When honey bee colonies collapse from high infestations of Varroa mites, neighboring colonies often experience surges in their mite populations. Collapsing colonies, often called “mite bombs”, seem to pass their mites to neighboring colonies. This can happen by mite infested workers from the collapsing colonies drifting into the neighboring colonies, or by mite-free workers from the neighboring colonies robbing out the collapsing colonies, or both.
To study inter-colony mite transmission, we positioned six nearly mite-free colonies of black-colored bees around a cluster of three mite-laden colonies of yellow-colored bees. We then monitored the movement of bees between the black-bee and yellow-bee colonies before, during, and after mite-induced collapse of the yellow-bee colonies.
Throughout the experiment, we monitored each colony’s mite level. We found that large numbers of mites spread to the black-bee colonies (in both nearby and distant hives) when the yellow-bee colonies collapsed from high mite infestations and became targets of robbing by the black-bee colonies.
We conclude that “robber lures” is a better term than “mite bombs” for describing colonies that are succumbing to high mite loads and are exuding mites to neighboring colonies.