Detection of Varroa jacobsoni in Port Townsville, Queensland

On the 29th June, a colony of Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) was detected in a container stand at Port Townsville, Queensland. The hive contained approximately 5000 bees with their queen. On inspection of the hive two Varroa mites – Varroa jacobsoni – were found.

Surveillance and delimiting surveys are being carried out to determine whether Varroa jacobsoni is present elsewhere in the area. Initial checks in the vicinity have found no further Asian honey bees or Varroa mites. Moreover, catch boxes and sentinel hives in place as part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program have not collected any exotic bees or mite pests over the past two years. Genetic testing will be done to determine if this colony is related to the infestations of Asian honey bees which has established in areas of Far North Queensland, or whether these bees were associated with previous detections at the Townsville Port.

Asian honey bees were first detected in 2007 and were not able to be eradicated from Far North Queensland. Since then, most Asian honey bee detections have been in the city and port areas of Cairns even though the area known to be infested extends to Mossman, Dimbulah and Mena Creek. The Asian honey bee is a highly invasive insect and is considered to be a significant pest and competitor of floral resources for both Native bees and European honey bees. Asian honey bees are approximately two thirds the sizes of European honey bees (12mm), nest in cavities and have a high propensity to swarm on boats, trailers, and other machinery.

The Asian bee is the natural host of the Varroa mites, Varroa destructor and Varroa jacobsoni. The two mites found in the colony at Port Townsville were identified as V. jacobsoni. One particular strain of V. jacobsoni is known to parasitise European honey bees. In countries where this strain of mite is established, V. jacobsoni destroys European honey bee colonies much in the same way as Varroa destructor does. The strain of V. jacobsoni found in in the Asian honey bee colony in Townsville is yet to be determined.

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) is leading the response. A quarantine and surveillance program has been put in place within a 10km radius of Port Townsville. The quarantine conditions stop the movement of managed European honey bee hives, European honey bees, bee products (excluding honey) and used bee keeping equipment. Biosecurity officers from the department will be inspecting all managed hives in the area to check for the presence of any mites. Any feral European honey bee hives found in the area will be destroyed as a critical containment activity.

Asian honeybees and V. jacobsoni mites ARE NOT PRESENT in NSW and are both NOTIFIABLE PESTS. Beekeepers should inspect their hives for the presence of arthropod pests like Varroa jacobsoni and report anything unusual to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline. Increased vigilance is also required to make sure any vehicles or other equipment which has moved into NSW from Queensland is not providing harborage for Asian honey bees. In addition, it is important that people working at seaports and with imported goods remain vigilant.

More information about these pests and how to inspect for them can be found on the NSW DPI website
Please contact me should you require any further information on the above publication

Hayley Pragert
Bee Biosecurity Officer
Department of Primary Industries
T: 02 6391 3652 | M: 0438 677 195 | E: hayley.prager