The Guardian • Issue #2036

Varroa mite numbers plateau in Northern NSW

Western Honey Bee with attached Varroa Mites. Photo: AbsoluteFolly – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Outbreaks of invasive bee-killing parasite Varroa mites have plateaued since the initial discovery at the Port of Newcastle in June this year.

Until recently, Varroa mite was present in every beekeeping region of the world except Australia. The parasite attaches itself to bees and can kill entire hives. A similar outbreak of the parasite in New Zealand in 2000 has devastated bee populations and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to beekeeping operations and the agricultural industries that depend on bees for pollination. Fruit and nut crops are particularly dependent on pollination, and impacts on these crops could cause significant shortages and price increases.

Initially, it was feared a similar situation could happen in Australia, and so quarantine measures were put in place, banning the transport of bees and beekeeping equipment, and burning infected hives. Beekeepers, both hobbyist and commercial, have been urged to inspect their hives for Varroa mite, as early detection is critical in controlling the spread. Registered beekeepers in NSW are eligible for compensation if their infected hives have to be burned.

Currently, all known infections are around Newcastle and the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, ranging from Coffs Harbour down to Gosford. No new infections have been reported since the start of November, and all infected beehives can be traced to another hive, giving beekeepers confidence that eradication of the Varroa mite could be possible.

Eradication of Varroa mite has happened before. Detections of varroa mite on Asian honeybees in Townsville in 2016 caused a similar eradication program, and was declared successful in 2021.

If you suspect a varroa mite infestation, contact the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline to report your detection on 1800 084 881 (9 AM to 5 PM, Monday to Friday).
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