Until recently, Australia has enjoyed a reputation as the only country in the world free from the honey bee pest, the Varroa mite. Read on to learn about the Varroa mite, and how this outbreak could affect our bees and beekeepers.
Varroa mites are tiny red-brown parasites that feed on developing and adult European honey bees (Apis mellifera). They are a deadly pest that will kill any bee colony they infest. The likelihood of complete hive devastation from infestation is 90-100%.
The Varroa mite affects Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) and European honey bees (Apis mellifera). They have been found in much of Asia, Europe, the USA, South America and New Zealand.
Until now, Australia’s strict biosecurity laws have prevented a Varroa incursion and protected our bees and beekeeping industry. Australia is widely recognised as having among the healthiest honey bees in the world, being largely free of the major pests and diseases seen in other honey bee populations around the globe. Australia is the last continent without an endemic population of Varroa mite.
The discovery of Varroa mites in Newcastle in June 2022 puts the nation’s honey bee population at risk, which is why it is so vital to eradicate the mite before it has the chance to spread.
The Varroa mite spreads by “hitchhiking” on bees or travelling with infected hives. The parasites can travel with other flower-feeding insects, and are quick to attach themselves to bees whenever possible The swarming, robbing and drifting habits of honey bees mean the mite can spread quickly if not eliminated.
Urgent action is needed to deal with any incursion of the Varroa mite into Australia.
Varroa mite incursions in Australia are not new, and have been successfully countered before through collaborative government-industry eradication programs implemented with the support of beekeepers.
The latest incursion is concerning, however, and poses a serious threat.
There is currently an emergency order in place for NSW, Australia. If you are a registered beekeeper in the region, keep your details up to date. If you are unregistered, it is encouraged that you register as soon as possible.
Feral bee colonies are the biggest threat to spreading at this point in time.
The Varroa mites in this outbreak only target the European honey bee species, not our native bee population. Native bees have a very different biology from European honey bees.
The Varroa mite does not impact the quality of the honey produced in infected hives. Consumers can be confident that the quality and taste of Australian honey will not be affected.
A Varroa infestation will, however, affect the size and strength of the honey bee population, and this will have an impact on the level of honey production.
The easiest way Australian consumers can support Australian beekeepers is to continue to buy their honey, which will provide an income to regenerate honey bee populations and maintain sustainability of the industry.
Australians can also donate to Hive Aid, a fund established through Rural Aid that will support struggling beekeepers. Direct donations to the campaign can be made here.
Currently, hives within the ‘surveillance zone’ are being monitored to reduce the level of euthanisation. However, if a hive is suspected to be hosting the mite, it must be euthanised to prevent further spread.
Mite-targeting pesticides and organic acids are available for beekeepers to manage and detect an infestation.
Even though European honey bees are not native to Australia, they play a major role in our agricultural sector. They assist in the pollination of many of our fresh produce crops, and of course also produce the pure Australian honey enjoyed by so many families. Our hardworking beekeepers depend on the health of their bees to maintain their livelihoods and continue to contribute to honey production and pollination in Australia.
If you find Varroa mite in a hive notify NSW DPI: