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Mellitiphis alvearius or “Pollen Mite” is a new threat?

Mellitiphis alvearius, the elusive pollen mite, raises a question: Is it a new threat?

Mellitiphis alvearius, commonly known as the pollen mite, is a tiny arachnid that inhabits bee hives. Despite its small size, about half the size of a varroa mite, it can be significant in its impact on hive ecology.

Picture of Pavel Klimov
Picture of Pavel Klimov

Mellitiphis alvearius has a wide distribution range, being found across Europe, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Korea, and various regions in North and South America.1,2

Within the hive, Mellitiphis alvearius is commonly found in the adult phase. Unlike parasitic mites such as varroa and Tropilaelaps,  Mellitiphis alvearius prefers to feed on fallen pollen balls rather than bee brood or eggs. This dietary preference earned it the nickname “pollen mite.”

The adult Mellitiphis alvearius mite is light brown in color and measures approximately 0.75 mm (0.029 inches) in size. Despite its small stature, it can be observed within the hive, often on the bottom where fallen pollen accumulates.3

Braula fly (top), Varroa mite (right), Tropilaelaps mite (bottom) and Pollen mite (left). Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), Crown Copyright.

Due to its size and appearance, Mellitiphis alvearius can sometimes be mistaken for Tropilaelaps, a harmful parasitic mite native to Asia. However, unlike Tropilaelaps, Mellitiphis alvearius remains a saprophytic mite, not deemed harmful to honey bee colonies.4

Studies suggest that Mellitiphis alvearius is relatively uncommon in honeybee hives. For example, in Central Europe, it was found in only 5.5% of sampled hives5, while in other regions like New Zealand, its presence may be more widespread.3

Understanding the role of Mellitiphis alvearius within the hive ecosystem not only enriches our knowledge but also can help beekeepers better manage their colonies and detect potential issues early on.

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  1. Delfinado-Baker, M. 1988. Incidence of Melittiphis alvearius (Berlese), a little-known mite of beehives, in the United States. Amer. Bee J. 128: 214
  2. Delfinado-Baker, M. 1994. A harmless mite found on honeybees Melittiphis alvearius: From Italy to New Zealand. Amer. Bee J. 134: 199
  3. Gibbins, B.L. & R.F. van Toor. 1990. Investigation of the parasitic status of Melittiphis alvearius (Berlese) on honeybees, Apis mellifera L., by immunoassay. J. Apic. Res. 29: 46-52.
  4. Sammataro, D., U. Gerson & G. Needham. 2000. Parasitic mites of honey bees: Life history, implications and impact. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 45: 519-548.
  5. The mites inhabiting the bee-hives in ČSR; O. Haragsim, K. Samšiňák, Eliška Vobrázková, First published: January/December 1978 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0418.1978.tb02425.x
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