Varroa mite (Varroa destructor)

Pest situation

On 8 July an industry agreed Response Plan was initiated, with the intent to eradicate varroa mite and minimise the impact on businesses, communities, ancillary industries and the environment.

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

At 23 September 2022, 100 premises in NSW have reported bees infested with varroa mite. The location of these premises ranges from the Central Coast up to the Hunter Valley region, one property in north-west NSW and one on the north coast near Coffs Harbour.

The number of infested premises has plateaued as newly infested hives have been near or linked to known infested hives. If an infested hive is detected outside of an existing zone and not linked to the movement of an infested hive, this will trigger a review of the Response Plan.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has euthanised more than 10,000 hives as part of this important eradication program. Bees in infested hives are being humanely euthanised to prevent the spread of varroa mite. Managed hives are being prioritised for inspection.

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

NSW DPI – Varroa mite emergency response

Feral bees

Surveillance of known feral bee colonies is also occurring with more than 600 reported to date. The public are encouraged to report feral bees to the NSW DPI for investigation.

NSW movement restrictions

The emergency zoning has been revised with 3 zones now in place. Different restrictions apply depending on where honeybees and hives are located in NSW. The zones include:

  1. 10 km (red) eradication zone
  2. 25 km (purple) surveillance zone
  3. general (blue) biosecurity zone which covers all of NSW.

All beekeepers within the eradication and surveillance zones must report their hives by filling out the online form at dpi.nsw.gov.au/varroa. Alternatively beekeepers can call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 to speak to someone at the DPI. The order is being enforced by NSW Police.

Beekeepers in the eradication and surveillance zones are not permitted to move hives into or out of their respective zones. However, beekeepers in these zones are permitted to work their hives for surveillance purposes or to prevent swarming and to add a permitted bee feeder to their hive.

Surveillance zone beekeepers are permitted to import a queen bee and escorts into the zone.

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.

More detail on requirements of beekeepers across NSW can be found at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/varroa

All people who have acquired honeybees (including queen bees, nucleus hives and hives with honeybees) from within the 50km of infested premises at the 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.

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 or another exotic pest, 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 honeybee 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) first met in June to discuss the detection and response actions and continues to meet regularly. Despite the increase in detections, CCEPP remains satisfied that eradication of Varroa destructor remains technically feasible.

On 8 July 2022, the National Management Group (NMG) agreed to the CCEPP’s recommendation that it is technically feasible and cost beneficial to eradicate Varroa destructor. NMG has endorsed a phase 1 Response Plan which covers up to $45 million for the first 100 days of response activities. This cost is shared between the Australian, state and territory governments, and affected industry parties under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed. A phase 2 Response Plan is currently being drafted by NSW DPI for consideration by the CCEPP and NMG.

About CCEPP

The CCEPP 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 listed under the deed.

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.