The Asian Honey Bee in Australia

​Asian honey bees were detected in 2007 in Queensland. They have been found in Cairns, at Mareeba and Lake Eacham, and as far south as Innisfail. Most Asian honey bee detections have been in the city and port areas of Cairns, and immediately to the south of Cairns in the Gordonvale and Aloomba districts.

Current Response

The response to 31 March 2011 included an eradication program to detect and destroy any Asian honey bee swarms and nests, the introduction of movement restrictions controlling managed bees and beekeeping equipment and a notification system so all hives reported could be destroyed.
Activities to eradicate Asian honey bees in the Cairns region were funded by the Australian Government, state and territory governments and the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) on behalf of its members.

Biosecurity Queensland has managed the response to the detection of the Asian honey bee in Cairns on behalf of the Asian Honeybee National Management Group (NMG). The NMG is comprised of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; chief executive officers of the national and state/territory departments of agriculture and primary industries across Australia, a representative of AHBIC and Plant Health Australia.

The Asian Honey Bee National Management Group formed the view in January 2011 that eradication of the Asian honey bee is no longer technically feasible.

This decision was based on a number of factors including:

  • the bee’s high sensitivity to changes and their tendency to frequently relocate nests
  • the bee breeds rapidly and can travel long distances, particularly with assisted movement on vehicles and trains
  • limitations of current surveillance methods (including such factors as terrain) which makes it difficult to locate all nests and destroy them. 

This decision does not mean that activities against the bee will cease and border control measures remain in force.

Biosecurity officials from state and federal governments met with honey bee industry representatives and representatives from some pollination-reliant industries on 15 March 2011 to start the process of developing a National Transitional Containment Program for Asian honey bees.

At the request of the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee, the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) reconvened on 7 and 15 April 2011 to reconsider its technical advice on the feasibility of eradication.

At these meetings, the CCEPP again could not reach consensus about whether the Asian honey bee could be eradicated. There was, however, unanimous support for future containment and management efforts.

A national containment program plan for AHB is being prepared by Queensland and funding options for future activities are being finalised with the aim of reducing the impacts of AHB across public health, social amenity, the apiary industry and those industries reliant on bees for pollination services. The program will achieve this through locating and destroying swarms and nests in an effort to stop/slow the spread and reduce the impact of the pest supported by research and communication activities.

About the Asian Honey Bee

The type of Asian honey bee strain identified in Australia is Apis cerana java strain. This strain originates from Java, Indonesia, however, is now spread throughout Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
 
Asian honey bees, Apis cerana, are honey bees from southern and south eastern Asia with a variety of strains and sub-species found in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. 

The Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) is not as easily managed as the European forms of Apis mellifera (the European honey bee) and its pollination activity cannot be as easily controlled for managed pollination services. 

The bee produces less honey than European honey bees and thrives in the tropics. 

Asian honey bees are the natural host for the Varroa destructor and Varroa jacobsoni – species of parasitic mites that feed on the immature and adult bees. Varroa destructor and one form of Varroa jacobsoni are non-natural parasites of European honey bees; as a result in the countries where they are established these mites will kill out European honey bee colonies. Fortunately these mites have not been found on bees in Australia.

The Asian honeybee is approximately 13 mm long, has yellow and black stripes on the abdomen. It aggressively protects nesting sites and stings, has a tendency to abscond from nests sites. These absconding colonies are believed to be able to travel up to about 10km, however more normally less than this.

Media
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More information
Further information on Asian honey bees in Queensland can be found on the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland website.