Back to the Future of Varroa

This week was January 19, 2023, the day Marty McFly arrived in the movie Back to the Future. The movie was released in 1985, and did so well that it became a trilogy that included trips to the future and the past. In Marty’s 2023 they had real hover boards and self-fitting clothes and other things that seemed futuristic back in the 1980’s.

It occurred to me that that’s about when the varroa mite invaded the United States as well, long before I took up beekeeping. The mite first appeared in Florida and then quickly spread to the rest of the country. With a scientific name of Varroa destructor, Varroa is an ectoparasitic mite that lives and feeds on the adult and pupal stages of honey bees. They have proven surprising resilient and very adaptive to the various treatment methods tried over the years.

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Growing-Degree Days – Spring is Coming

We are starting to see early signs of flowers in Virginia. It has been abnormally warm this year, and the bulbs are starting to peek up from the soil. There a science called phenology that is the study of periodic cycles in biology. One concept that has come from this field of study is growing degree days, or GDD. The idea is that plants and insects require a certain level of warmth before they sprout and bloom, or emerge in the case of insects. You can calculate the GDD for your area as an estimate of when different plants might bloom for spring flowers or agricultural management

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The 12 Days of Honey Bees

If you missed it (and how could you!), we finished up the 12 days of honey bees this week, conveniently aligned with the Twelve Days of Christmas. For future posterity, here is the complete list of days.

May you prosper and find honey.

Day 12: Mouthparts

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 12. A honey bee worker has 12 (or so) mouth parts.

Bees in general have rather complex mouthparts to access the inner rewards found in flowers with all sorts of configurations. Since we not mentioned the honey bee proboscis (tongue) or mandibles yet, this seems like a good place to do so. These higher numbers are a real challenge, but the parts a honey bee’s mouth is a useful way to finish our honey bee days. Another option for 12 was honey bee pheromones, although there are actually more than 12 of these.

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Day 11: Hind leg

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 11. A honey bee worker has eleven (or so) parts on each hind leg.

Finding an eleven in honey bees is a challenge, so I ended up with the many parts of a worker’s hind leg. If you have a better suggestion for this number, please let me know in the comments. Other options include the roughly 11 days a worker spends as egg and larva, and extending our prior day to simply say the male bees have 11 flagomeres on their antennae.

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Day 10: Flagomeres

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 10. A honey bee worker has 10 flagomeres on her flagellum.

What the heck is a flagomere, you say? Well, I am here to tell you. You may remember from Day 2 that a honey bee antenna has three parts: the scape, the pedicel, and the flagellum. The scape and pedicel allow the bee to flex each antenna in all sorts of ways. The flagellum is where the various receptors are located. The flagellum is composed of segments, called flagomeres, with 10 flagomeres on female bees (workers and queens) and 11 on male bees (drones).

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Day 8: Queen larva capping

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 8. A honey bee queen larva is capped around day 8 of her lifecycle.

We leave the world of bee anatomy to talk about the lifecycle of a honey bee. A queen lays an egg in a honeycomb cell, which hatches around day 3 or 4. The rest of the lifecycle depends on the type of bee. A growing queen larva is typically capped on day 8, while workers and drones are capped on day 9 and 10, respectively. There is some variation, of course.

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Day 7: Spiracles

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 7. A honey bee has seven pairs of spiracles on their abdomen.

Matching up these daily numbers is starting to get interesting. A spiracle is an opening in an insect or spider that enables the exchange of oxygen with the body. Honey bees have ten pairs of such openings: three on the thorax and seven on the abdomen. Yay for seven! The spiracles form part of the respiratory system in honey bees, as discussed in this post Do bees have lungs?

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Day 6: Legs

Welcome to the Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 6. A honey bee has six legs.

All insects, in fact, have six legs, often with one or more specializations. Most bees have a number of specializations on their legs, and this includes honey bees. An insect’s legs attach to the thorax and are normally composed of five main segments: the coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, and tarsus. Honey bees have evolved a metatarsus in addition to the segments of the tarsus.

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