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Lessons on Tracking the Varroa Destructor

Lessons on Tracking the Varroa Destructor

August 1, 2019

To catch a killer, you must first understand it. Sounds like a melodramatic crime thriller, sure, but hey. We’re saving the bees here. We’re allowed a little drama.

One of the foundations of our research and our work has been understanding varroa behavior so we can efficiently and effectively combat them. And one of the most critical aspects of their behavior is where on the honey bee they most like to infiltrate.

Varroa mites show a consistent preference for the underside of the metasoma of adult bees. So when thinking about how to treat the bees with an essential oil inoculant, we have to first determine where that inoculant needs to go.


Next, we have to determine how to get it there.

Currently, our wick is situated above the entering bees. That means the lion’s share of the solution is deposited in a place mites are almost never found. We did have a wick that encompassed the bees’ entire bodies, ensuring they were covered. But, as we mentioned, bees hate getting their feet wet.

And that would be irritating if it weren’t so incredibly cute and also a little relatable.

But there’s hope. Oil is a liquid, viscous and prone to migration. Our assumption was that gravity, movement, and body heat would help the oil spread and travel downward to the parts of the bee where it’s most needed.

And where varroa hide.

So, how would we know if that’s true? Well, the same way, essentially, that crime scene techs determine the path of a crime: with UV dye.

UV fingerprint

By mixing a non-toxic UV dye into the essential oil solution and then shining a black light onto the bees we’ve already sent through the Everbee, we can find out where the oils initially coat the bees and where the liquid migrates all in hope of getting them to the right spots.

Or, you know, that was the original plan. But it turns out bees hate the smell of the oil-based dye that was necessary to mix in with the oils without separating. Here’s a dramatic reenactment:

[Start experiment]

“Would you guys mind walking through this cool UV oil so we can save you from this awful mite that’s on you that you can’t see?”
“Ewww. No.”

[End sciencing]

How we discovered this was really just failure. Jim was reporting that bees were completely ignoring the Everbee that contained the dye. And we were puzzled a bit as to why before Joe finally said, “Is it possible they just don’t like the UV oil?”

There’s such an interesting lesson there. As good as our research and as watertight as our science, there will be variances in behavior we can’t account for at the start, simply because bees are living creatures. And as frustrating as it can be to go one step forward and two steps back, it is an honor to get to know them.

We have some ideas about bee friendly water-based dyes and emulsifiers, but they’ll require some more research first. We’ll let you know what we figure out.

It’s a cliffhanger.