Mainland Australia is currently free of varroa mite (Varroa destructor and V. jacobsoni), an external parasite which kills bee colonies.
The value of bees to agriculture and horticulture is immeasurable. Contrary to popular belief their main job isn’t to make honey and beeswax, although this aspect of the beekeeping industry is economically important.
More important is their role in pollinating a wide range of food plants.
Healthy Australian bees are exported across the globe to pollinate crops which otherwise would fail at harvest. Without bees, crops would need hand pollination thus making food more expensive.
How varroa mite arrives
The mite spreads when bees come into contact with other infected bees, hive products, plant material, hives and contaminated beekeeping equipment.
Moving hives and equipment between sites is standard beekeeping practice. If varroa mites were to reach eastern Australia they could potentially arrive in Western Australia, although the isolation of our state is an advantage.
Local beekeepers should regularly check hives for unusual patterns of behaviour.
How to recognise varroa mite
Varroa mites are oval, reddish to dark brown and around 1.1mm long and 1.5mm wide. They complete their life cycle in both drone and worker bee brood.
Examine the brood by uncapping the drone brood to check for dark mites in the cell and against the pearly white bodies of the developing bees.
In the hive, look for reduced bee numbers, patchy brood patterns and crippled and crawling honey bees near the entrance.
What can I do?
If beekeepers suspect varroa mites are present they should place about 100 bees in a bottle, add a teaspoon of icing sugar, shake, and after 10 minutes tip the contents onto a white plate. Any mites will have come loose and can be identified.
More information on the Plant Health Australia website.
Report positive findings to the Pest and Disease Information Service on Freecall 1800 084 881, preferably with a high resolution digital image attached.