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Varroa mite

Alert

Varroa mite detection in Townsville

Biosecurity Queensland officers working as part of the National Varroa Mite Eradication Program (NVMEP) are responding to a new incursion of varroa mite (Varroa jacobsoni) found on a nest of feral Asian honey bees at the Port of Townsville on 28 April 2020.

Genetic testing indicates this Asian honey bee detection is not related to any previous incidents in Australia, including those in Cairns, or the subject of the current national eradication program underway in Townsville.

A prevention-and-control and a surveillance program under the Biosecurity Act 2014 remain in place following the detection of varroa mites on a colony of feral Asian honey bee at the Port of Townsville in May 2019.

The NVMEP is funded through a partnership between industry and government and commenced following detection of an Asian honey bee nest infested with varroa mite at the port in June 2016. Response activity implemented by Biosecurity Queensland since that time has wiped out that incursion.

The NVMEP is being led by Biosecurity Queensland and will continue until 30 April 2021.

Moving live bees is restricted within the Townsville area. View the Prevention and control program (PDF, 3.7MB) and the map of the affected area (PDF, 366KB).

Report sightings of Asian honey bees or feral bee nests in Townsville to 13 25 23.

There are 2 species of varroa mite, the Varroa destructor and the Varroa jacobsoni. These mites are tiny, the size of a pinhead, and they are a parasite of honey bees.

Varroa mite numbers build up over time, eventually killing honey bee nests and hives if chemical mite killers or other management strategies are not applied. Bee colony death affects honey production and pollination of food crops.

Varroa destructor affects both Asian honey bees and European honey bees. They have been found in much of Asia, Europe, the USA, South America and New Zealand. Varroa destructor is responsible for the collapse and death of European honey bee colonies wherever it is present. Adult bees are weakened by mites sucking on them, and new bees are born with deformities.

Varroa jacobsoni has a wide distribution on Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) throughout Asia and Asian honey bees are the natural host of Varroa jacobsoni. These mites do not normally reproduce on European honey bees, however they have recently been observed reproducing on European honey bees at some overseas locations, raising concerns that the same may happen in Australia.

The Varroa jacobsoni has been detected in Townsville, North Queensland, and Biosecurity Queensland is implementing a Prevention and Control Program to eradicate the mite.

The varroa mite is listed as prohibited matter under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

Scientific name

Varroa destructor and Varroa jacobsoni

Other names

  • Varroa, bee mite

Description

  • Curved, pinhead-sized mite.
  • Adult females are reddish-brown, flattened, oval-shaped, with body 1-1.7mm long and 1.5-1.99mm wide.
  • Adult males are yellowish, spherical, with body 0.75-0.98mm long and 0.70-0.88mm wide.
  • May be seen on thorax or nestled into abdominal folds of adult bees.
  • Obligate parasites of honey bees and do not survive for long away from host.

Habitat

  • Live wherever bee colonies are found.
  • Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) have adapted to withstand varroa mite infestation and are now a natural host.

Distribution

  • Varroa jacobsoni has been detected in Townsville, Queensland. Under eradication.
  • Varroa could spread across the country by the movement of infested bees.

Affected animals

  • Honey bees

Impacts

Environmental

  • Debilitates and eventually kills bee colonies, reducing managed and feral honey bee populations.

Economic

  • Potential to severely affect honey production.
  • Potential to severely affect wide range of pollination-reliant food crops and crops that support primary food production.

Control

  • Early detection is essential to ensure any Varroa mites entering Australia are contained.
  • The Australian Government monitors cargo ships entering Australian ports for bees and other unwanted insect pests.
  • Plant Health Australia and Biosecurity Queensland coordinates the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program in Queensland. Sentinel bee hives are placed near ports and monitored for mites. Bees detected on wharves are killed and sampled to ensure they do not carry Varroa or other unwanted pests.
  • Beekeepers participate in the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program. This is managed by Biosecurity Queensland in collaboration with the Queensland Beekeeper's Association and regional bee clubs. Samples are collected each year from hives throughout Queensland and tested for exotic mites.
  • All beekeepers should monitor their hives and immediately report unexpected hive deaths, deformed bees, bees with parasites, poor brood patterns and dead brood to Biosecurity Queensland.
  • Techniques for mite sampling using the alcohol wash method can be obtained by contacting a Biosecurity Queensland State Apiary Officer.

Legal requirements

  • Varroa mite is prohibited matter under the Biosecurity Act 2014 (the Act).
  • The Act requires that all sightings be reported to Biosecurity Queensland without delay. A person that has sighted the pest must also ensure that they do not take any action that may exacerbate the risk of the pest spreading.
  • By law, everyone has a general biosecurity obligation (GBO) to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risk of Varroa mite entering and establishing itself in Queensland.

Further information