Bees under threat as deadly pest found in NSW

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Honey bees are under threat from a deadly parasite. Photo: Chris Adams Photo by Chris Adams

Northern Victorian beekeepers are watching a pest outbreak in NSW with apprehension.

The Victoria Government has prohibited the movement of hives into the state and has established an Incident Management Team to plan and coordinate Victoria’s response to the outbreak of the deadly varroa mite.

Beekeepers are preparing for a busy spring when hundreds of thousands of hives are moved into north-west Victoria to assist with the pollination of huge almond orchards.

The shift is described in the industry as the biggest movement of livestock in Australia.

Millions of bees have already been destroyed in NSW to halt the spread of the mites in three new biosecurity zones, after the deadly parasite was detected on properties at Bulahdelah, on the Mid-North Coast, and Seaham and Newcastle, in the Hunter region, last week.

The detections are directly linked to a property near Newcastle.

Former Victorian Apiarist Association president Kevin MacGibbon said the threat was a serious game-changer for the multi-billion dollar industry.

A widespread outbreak of the varroa mite would also threaten the survival of wild, ‘feral’ bees, which the Goulburn Valley horticulture sector relies on to pollinate many of the fruit trees.

Restrictions are now in place to prohibit the movement of bees from NSW into Victoria.

Victoria’s deputy chief plant health officer Stephen Dibley said the measures were necessary to support the national response and ensure the mite was kept out of Victoria.

“Varroa mite is a serious threat to Australia’s bee population and horticulture industries that rely on pollination,” Dr Dibley said.

“The restrictions mean that no bees, hives or beekeeping equipment can be moved into Victoria from NSW without a permit.

“However, no permits will be granted while the NSW standstill is in place, to comply with NSW emergency orders.”

Agriculture Victoria said contingency planning was under way to enable the state to respond immediately in the event varroa is suspected in Victoria.

Preparations have included action by Agriculture Victoria’s Apiary Team to check field kits and equipment to support State Quarantine Response Team deployment and inspections.

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests, which includes Victorian representatives, has met to discuss the detection and response actions.

They provide technical and scientific advice in response to emergency plant pest incursions.

Mr MacGibbon, a retired apiarist from Euroa, said the Shepparton district should be assured of pollination this season, but if the mite became endemic, the feral bee population would be decimated and growers would need to call in more honey bee hives, which could be expensive.

He said Australia had been fortunate to escape from mite infestations, and was one of the few countries free from the parasite, because of the tyranny of distance.

However, it may be inevitable that the pest would end up here.

Dr Dibley said there had been no detections of varroa mite in Victoria, and these restrictions were in place to prevent that from happening.

He said beekeepers should be vigilant with their surveillance of hives.

“Beekeepers should inspect their hives regularly for signs of varroa mite and other exotic pests, using the appropriate methods, including sugar shake and drone uncapping.

“Any suspect detections can be reported immediately to the national Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.”


Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is a serious, exotic parasite of adult European honeybees and their brood. It weakens and kills honeybee colonies and can also transmit honeybee viruses.

How is it characterised?

On their own, individual mites are easily identifiable to the naked eye. Left untreated varroa mite will kill any beehive it infects. All feral and untreated bee colonies will eventually die.

What is the potential cost to Australia of an outbreak?

It is estimated that varroa mite could result in losses of $70 million a year should it become established in Australia.

The mite occurs in beekeeping countries throughout the world, but is not established in Australia. It is considered the greatest threat to Australia’s honey and honeybee pollination plant industries.

Victoria intercepted varroa mite when it was found on a ship at the Port of Melbourne in 2018. Agriculture Victoria and industry worked together to address the threat and conduct surveillance around the port, and no further mites were found.

Source: NSW DPI and Agriculture Victoria

Varroa mites infecting bee larvae. Photo: NSW DPI