Deformed Wing Virus

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) is a significant threat to honeybee populations worldwide. It causes severe deformities in the wings of infected honey bees, and ultimately leads to their death. This highly contagious virus is primarily transmitted by the parasitic Varroa destructor mite. The varroa mite infests honeybee colonies and feeds on bee hemolymph. In healthy, Varroa mite–free colonies, Deformed Wing Virus infections are rare.

DWV has far-reaching implications for bee health. Not only does it impair their ability to fly, but it also weakens their immune system. This leads to greater susceptibility to other diseases and environmental stressors. Consequently, the rapid spread of DWV poses a grave challenge to honey bee´s productivity and pollination. Understanding the transmission, replication, and control of this virus is crucial for the future of honeybees and our ecosystems.

History and Distribution of the Deformed Wing Virus

The Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) was first discovered in the early 1980s in Japan. The virus has now spread worldwide to every continent where honeybees live. This widespread distribution can be attributed to the global trade of honeybees and beekeeping equipment. Both have facilitated the movement of DWV-infected bees and Varroa destructor mites – the primary vector responsible for transmitting the virus.


The rapid global expansion of DWV has been closely linked to the spread of the Varroa destructor mite. The mite was initially confined to its original host, the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana). However, in the mid-20th century it also affected the European honeybee (Apis mellifera). As Varroa destructor mites infested new regions and honeybee populations, DWV followed suit. This lead to a dramatic increase in the prevalence and impact of the virus on honeybee colonies.

DWV’s distribution is not uniform, with varying prevalence rates in different regions. Some areas report low DWV infection rates, while others are experiencing high levels of infection. These often coincide with high Varroa destructor mite infestations. As the virus continues to spread, it is essential to monitor its distribution and develop strategies to mitigate its impact.

Deformed Wing Virus Genetics

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) is a harmful virus that affects honeybees worldwide. Its genetic makeup plays a crucial role in how it infects and harms bees. The DWV virus affects its host on a molecular level. It has an RNA genome consisting of only one ORF, which encodes a large polyprotein. Once divided, the proteins can help the virus to replicate, spread throughout its host’s body, and evade detection by the immune system. Additionally, DWV can affect its host on a physiological level. By preventing the body from responding to infection, it can lead to tissue damage in various organs, including the heart and nervous system.

Another important aspect to consider is the DWV’s genetic variation. The virus exists in multiple strains, with some being more harmful or aggressive than others. This genetic diversity can impact how severely the virus affects honeybee colonies and the necessary strategies to control its spread.

Understanding the genetics of DWV is essential for developing effective treatments and prevention measures. Researchers continue to study the virus’s genetic makeup to better comprehend how it infects honeybees and the role it plays in the decline of bee populations. By unraveling the secrets of DWV’s genetics, scientists hope to protect honeybees and ensure the continued pollination services they provide.

Pathology of Deformed Wing Virus

Honey Bee with Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) Photo by Scientific Beekeeping

Understanding the pathology of DWV is essential for finding ways to protect honeybees from this devastating virus. Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) is a major threat to honeybees, causing severe wing deformities and other health issues. It is crucial to explore how the virus affects bees at the cellular level to better understand its impact on honeybees.

The DWV targets the bee’s developing cells. It particularly targets the wings, which leads to abnormal growth and deformed wings. Bees with these deformities are unable to fly, making it difficult for them to perform essential tasks like foraging and mating.

The virus also weakens the honeybee’s immune system, leaving them more vulnerable to other infections and environmental stressors. This weakened state can result in a shorter lifespan for infected bees. This further impacts the overall health of the colony.

DWV spreads easily within a honeybee colony, primarily through the parasitic Varroa destructor mite. These mites feed on bee hemolymph (blood), transmitting the virus in the process. High infestations of Varroa mites can lead to increased transmission rates and more severe DWV infections.

How is Deformed Wing Virus Transmitted?

Varroa Mite Infected Brood

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) primarily spreads through the parasitic Varroa destructor mite that feeds on the hemolymph (blood) of honeybees. As the mites move from one bee to another, they transmit the virus, leading to new infections within the colony. However, DWV can also spread through direct contact between bees or via contaminated food and equipment.

The severity of DWV infections varies depending on several factors. These include the strain of the virus and the overall health of the honeybee colony. Some strains of DWV are more aggressive than others. These cause more severe wing deformities and higher mortality rates in infected bees. Additionally, colonies with high Varroa mite infestations often have higher DWV transmission and more severe infections.

Another factor is the overall health of the honeybee colony. Healthy colonies with strong immune systems may be better equipped to fight off infections and limit the spread of the virus. On the other hand, colonies exposed to environmental stressors or other diseases may be more susceptible to severe DWV infections.

Impact of Deformed Wing Virus

The impact of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) on honeybees is a significant concern for beekeepers and researchers. It is a serious threat to bee populations and subsequently pollination. By examining the effects of DWV, we can develop strategies to protect honeybees and ensure their continued role in global food production.

One of the most noticeable impacts of DWV is the physical deformities it causes, particularly in the wings of infected bees. Bees with deformed wings are unable to fly, which impairs their ability to forage for food, mate, and perform other vital tasks within the colony.

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) can also affect the ability of bees to thermo-regulate. Infected bees with deformed wings or other physical abnormalities may struggle to maintain their body temperature and perform essential tasks within the colony. Thermo-regulation is crucial for honeybees, as it allows them to maintain a stable temperature within the hive and ensures the proper development of the brood.

The weakened immune system of infected bees further contributes to their impaired thermo-regulation. Bees with compromised immune systems may not be able to effectively respond to temperature fluctuations or adapt to changing environmental conditions. This can lead to increased stress on the colony and potentially impact its overall health and productivity.

The weakened immune system leaves the bees more susceptible to other diseases and environmental stressors. Infected bees often have a shorter lifespan and may experience additional health issues such as paralysis and disorientation. According to research, they also struggle with associated learning and memory patterns, both during the learning process and when tested for memory after two and 24 hours of training.

The presence of DWV in a honeybee colony can lead to a decline in overall colony health and productivity. With fewer healthy bees available to forage for food and care for the brood, the colony’s growth and survival are jeopardized. In some cases, DWV infections can even contribute to colony collapse, a phenomenon where the majority of worker bees abandon the hive, leaving behind the queen and immature bees.


The impact of DWV extends beyond honeybees. DWV has also been detected in other insects like bumblebees and wasps. This raises concerns about the potential spread of DWV to other pollinators and the broader implications for ecosystems that rely on these species.

Understanding the impact of DWV on honeybees and other insects is crucial for developing effective interventions to combat the virus and protect these vital pollinators. By focusing on the consequences of DWV infections, researchers can work towards preserving the health of honeybee colonies. Furthermore, it ensures the continuity of the essential pollination to support global food production.


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