A mite that mimicks bees by smelling like them

Washington, June 4 (IANS) New research reveals that Varroa mites, the most-serious threat to honeybees worldwide, are infiltrating hives by smelling like bees.

Being able to smell like their hostess reduces the chance that the parasite is found and killed.

“The mites from Asian honeybees, or the original host, are more efficient in mimicking both Asian and European honeybees,” said lead author Zachary Huang from Michigan State University.

“This remarkable adaptability may explain their relatively recent host shift from Asian to European honeybees,” Huang said.

The mites are fooling the bees not only by being able to smell like bees, but also by effectively emitting the specific scents of small, individual colonies.

“They are essentially getting through the door and reaching the inner sanctum by using bees’ own complex communication codes against them,” Huang said.

The codes in which they communicate are hydrocarbons, the simplest of organic compounds.

By tweaking the proportions of these chemical colognes, the mites give off the correct scents to fool their enemies.

“Our study challenged the mites’ ability to modify their hydrocarbons. Conversely, bees are adapting to detect these invaders. Our results give a clear illustration of an arms race between the parasites and the host bees based on chemical mimicry and its detection,” Huang said.

The study appeared in the journal Biology Letters.

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