Varroa mite (Varroa destructor)

Pest situation

In June 2022, Varroa destructor, a parasite of European honey bees, was detected in surveillance hives at the Port of Newcastle (NSW).

Varroa destructor (varroa mite). Source: NSW DPI
Varroa destructor (varroa mite). Source; NSW DPI

Since June, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has continued to work with beekeepers across the state to locate infested hives and carry out containment and control activities.

Infested hives are being destroyed humanely to stop the spread of varroa mite. All movements of hives and equipment onto and off infested premises over the past 12 months is being traced. Surveillance of these premises and a risk analysis are also being conducted, to minimise further spread.

Surveillance of known feral bee hives is also occurring.

An industry agreed response plan is in place, with its intent being to eradicate varroa mite and minimise the impact on businesses, communities, ancillary industries and the environment.

NSW DPI publishes regular updates on the response to varroa mite which are available at:

NSW DPI – Varroa mite emergency response

NSW movement restrictions

The movement of hives, brood boxes, nucleus hives, packaged bees and queen bees is not permitted anywhere in NSW without a permit.

Registered commercial beekeepers within the General Biosecurity Zone (blue zone) can complete a Hive Movement Declaration to move honeybees and hives, to allow for their business continuity and to provide pollination services. There are explicit requirements on beekeepers before moving, which are detailed on the NSW DPI website: Movement of hives in general emergency zone.

Beekeepers in all zones except the red eradication zone, are permitted to work their hives, remove frames for honey extraction and place empty supers on full hives.

Zoning

A Biosecurity Emergency Order has been issued and four types of emergency zones are in place. Different restrictions apply depending on where honeybees and hives are located in NSW. The zones are:

  • Eradication zone (10km)
  • Surveillance zone (25km)
  • Notification zone (50km)
  • General Biosecurity zone (all NSW)

All beekeepers within eradication, surveillance or notification zones must report their hive(s) by filling out the online form on the NSW DPI website.  Alternatively call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

All people who have acquired honeybees (including queen bees, nucleus hives and hives with honeybees) from within the 50km emergency notification zone of the Port of Newcastle in the last 12-months are being urged to play their part by reporting them to help ensure business continuity for the bee industry.

The NSW DPI website provides daily updates on the response to varroa mite including a map, and more detailed information for bee keepers.

Restrictions in other states

Other jurisdictions have put in place restrictions on the entry of bees, bee hives, bee keeping equipment, and bee products from NSW.

Use the links below to find out more on state/territory restrictions.

Advice for beekeepers

All beekeepers, regardless of their location in Australia need to inspect their hives regularly for signs of varroa mite and other exotic pests. If you suspect your bees may have varroa mite, phone the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. This will put you in touch with your state or territory’s biosecurity agency.

Checking bees for varroa mite

Image of a bee with varroa destructor mite

There are a variety of detection methods that beekeepers can use to inspect their hives for varroa mite. These include: sugar shaking; alcohol washing; drone uncapping; colony examination; and sticky mat examination.

Resources and videos

Port workers and the shipping industry

If you work at or transport goods from a port, you must report any sighting of bees attached to sea containers, vessels or imported goods. Exotic bees are the pathway for varroa mite so they must be reported to the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. You can do this online at agriculture.gov.au/report or phone the See. Secure. Report hotline on 1800 798 636.

Do not move the goods or container and do not spray the swarm as this creates the risk of dispersal.

About varroa mite

Varroa destructor is a distinctive-looking small mite, around 1mm in diameter, and is a parasite of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the Asian honey bee (Apis cerana). Mites are easily identifiable to the naked eye and are a reddish-brown colour. European honey bees infested with varroa are likely to die within 3 to 4 years if left untreated.

This parasite is the most serious global pest of honey bees. Drone bees can move varroa mites from hive to hive and even between apiaries. Mites are agile, move into hives quickly and transfer through bee to bee contact. There are strict quarantine requirements in place to protect the Australian honey bee industry. It is estimated that establishment of varroa mite in Australia could result in losses of over $70 million a year.

Impacts on our crops

Varroa destructor attacks European honey bees and is considered the greatest threat to Australia's honey and honey bee pollination plant industries. If varroa mite were to establish in Australia, European honey bees and the pollination services provided could be reduced by 90-100 per cent.

This would result in:

  • restrictions on the movement of hives to limit its spread - which could reduce the availability of hives in some regions.
  • a significant impact for apiarists, who would face higher costs to manage their hives.
  • impacts on producers who grow crops such as almonds, apples, blueberries, and cherries – all of which rely on pollination from European honey bees.

Varroa destructor is a Category 3 Emergency Plant Pest (EPP) under Schedule 13 of the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD). Internal and external mites of bees are listed as #10 in the Top 42 National Priority Plant Pests.

Previous varroa detections

In 2018, Varroa destructor was detected in Victoria in a swarm of European honey bee arriving on cargo. The bees were reported by the arriving vessel. The department responded with assistance from the Victorian Government and the swarm was eliminated.

Varroa jacobsoni were detected on exotic Asian honey bee in Townsville in 2016, 2019 and 2020. These were eradicated under the nationally cost shared National Varroa Mite Eradication Program. Proof of Freedom from V. jacobsoni was declared in 2021.

Government response

The national Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) meets in response to this incursion and provides technical and scientific advice on detection and response activities.

The Committee is chaired by Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer and comprises Chief Plant Health Managers from each jurisdiction and specialists from Plant Health Australia and affected industries.

For this incident, we are working closely with the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and a number of pollination-reliant industries including:

  • Almond Board of Australia
  • Apple and Pear Australia
  • Australian Lychee Growers Association
  • Australian Macadamia Society
  • Australian Mango Industry Association
  • Australian Melon Association
  • AUSVEG
  • Avocados Australia
  • Canned Fruit Industry Council of Australia
  • Cherry Growers of Australia
  • Grain Producers Australia
  • Passionfruit Australia
  • Raspberries and Blackberries Australia
  • Strawberries Australia
  • Summerfruit Australia.

In July 2022, the CCEPP provided the National Management Group with its recommendation that varroa destructor is technically feasible and cost-beneficial to eradicate. NMG agreed to this recommendation and endorsed the Response plan put forward by NSW DPI.