Internal and external mites of bees
Exotic to Australia
Features: Look out for sick bees as these parasitic mites damage bee health, contributing to colony collapse overseas
Where they're from: Most parts of the world excluding Australia
How they spread:Feral bee swarms transported on containers or ships that are infested with mites; local spread on bees or other insects
At risk: Australia’s bees and the pollination services they provide to certain crops
A varroa mite on the back of a honey bee.
Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, provides an overview of the risks posed by exotic bee mites, including the varroa mite
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Keep it out
Australia is one of the few countries in the world to remain free of varroa mite (Varroa destructor) and other exotic mites of bees. Mites damage bee health by feeding on the insects internally or externally, and also by carrying bee infections such as viruses, and spreading them through a colony.
The mite known as Varroa destructor is the leading biosecurity threat, since it has been a major factor in the decline of honeybee populations overseas. It is found in much of Asia, Europe, North America, South America and New Zealand.
Varroa destructor could seriously diminish our healthy population of European honey bees and the pollination services they provide, this would lead to less honey and impact the availably of the food we eat if it established here.
Other mites that pose a threat to our bees are:
- Tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) which is not present in Australia or New Zealand, but is found in most other honey-producing regions of the world such as Europe, North America and parts of Asia.
- Tropilaelaps mites which are present throughout Asia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
- Varroa jacobosoni, now prevalent worldwide, with the exception of New Zealand, Australia and some countries in Central Africa.
Bee mites are most likely to arrive in Australia with infested bees that have stowed away on ships and boats.
Once in Australia, the mites would spread from bee to bee, and be transported in hives as they are moved around to pollinate crops. Some mites can hitch a ride on other insects as well, speeding up their spread. Mites can kill hives of wild bees, and beekeepers would need to use types of insecticide to control them.
To keep exotic bees and mites out of Australia, never ignore Australia’s strict biosecurity rules.
Import shipments may need to be treated and certified, so before you import, check our Biosecurity Import Conditions system (BICON).
What to look for
If you work around imported goods you need to look for swarms of bees or bees and their hives attached to:
- shipping containers
- conveyances (ships, boats, aircraft).
Keep an eye on the health of your bees. It is important to become familiar with established pests, the symptoms they cause and how to control them.
Beekeepers should also be aware of threats posed by exotic pests, so you can recognise something unusual.
BeeAware has resources to help you manage your hives.
Where to look
- Look for swarms of bees that might be newly arrived.
What to do
If you think you’ve found a swarm of bees that could be newly arrived from a ship, or you find unfamiliar pests in your beehive:
- do not disturb the swarm or hive (this may be as simple as closing the doors on a shipping container or sealing bees in a hive if safe to do so)
- take a photo and report without delay.
Seen something unusual? Report it. Even if you’re not sure.
Read the detail
- BeeAware: varroa mite
- BeeAware: tropilaelaps mite
- BeeAware: tracheal mite
- Bee Biosecurity Video Series for beekeepers
- Australian government: Bees and bee pests and diseases
- Pest Alert! Do you have stowaways on board?
- National pest and disease outbreak
- Queensland government: varroa mite in Townsville
- Country Action List (CAL) for high risk pests