Australia’s honey industries could be threatened by a potential crisis following the discovery of parasitic varroa mites in an Asian honey beehive at the port of Townsville in north Queensland. As a response, Biosecurity Queensland has imposed restrictions on the transport of beehives, bee products and beekeeping equipment while surveillance is ongoing.
Staff from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources destroyed the hive located inside the hollow metal support of a container stand, ABC reports. The hive contained up to 5,000 bees and two varroa mites that infected two bees.
According to Trevor Weatherhead, executive director of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC), the hive could have been in the area for up to two years. Investigations around the port have not found other Asian honey bees or mite pests.
Experts say varroa mites are not known to affect the present Asian honey bees in far north Queensland. Still, Weatherhead says that further testing will be conducted to find out if the bees are associated with the Asian honeybee populations already residing in areas of far north Queensland or the bees in Townsville Port that were affected with the parasites in 2014.
The same incident occurred in 2015. Authorities found and destroyed a colony of Asian honeybees affected with the parasitic mites at the Port of Brisbane. Another hive with the parasite was seen again in May of this year.
Varroa mites, also known Varroa destructor, are the greatest threat to honeybees worldwide. They feed on larva and can spread a virus called varroosis, which is fatal to bee colonies.
They are commonly found in the northern regions of Asia but they are devastating to the European honeybee, a bee species that provide most of the honey used in Australia.
Experts explain that bee hives infected with the mites usually die within three or four years. Since bee experts determined that Asian honeybees cannot be eliminated from Australia, the countermeasure is limited to fighting the varroa mites.
In recent years, killing the parasites with various chemicals has become less effective due to their increased resistance.