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Tracheal Mite

Tracheal Mite (Acarapis woodi) was first detected in 1984 and initially it caused a great loss in managed and feral (wild) honey bee colonies. In recent years, the pest has become less of a problem as our bees have developed some resistance or at least tolerance to the mite pest However, beekeepers should still be aware of this pest which has periodically caused massive bee deaths in some areas of the state in recent years.

 Tracheal Mite

Tracheal Mite

Tracheal mites, Acarapis woodi, are microscopic parasites that spend most of their lives inside the breathing tubes of adult honey bees. The mites feed through the wall of the tubes, raise their offspring in the tubes, and only leave the tubes to find new host bees. Therefore, tracheal mites are not very susceptible to contact poisons and are best treated with fumigants.

The first of two fumigants currently registered in California for use on tracheal mites is menthol. Crystalline menthol can be extracted from plants or synthesized. In either case, it is packaged as a nearly pure crystalline material that liberates fumes as it sublimes. Liberation of fumes is temperature dependent. In the case of beehive fumigation, the desired effects are not realized unless the outdoor temperature is going to be at least seventy degrees Fahrenheit every day. Fifty grams of menthol is placed at the top of the hive for 20-25 days, where it will be warmed by the heat of the bees and by sunlight. When temperatures are going to be in the eighties, the menthol should be moved to the bottom board. At outdoor temperatures of above ninety degrees Fahrenheit, the fumes are liberated in great enough quantities to drive the bees and queen out of the hive. Queen and brood losses occur under those conditions.

Life Cycle : The life cycle of the mite occurs only in the honey bee’s respiratory system, with mature female mites leaving the host to attach to the other bees. These dispersing female mites are particularly attracted to adult bees less that 3 days old. By infesting younger bees, the mites have more time to complete their life cycle before the host bee dies.

Tracheal mites will infest all castes of a honey bee colony including workers, drones and queens. The invading mites are attracted to the current of expired air coming from the first thoracic spiracle. Once inside the host bee, after 1 or 2 days the female mite lays 5 to 7 eggs over a period of 3 to 4 days. Eggs hatch in 3 to 4 days and progress through a larval stage, then a nymphal stage before finally reaching adult form. The male takes 11 to 12 days to fully develop, whereas the female takes 14 to 15 days to fully develop. The female is capable of laying almost one egg a day, each of which is about two thirds the weight of the female herself. As many as 21 offspring from each female is possible.

Only the female mites disperse, with approx 85% of the mite transfers occurring at night. Increasing temperatures result in increased number of mites transferring amongst bees. The mites cannot survive longer than a few hours in this transfer process outside of an adult bee.

Damage : Because of the microscopic size of the mite and its life cycle there are no reliable field indicators for the presence of the pest. The pest may go undetected for one to five years and then result in the death of the entire colony, which normally occurs in the late winter or early spring when mite numbers are highest and bee numbers are lowest.

 Tracheal Mite

Tracheal Mite

A severely infested colony may result in the presence of crawling bees on a warm winter or early spring day or walking bees with unhooked or K wings. However, this terminal indicator is soon followed by the death of the entire colony. Laboratory procedures are available for the detection of the mite but these require the dissection and microscopic examination of the adult bees. Beekeepers who are concerned about tracheal mites or are suspicious that they may have tracheal mite infections.

Control:At the present time there are two products labeled for the control of tracheal mites in the U.S. They are menthol sold under the trade name of Mite A Thol and formic acid. Both menthol and formic acid are naturally occurring products in honey but they should only be used in the labeled forms which are Mite-A-Thol and Apicure. Mite A Thol is a crystal form of menthol and Apicure is a formic acid preparation in a gel base. The misuse of either product can result in bee death and affect the flavor and saleability of the honey. Of the two products, Apicure is the product of choice because it controls both tracheal mites and varroa mites, the more serious mite pest in N.C. In addition, Apicure is less dependent upon ambient temperature for its effectiveness than is Mite A Thol.

The best time to use Apicure for tracheal and varroa mite control is in the late summer or early fall. Both Apicure and Mite A Thol are most effective when honey bee brood is at a minimum and a treatment prior to winter conditions will be most effective in keeping mite levels from becoming a serious problem. Apicure becomes ineffective at temperatures below 45 degrees F. Mite A Thol is just as effective in controlling tracheal mites as is Apicure but it does not control varroa mites and it is ineffective at temperatures of less than 60 degrees F. The most effective time to use this product for tracheal mite control is prior to winter conditions when bee brood levels are at a low level so late summer or early fall treatments are best.

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