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Genet Mol Res. 2003 Mar 31;2(1):36-42.

The influence of brood comb cell size on the reproductive behavior of the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor in Africanized honey bee colonies.

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  • 1Departamento de Biologia/Area Entomologia, FFCLRP, Universidade de São Paulo, 14040-901 Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brasil.


Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera, Hymenoptera: Apidae) in Brazil are tolerant of infestations with the exotic ectoparasitic mite, Varroa destructor (Mesostigmata: Varroidae), while the European honey bees used in apiculture throughout most of the world are severely affected. Africanized honey bees are normally kept in hives with both naturally built small width brood cells and with brood cells made from European-sized foundation, yet we know that comb cell size has an effect on varroa reproductive behavior. Three types (sizes) of brood combs were placed in each of six Africanized honey bee colonies: new (self-built) Africanized comb, new Italian comb (that the bees made from Italian-sized commercial foundation), and new Carniolan comb (built naturally by Carniolan bees). About 100 cells of each type were analyzed in each colony. The Africanized comb cells were significantly smaller in (inner) width (4.84 mm) than the European-sized comb cells (5.16 and 5.27 mm for Italian and Carniolan cells, respectively). The brood cell infestation rates (percentage cells infested) were significantly higher in the Carniolan-sized comb cells (19.3%) than in the Italian and Africanized cells (13.9 and 10.3%, respectively). The Carniolan-sized cells also had a significantly larger number of invading adult female mites per 100 brood cells (24.4) than did the Italian-sized cells (17.7) and the natural-sized Africanized worker brood cells (15.6). European-sized worker brood cells were always more infested than the Africanized worker brood cells in the same colony. There was a highly significant correlation (P<0.01) between cell width and the rate of infestation with varroa in four of the six colonies. The small width comb cells produced by Africanized honey bees may have a role in the ability of these bees to tolerate infestations by Varroa destructor, furthermore it appears that natural-sized comb cells are superior to over-sized comb cells for disease resistance.

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