Keeping your beehives free of disease

Page last updated: Friday, 9 December 2016 - 2:12pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

The protection of Western Australia’s economy, environment and people’s health by preventing the outbreak of exotic animal and plant pests and diseases is known as biosecurity.

Biosecurity also includes the eradication or control of those pests and diseases already present. Increasing standards of biosecurity will be needed to maintain market access and market competitiveness for agricultural products.

Beekeepers must adopt measures to minimise the entry and spread of harmful diseases or pests into their apiaries and to help safeguard their businesses.

Maintaining markets

Western Australia is free of a number of economically important bee diseases and pests present in eastern Australia such as European foulbrood. Australia remains free of varroa mites. Good biosecurity measures at national, state and apiary levels are required to prevent their introduction.

The absence of these diseases and pests is vital in maintaining international market access for Western Australian honey and apiary products.

Good apiary hygiene practices can protect a beekeeper’s business from endemic and exotic bee diseases and pests. This helps prevent the spread of diseases and pests from one beehive to another within an apiary as well as reduce the impact should they accidentally be introduced.

Beekeepers need to check their hives and apiaries regularly and report any notifiable or suspicious disease, pest or insect they might find.

Tips for keeping pests and diseases out

  • Decide on the biosecurity goals and standards you want to maintain. Write them down and act on them. Review and re-set these goals and standards on a regular basis.
  • Train staff and family about apiary biosecurity.
  • Restrict access to your apiary sites and extraction facilities. Erect a sign that advises others of your biosecurity requirements. Inform others that vehicles used for beekeeping, supers with combs and used beekeeping equipment, and beehive products are not permitted on your premises or near your apiaries. Turn away people and machinery that do not meet your standards.
  •  Know the signs of endemic and exotic bee diseases and pests and work with neighbouring beekeepers to reduce disease risks. Regularly check bees and beehives and report all diseases and pests and unusual signs or conditions. Consult an apiary inspector if the strength of a colony decreases.
  • Avoid placing your apiary in areas that have a history of American foulbrood or where there are neglected beehives.
  • Prevent swarming to reduce the spread of disease.

Keeping beehives healthy

  • Re-queen beehives regularly to stop them from becoming weak or dying out. Strong beehives are essential for preventing the development of diseases. Weak and dead beehives allow ‘robber’ bees, which may carry diseases and pests, to enter beehives.
  • Source bees and beekeeping equipment from disease free apiaries.
  • Make regular inspections of honey and brood frames for signs of endemic and exotic bee diseases and pests. Honey samples, bees and brood combs should be submitted for laboratory analysis on a regular basis. Any suspicious pests should be submitted immediately.
  • Use queen excluders to confine  the  brood cells to the brood box so they are not mixed with honey cells. American foulbrood, for example, should be easier to recognise and there will be less chance of frames from different beehives being mixed up during honey extraction.
  • Do not feed untreated honey products to bees as they may contain bacteria or fungi. Ensure pollen fed to bees is irradiated. As an alternative, use sugar syrup or pollen substitutes as they do not contain any beehive products.

Barrier management

  •  Work on one beehive at a time and disinfect hands between beehives or wear disposable gloves and change them between hives.
  •  Number each frame and return them to the same beehive after any management activities or honey extraction to prevent cross-contamination.
  •  Disinfect equipment and change clothing between extractions from different beehives and apiaries. Varroa mites, for example, can be present in an apiary long before they are detected and are readily transported to other apiaries on clothing or on live bees moved in vehicles.
  • Prevent bees from entering mobile extraction vans or central extraction plants.
  • Cover and store used beekeeping equipment so robber bees are unable to gain access. Dead beehives must be sealed at the entrance, treated and stored to prevent the establishment of wax moths.

Transporting hives and equipment

  • Transport hives at night when all the bees have returned to the beehive. Bees flying off loads during day transport can spread diseases and pests. It is preferable to cover loads with a bee-net to prevent them escaping.
  • Keep accurate records of beehive movements so that in the event of an outbreak of an exotic disease or pest, traceback information about hive movements can be provided to identify possible risk areas for targeted surveillance.
  • Cover used beehives and supers during transport or when left on vehicles during the day to prevent access by robber bees.
  • Never stop near another beekeeper’s apiary or take used beehive equipment to another beekeeper’s central plant where a small apiary may be situated.

​Purchasing hives and used equipment

  • Purchase bees and equipment only from an apiary that is regularly checked for endemic and exotic bee diseases and pests.
  • Obtain testing history of the apiary and beehives. Seek a vendor declaration that provides some assurance the bees and equipment are free from pests, diseases and chemical residues. Any quality assurance scheme should also be detailed on this vendor  declaration.
  • Inspect all the beehives for pests and disease before purchase. A honey culture test (HCT) should be done on a sample of honey from all  beehives prior to purchase.
  • Isolate and clearly label newly purchased beehives and used beekeeping equipment, infected beehives and products. Sterilise them to ensure any disease or pest is not transferred to the rest of your beehives. Never put these hives and equipment into several apiaries.
  • Inspect the beehives regularly and monitor for disease. Isolate and observe any introduced bees.

Purchasing queens and nucleus hives

Purchased queen bees and their escorts are a low risk for the spread of brood diseases because irradiated honey is used in the queen candy.

Nucleus beehives can be a source of brood diseases and disease risk. Nucleus beehives may have a latent infection and it may take a number of weeks before the infection becomes visible. If present, bee pests can be readily spread through the purchase of queen bees and nucleus beehives.

Neglected and abandoned beehives

Neglected and abandoned beehives are a high disease risk. Beehives are considered to be neglected when:

  • more than 5% of them in an apiary have died out
  • beehives are of unsound construction that allows entry of robber bees
  • used equipment and appliances are accessible to robber bees
  • the beehives are not maintained
  • hives are unbranded.

Where the owner cannot be located, hives are considered abandoned.

Beekeepers are encouraged to report possible incidents of neglected beehives, robbing or abandoned beehives to a Department of Agriculture and Food Apiary Inspector.

Note: Make observations from outside the apiary and avoid  trespass. Reports must be in writing stating the reasons why you consider the apiary to be neglected and the date the neglect was observed. Include your name and the location of the apiary.

BeeGuard

The BeeGuard initiative prioritised protection strategies for the diseases and pests that may seriously affect the livelihoods of Western Australia’s beekeepers. Beekeepers should consider adopting these strategies to assist in safeguarding their businesses.

Quality Assurance (QA)

Marketing quality-assured apiary products is of benefit to individual businesses and the industry as a whole. QA schemes can assist beekeepers to show their apiary products are produced with minimal and safe use of chemicals and they are free from specified pests and diseases. Nationally,  B-Qual  is being supported by beekeepers and processors.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080