Pollen mites hitching a lift on Red Mason bees to gain access to fresh nests new video

May 12, 2016

in A selection of my garden wildlife videos, Gardening For Wildlife, Red mason solitary bees, Solitary Bee Observation Box

PLEASE clean your Red Mason bee (Osmia bicornis) cocoons!

Pollen mites attach themselves to bees using huge claws, then hitch a lift, drop off on flowers, feed up, and hitch a return lift courtesy of another bee. Once inside the safe environment of a red mason bee’s cell, they breed and can soon become many thousands inside one cell, outcompeting the bee larvae for food, leading to its death or reduce the size of the bee. Smaller female bees have reduced fecundity. For the bee larvae, it is a race against time. According to some researchers, they may also eat the egg before it hatches and even certain later stages of larval development.

Pollen mites pass from one to the other during courtship possibly leading to the death of her offspring

Pollen mites pass from one Red mason bee to the other during courtship. Probably leading to the death of her offspring

To cater for environmental factors within the cell, probably food scarcity or decreasing humidity, they have developed a survival strategy. Some become migratory mites and migrate as described, waiting till spring when the bee leaves its cell or as it passes through a mite infested cell, often found in huge numbers that it can affect the flight of the bee.

New film with new research  Pollen Mites (Chaetodactylus osmiae)

The remaining mites, encyst and are non migratory. They remain in situ inside your solitary bee nest until some environmental cue triggers their activity. Its a survival strategy that works as they can remain dormant during unfavourable conditions for several years.

Encysted pollen mite bidding their time inside a Red Mason bee nest next to Cacoxenus indagator frass

Your ‘bee hotel’ nest may well contain many 1000’s of both types of mite later in the year. These methods enable them to maintain their normal host relationship and disperse to gain new hosts. Cleaning your bee cocoons greatly reduces the mites and definitely helps your bees to survive and increase in numbers. And we all want that now do n’t we!

Nest to nest dispersal

Other than those that hitch a lift (phoresy) on a bee, mites will also disperse within solitary bee nests by walking to nearby nest entrance holes, walking from nest to nest through splits, cracks, holes, gaps, and parasitic wasp emergence holes, all of which can be found in wood, straws, canes, reeds, paper/cardboard tubes.

For more information about solitary bee pests see Beware! Is your ‘bee hotel’ a nursery for disease and pests?

With thanks to Simon Caxton for the above photograph and Werner David for mites on cardboard tubes

For more information about solitary bees and wasps visit BWARS

Intersted in Citizen Science and pollinators? (e.g. bees!) The Buzz Club

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