PLoS Pathogens (Jan 2023)

Promiscuous feeding on multiple adult honey bee hosts amplifies the vectorial capacity of Varroa destructor.

  • Zachary S Lamas,
  • Serhat Solmaz,
  • Eugene V Ryabov,
  • Joseph Mowery,
  • Matthew Heermann,
  • Daniel Sonenshine,
  • Jay D Evans,
  • David J Hawthorne

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 19, no. 1
p. e1011061


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Varroa destructor is a cosmopolitan pest and leading cause of colony loss of the European honey bee. Historically described as a competent vector of honey bee viruses, this arthropod vector is the cause of a global pandemic of Deformed wing virus, now endemic in honeybee populations in all Varroa-infested regions. Our work shows that viral spread is driven by Varroa actively switching from one adult bee to another as they feed. Assays using fluorescent microspheres were used to indicate the movement of fluids in both directions between host and vector when Varroa feed. Therefore, Varroa could be in either an infectious or naïve state dependent upon the disease status of their host. We tested this and confirmed that the relative risk of a Varroa feeding depended on their previous host's infectiousness. Varroa exhibit remarkable heterogeneity in their host-switching behavior, with some Varroa infrequently switching while others switch at least daily. As a result, relatively few of the most active Varroa parasitize the majority of bees. This multiple-feeding behavior has analogs in vectorial capacity models of other systems, where promiscuous feeding by individual vectors is a leading driver of vectorial capacity. We propose that the honeybee-Varroa relationship offers a unique opportunity to apply principles of vectorial capacity to a social organism, as virus transmission is both vectored and occurs through multiple host-to-host routes common to a crowded society.