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Using an in vitro system for maintaining Varroa destructor mites on Apis mellifera pupae as hosts: studies of mite longevity and feeding behavior

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Varroa destructor mites (varroa) are ectoparasites of Apis mellifera honey bees, and the damage they inflict on hosts is likely a causative factor of recent poor honey bee colony performance. Research has produced an arsenal of control agents against varroa mites, which have become resistant to many chemical means of their control, and other means have uncertain efficacy. Novel means of control will result from a thorough understanding of varroa physiology and behavior. However, robust knowledge of varroa biology is lacking; mites have very low survivability and reproduction away from their natural environment and host, and few tested protocols of maintaining mites in vitro are available as standardized methods for varroa research. Here, we describe the ‘varroa maintenance system’ (VMS), a tool for maintaining in vitro populations of varroa on its natural host, and present best practices for its use in varroa and host research. Additionally, we present results using the VMS from research of varroa and host longevity and varroa feeding behavior. Under these conditions, from two trials, mites lived an average of 12 and 14 days, respectively. For studies of feeding behavior, female mites inflicted wounds located on a wide range of sites on the host’s integument, but preferred to feed from the host’s abdomen and thorax. Originally in the phoretic-phase, female mites in VMS had limited reproduction, but positive instances give insights into the cues necessary for initiating reproduction. The VMS is a useful tool for laboratory studies requiring long-term survival of mites, or host–parasite interactions.

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Francisco Posada-Florez would like to express his gratitude to ORAU/ORISE Fellowship through USDA-ARS. We would like to acknowledge Curtis Rogers of the Bee research lab, ARS-USDA, Beltsville, MD for helping out with some of the graphics.

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Correspondence to Noble I. Egekwu.

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Egekwu, N.I., Posada, F., Sonenshine, D.E. et al. Using an in vitro system for maintaining Varroa destructor mites on Apis mellifera pupae as hosts: studies of mite longevity and feeding behavior. Exp Appl Acarol 74, 301–315 (2018).

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