NOVEL ADAPTATIONS IN MORPHOLOGY, DEVELOPMENT, AND NUTRIENT AQUISITION FOR HOST EXPLOITATION IN THE MESOSTIGMATID HONEY BEE PARASITE VARROA DESTRUCTOR
Ramsey, Samuel David
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The parasitic mite Varroa destructor is the most significant single driver of the global honey bee health decline. Better understanding of the association of this parasite and its host is critical to developing sustainable management practices. This work shows that Varroa is not consuming hemolymph as has been the accepted view, but damages host bees by consuming fat body. Feeding wounds in adult bees were imaged for the first time showing that Varroa feed on the underside of the abdomen where fat body is the immediate underlying tissue. Fat body at the wound site showed evidence of external digestion. Hemolymph and fat body in honey bees were then marked with fluorescent biostains. Fluorescence associated with the fat body was consistently detected in the gut of mites fed on these bees while comparatively little fluorescence was detected from the hemolymph biostain. Mites were then fed a diet composed of one or both tissues. Mites fed fat body tissue survived longer and produced more eggs than those fed hemolymph. Mites fed hemolymph showed fitness metrics no different from the starved control group. Collectively, these findings show that Varroa are exploiting the fat body as their primary source of sustenance; a tissue integral to proper immune function, pesticide detoxification, overwinter survival and several other essential processes in healthy adult and immature bees. Additional study was undertaken to better understand how the Varroa accelerates its reproductive rate. Via gel electrophoresis and immunodetection, undigested honey bee vitellogenin was found in Varroa eggs. The presence and identity of these host proteins was confirmed via HPLC MS/MS. This particular cleavage of vitellogenin is found only in the fat body. These findings fundamentally alter our understanding of the etiology of varroosis and underscore a need to revisit our understanding of this parasite and its impacts, both direct and indirect, on honey bee health. Further study of Varroa adaptations focused on expanding knowledge of Varroa morphology with the aim of determining features that can distinguish between Varroa species. Using low temperature scanning electron microscopy, we were able to provide better resolution of key morphological features, detail variability within traits, and provide novel descriptions of certain characters.