5-6 months on adult bees.

I hope this gives a brief and accurate account of the life cycle of varroa, or enough to understand what treatments are trying to achieve.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 02/01/2017

Page updated 05/11/2020