Varroa mite

Alert

Varroa mite (varroa destructor) has been detected in New South Wales.

A movement control order is in place in Queensland.

You cannot move bees, beehives, used beekeeping equipment or bee products (including unprocessed honey) to Queensland without a permit.

Monitor your hives for unexpected hive deaths, deformed bees, parasites, poor brood patterns and dead brood.

Use our Bee 123 online form to report your any checks you make on your hives.

Read the movement control order for more information and visit our eHub for more information.

There are 2 species of varroa mite, Varroa destructor and 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 certain food crops.

Varroa destructor 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.

In June 2022, Varroa destructor was detected in the Port of Newcastle, New South Wales. Varroa destructor is responsible for the collapse and death of European honey bee colonies wherever it is present overseas. Honey bees are weakened by mites feeding on them as pupae, and adult bees often emerge with deformities.

Varroa jacobsoni has a wide distribution on Asian honey bee 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.

Both species of varroa mite are 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 the thorax or nestled into abdominal folds of adult bees.
  • Obligate parasites of honey bees and do not survive for long away from a host.

Habitat

  • Live wherever bee colonies are found. Australia is currently the only inhabited continent in the world to be free of varroa mite.
  • Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) have adapted to withstand varroa mite infestation and are their natural host.

Distribution

  • Varroa destructor is not established in Australia. Australia is one of the few countries in the world to remain free of varroa mite.
  • In 2018, Varroa destructor was detected in Victoria in a swarm of European honey bees on arriving cargo. The bees were reported by the crew of the arriving vessel. The Australian government responded to the risk with assistance from the Victorian government and the swarm was eliminated.
  • Varroa jacobsoni was detected on exotic Asian honey bee in Townsville in 2016, 2019 and 2020. The pest was eradicated under the nationally cost-shared National Varroa Mite Eradication Program. Proof of Freedom from Varroa jacobsoni was declared in 2021 and biosecurity measures were reviewed.
  • Varroa destructor was found in the Port of Newcastle, New South Wales in June 2022.
  • Varroa mite could spread across the country by the movement of any of the following carriers: a bee; a swarm, nest or hive of bees; an apiary appliance; or an apiary product.

Affected animals

  • Honey bees (Apis cerana)
  • European honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Impacts

Environmental

  • Debilitates and eventually kills bee colonies, reducing managed and feral honey bee populations.
  • Varroa mite can also carry bee viruses, including exotic viruses like deformed wing virus. These viruses can be more devastating to bee colonies than the mite themselves.

Economic

  • Potential to severely affect honey production.
  • Potential to severely affect a 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. If you find a swarm in an international airport or seaport, contact the See. Secure. Report. hotline on 1800 798 636 or Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.
  • The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program acts as an early warning system to detect new incursions of exotic bee pests and pest bees by monitoring locations considered to be most likely entry points throughout Australia.
  • 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.
  • Beekeepers can conduct their own varroa mite surveillance and record results of assessments using the varroa mite hive check form.

Legal requirements

  • Both species of varroa mite are listed as 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