Update on Response to Asian Honeybees

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2 February 2011

The Asian Honeybee National Management Group (AHB NMG) met on 31 January 2011 to consider advice provided by the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests on the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) incursion in North Queensland on whether it continued to be technically feasible or not to eradicate the Asian honeybee. The AHB NMG view is that it is no longer technically feasible to achieve eradication although consensus was not reached.

The Asian honeybee is an invasive species which adversely impacts populations of European honeybees by competing for floral resources, robbing managed hives and transmitting disease. It is a natural host for varroa mite jacobsonii - a parasite that attacks developing bee larvae or adult bees.

Following the first detection of an Asian honeybee nest near Cairns in May 2007, a nationally  cost-shared program aimed at eradication was implemented, led by the Queensland Government and overseen by the AHB NMG. Since that time, over 342 swarms or nests have been found and destroyed. None of the nests destroyed to date have carried any exotic mites of concern such as varroa, tropilaelaps or tracheal. 

Activities to eradicate Asian honeybees in the Cairns region have been funded by the Australian Government, State and Territory Governments and the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) on behalf of its members at a cost of approximately $3 million. Other industries reliant on bees and bee pollination services were approached at peak representative level to be involved in the management of the response but declined to contribute resources.

The AHB NMG’s decision, that it is no longer technically feasible to eradicate Asian honeybees, is based on a number of factors including:

  • the tendency for the bees to swarm;
  • the bee breeds rapidly and can travel long distances, particularly with assisted movement on vehicles and trains; and
  • limitations of current surveillance methods which makes it difficult to locate all nests and destroy them. 

The AHB NMG agreed to recommend continued funding for residual activities being carried out under the current program until 31 March 2011.  It was also agreed that a group of Senior Biosecurity Officials should meet to determine whether any further national action is warranted.

The AHB NMG expressed its appreciation to the beekeepers of Cairns and districts and the Queensland Government staff for their hard work and perseverance in attempting to eradicate the pest. 

The AHB NMG is comprised of the chief executive officers of the national and state/territory departments of agriculture and primary industries across Australia, representatives of AHBIC, Plant Health Australia and is chaired by the Commonwealth.
Further advice on Asian honeybees and response actions to date can be found on Biosecur​ity Queensland’s website.