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Genotypic variability and relationships between mite infestation levels, mite damage, grooming intensity, and removal of Varroa destructor mites in selected strains of worker honey bees (Apis mellifera L.)

Guzman-Novoa, Ernesto, Emsen, Berna, Unger, Peter, Espinosa-Montaño, Laura G., Petukhova, Tatiana
Journal of invertebrate pathology 2012 v.110 no.3 pp. 314-320
Apis mellifera, Varroa destructor, genetic variation, genotype, grooming (animal behavior), mite infestations, parasitic mites, worker honey bees
The objective of this study was to demonstrate genotypic variability and analyze the relationships between the infestation levels of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor in honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies, the rate of damage of fallen mites, and the intensity with which bees of different genotypes groom themselves to remove mites from their bodies. Sets of paired genotypes that are presumably susceptible and resistant to the varroa mite were compared at the colony level for number of mites falling on sticky papers and for proportion of damaged mites. They were also compared at the individual level for intensity of grooming and mite removal success. Bees from the “resistant” colonies had lower mite population rates (up to 15 fold) and higher percentages of damaged mites (up to 9 fold) than bees from the “susceptible” genotypes. At the individual level, bees from the “resistant” genotypes performed significantly more instances of intense grooming (up to 4 fold), and a significantly higher number of mites were dislodged from the bees’ bodies by intense grooming than by light grooming (up to 7 fold) in all genotypes. The odds of mite removal were high and significant for all “resistant” genotypes when compared with the “susceptible” genotypes. The results of this study strongly suggest that grooming behavior and the intensity with which bees perform it, is an important component in the resistance of some honey bee genotypes to the growth of varroa mite populations. The implications of these results are discussed.