Exotic Honey Bee Parasites
Note Number: AG1076
Published: December 2002
Updated: September 2011
This Agriculture Note provides information for beekeepers about exotic honey bee parasites and pests that are a serious threat to Australian honey bee colonies kept by commercial and hobby beekeepers.
If the parasites and pests described below were to establish in Australia, severe losses of colonies would occur, putting at risk the livelihoods of sideline and commercial beekeepers. For these notes, the term exotic means not occurring in Australia.
Early detection of these parasites and pests in Australia will be extremely important in limiting their spread and impact on beekeepers. Beekeepers are encouraged to study these notes so that they can recognise these parasites and pests.
It may be necessary to confirm a field diagnosis using laboratory tests. Our apiary officers are able to provide advice on the correct procedures for this to be done.
The adult female Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is reddish-brown and shaped like a scallop shell. It is about 1.1 mm long and 1.7 mm broad, and can be seen with the naked eye.
The mites spend most of their life inside sealed brood cells where they multiply and feed on developing pupa. In lightly infested colonies this is the most likely place to find them.
Female mites may also be found on adult bees. They often hide between the hardened abdominal segments closest to the thorax. The mites may be found on adult bees in overwintering colonies that have no honey bee brood.
Mite numbers increase slowly within a hive and it may not be until several years of infestation that mite numbers are sufficiently high for bee larvae to be parasitised by several females.
When this occurs, newly emerged adult bees with deformed wings, legs and abdomens may be found at the hive entrance. Patchy brood patterns may also be evident in advanced infestations.
The females of another species, V. jacobsoni, are slightly smaller than females of V. destructor. This species was recently found reproducing on European honey bees in Papua New Guinea. A laboratory diagnosis is necessary to confirm the presence of these mites.
Beekeepers are encouraged to conduct field tests for Varroa on at least one hive in each apiary, every 3–6 months. We suggest that the following tests be conducted. If you normally wear reading glasses, wear them while looking for these mites.
Examination of honey bee brood
Varroa have a preference for drone pupae at the edge of the brood nest. If there are drone pupae, use a pair of tweezers or a hive tool to remove individual pupae from their cells.
Examine 50–100 of these for reddish-brown mites. When removing a pupa, carefully examine inside the brood cell, especially the base, for any mites.
This is important, because Varroa may remain in the cell when brood is removed. Worker pupae should be examined if there are no drone pupae present in the hive.
Icing sugar dusting of adult bees
When Varroa are dusted with icing sugar, the fine granules stick to their pads (feet) and they are no longer able to grip the surface on which they cling. The dusting of adult bees with icing sugar causes mites to fall off the bee into the white sugar where they are more easily seen.
The following simple detection method is now used by many beekeepers throughout Australia:
- Obtain a 500 gram or 750 gram jar with a plastic or metal lid.
- Drill 50–70, 3–4 mm holes in the lid.
- Place a heaped tablespoon of pure icing sugar into the jar
- Light a smoker and open a hive in the normal manner
- Shake some bees from three combs of brood onto a double thickness of newspaper or upturned hive lid. If brood is not present, shake bees from one comb taken from the centre of the cluster of bees
- Scoop or pour about 300 bees (half a cup) into the jar. Place the lid on the jar to prevent bees from escaping
- Gently rotate the jar for 2 minutes ensuring all bees are dusted with sugar. Wait 2-3 minutes, and rotate the jar a second time for 2 minutes. Be careful not to lose any sugar
- Shake the icing sugar (and any mites) through the holes in the lid into a small container of water (preferably white container). The sugar will dissolve and any mites will float on the surface of the water. Do this shaking in a sheltered position protected from strong wind that could blow mites away.
- Release the bees from the jar onto the ground close to the hive entrance in case the queen is present.
- Examine the empty jar and lid for Varroa. If you wear glasses to read, wear them while looking for Varroa.
- Inspect the water surface for Varroa, other mites and insects. If you find any, carefully tip them into a small jar and place this in a cool position away from sunlight. Alternatively, pour the water through a piece of light coloured fine cloth, or fine close weaved household cleaning cloth, or coffee filter paper. Inspect the cloth or filter paper for Varroa. Place and seal the filter cloth or filter paper in a zip-lock plastic bag or other sealable container.
- Refer to notes below 'Steps if you find or suspect presence of an exotic parasite or pest in your apiary'.
This mite (sometimes known as the Asian mite) is a parasite of brood only and causes death of brood or reduced longevity of adult bees that survive the parasitised brood stage. It will breed and survive in bee colonies as long as brood is present.
The adult female mite is light reddish-brown, with an oval shaped body about 0.96 mm in length and 0.55 mm in width.
Initial signs of infestation are an irregular pattern of sealed and unsealed brood; newly emerged adult bees with deformed wings, legs and abdomens at the hive entrance, and deformed pupal remains also at the hive entrance.
Examine 50-100 pupa for reddish mites. If you normally wear reading glasses, wear them while looking for these mites.
Use a pair of tweezers or a hive tool to remove individual pupae from their cells and examine them carefully.
A laboratory diagnosis is necessary to confirm the presence of this mite.
This insect, a flattened wingless fly (Braula caeca), is often incorrectly called bee louse. It is found in Tasmania, but not on the Australian mainland.
Adult braula are reddish-brown and measure 1.2–1.5 mm long, and 0.75 mm wide. They are found on the head and thorax, and between the thorax and abdomen of adult bees of all castes.
Braula may be found on both honey bee workers and queen. They feed on nectar and pollen (and possibly saliva) at the host bee's mouth. Braula larvae are not found on brood combs, but tunnel under the cappings of honey combs producing raised lines which damages the appearance of the comb.
The pollen mite (Mellitiphis alvearius) is also found in beehives in Australia. The mite is brown, smaller than Varroa, measuring 0.75 x 0.75 mm. It is not a parasite of honey bees.
A laboratory diagnosis is necessary to confirm the presence of this mite.
What to do if you find or suspect presence of an exotic parasite or pest in your apiary
It is important that when an exotic parasite or pest is found or even suspected to be present in an apiary that it is not spread to another apiary.
The following steps will help to reduce the risk of spreading a parasite or pest:
- Collect a specimen of the parasite or pest and place it in a small jar of methylated spirits. Keep the jar in a cool, safe place away from sunlight. Don't mail or forward any samples until advised by one of our apiary officers. Never take live specimens from the apiary as this may help to spread the parasite or pest.
- Reassemble the opened hive to its normal position.
- Mark the hive with a water proof felt pen (or similar) so it can be easily identified later. Mark the lid and all the boxes of the hive with the same identification number.
- Don't remove bees or any hive components from this apiary as this could help spread any parasite or pest.
- Before leaving the apiary, inspect your vehicle to make sure there are no bees trapped inside or on the radiator. Remove or spray any bees that could be carried from the apiary. Check the tray of the truck, ute or trailer as well. Boxes of combs and other hive material on your vehicle which bees might have entered must be left at the apiary.
- Thoroughly wash hands, hive tool, smoker and any other equipment to ensure any parasite or pest is not carried from the apiary.
- Use a fine toothed comb or brush to remove any mites that may have lodged in hair or beards.
- Place overalls, veil, gloves (and guantlets) and hat in plastic bag and leave at the apiary site until advised by our apiary officers.
- Check clothing for any 'passenger' bees that could be carried by you when leaving the apiary. If another person is with you, have them to check your clothing for passenger bees.
If you see or suspect any of the parasites described in this agricultural note is present in your apiary, you must notify an Inspector of Livestock (DPI apiary officer, animal health officer or veterinary officer) without delay and by the quickest means possible. The easiest way to do this is to ring the Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 (24 hours a day, every day of the year).
Notification is required by the Livestock Disease Control Act (1994). To not notify is to break the law.
Early reporting and recognition of these parasites is one of the most important factors influencing the chance of controlling them and reducing their economic and social impact on the whole community.
If you require further information or assistance, please contact the Customer Service Centre on 136 186 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Agricultural Note was developed by Russell Goodman and Peter Kaczynski in 2002.
It was reviewed by:
- Russell Goodman and Joe Riordan in July 2010.
- Russell Goodman, Animal Biosecurity and Welfare, Biosecurity Victoria, Knoxfield and Joe Riordan, Animal Health Field Services. Biosecurity Victoria, Rutherglen, in September 2011.