The parasitic mite Varroa destructor affects non-associative learning in honey bee foragers, Apis mellifera L

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2007 Mar;193(3):363-70. doi: 10.1007/s00359-006-0192-8. Epub 2006 Nov 23.


The parasitic mite Varroa destructor influences flight behavior, orientation and returning success of forager honeybees (Apis mellifera) infested as adults. As impaired orientation toward the nest entrance might be due to deficiency in recognition and responsiveness to stimuli in the environment, we examined effects of V. destructor on sensory responsiveness, non-associative and associative learning of honey bee foragers by using proboscis extension reaction paradigm (PER). Although infested and uninfested workers were initially equally responsive to different concentrations of sugar water, we found differences in non-associative learning. In habituation, PER to repeated sugar stimulation of the antennae occurred faster in infested foragers compared to uninfested foragers. In sensitization, infested foragers showed a lower response to an odor stimulus following sugar stimulation than non-infested foragers. Differences in non-associative paradigms were more pronounced in bees with lower responsiveness to sucrose. In conditioning learning experiments, a significant reduction in proboscis extension response was found 1 min but not 12 min after a single conditioning trial indicating that V. destructor predominantly affects the non-associative components of learning and its underlying neural and molecular processes.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning / drug effects
  • Bees / drug effects*
  • Bees / parasitology
  • Bees / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Carbohydrates / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / drug effects
  • Honey
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Learning / drug effects*
  • Mites / physiology*
  • Taste / drug effects
  • Taste Threshold / drug effects


  • Carbohydrates