Varroa mite - frequently asked questions

Updated 20 September 2022

Frequently asked questions about the current Agriculture Victoria response to Varroa mite detections.

Varroa mite

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Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is a serious, exotic parasite of adult European honey bees and their brood. It weakens and kills honey bee colonies and can also transmit honeybee viruses.

The mite occurs in beekeeping countries throughout the world but is not established in Australia. It is considered the greatest threat to Australia's honey and honey bee pollination plant industries.

Varroa destructor, is a distinctive-looking small mite, around 1 mm in diameter.

Mites are easily identifiable to the naked eye and are a reddish-brown colour.

Detailed descriptions are available on the About Varroa mite of honey bees page.

The mites are very mobile and readily transfer between adult bees.

Varroa mites spread between colonies and apiaries when hive components, infested brood and adult bees are interchanged during normal apiary management practices.

The transport of hives, used beekeeping equipment and queen bees by beekeepers is also a very effective means of spread. In Australia, the spread of Varroa mite is expected to be fast over long distances because of the migratory nature of the beekeeping industry.

Foraging and drifting bees and swarms can also spread Varroa mite. In the case of foragers, mites can move from the bee to a flower and then hitch a ride with another bee or insect visiting the same flower.

Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) was reported in sentinel hives at the Port of Newcastle in New South Wales (NSW) on Friday 24 June 2022.  The detection was the result of routine surveillance on sentinel hives by NSW Bee Biosecurity Officers.

Varroa mite has since been detected at multiple sites across NSW.

Varroa mite is not currently present in Victoria.

Agriculture Victoria is working with the apiary industry and interstate counterparts to respond to the NSW Varroa mite detection.

Beekeepers are being asked to check their hives and report any unusual signs.

Restrictions on beehive movements are now in place across NSW and in adjoining states and territories.

Read more on the NSW Department of Primary Industries website.

A Local Control Centre at Irymple in the state’s northwest has been established with nearly 50 staff deployed to carry out surveillance, check permits and support apiarists and the almond industry to safely navigate the almond pollination season.

The Victorian Apiary team has been deployed to the Sunraysia along with State Quarantine Response Teams (SQRT) to undertake in-hive surveillance, to protect Victoria’s apiary industry, to assist interstate apiary industries and to support the almond industry.

Agriculture Victoria staff have been deployed to NSW to assist with their response efforts.

Agriculture Victoria is working with NSW to provide technical support regarding the risk assessment of hive movements.

The Interstate Bee Movement Working Group, chaired by Agriculture Victoria, is meeting regularly and developing plans to ensure beehive movements are managed safely.

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP), which includes Victoria, has met to discuss the detection and response actions. The CCEPP provides technical and scientific advice in response to Emergency Plant Pest incursions.

Agriculture Victoria is working with key beekeeping industry bodies and interstate agencies to ensure appropriate and consistent responses.

Agriculture Victoria has established biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of Varroa mite.

While it is not possible to guarantee there is zero risk, Agriculture Victoria is doing all it can to put extra biosecurity measures in place to prevent/minimise any potential spread of Varroa mite.

This includes requiring permits for any movement of bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products from interstate.

Permits will not be granted for bees, hives, queens, escorts and queen cells from New South Wales.

Victoria is continuing to assess the risks associated with any movements to support the issuing of movement permits.

For the latest control measures search for ‘Varroa mite – current situation’ on this website.

Bees are vital pollinators for many agricultural and horticultural crops. Starting in July each year there is a mass movement of hives from Queensland (QLD), NSW, South Australia (SA) and within Victoria to the Sunraysia region for the almond pollination season.

Should Varroa mite become established, it would be a major problem for commercial and hobby beekeepers in their effort to provide bees for pollination.

In Victoria, the impact of reduced yields as a result of the absence of managed and unmanaged honeybees is estimated at $295 million annually.

No. However, in June 2018, Varroa destructor was intercepted at the border on a swarm of bees in cargo at the Port of Melbourne.

Agriculture Victoria successfully conducted four rounds of surveillance in every known hive within a 2 km radius of the Port of Melbourne detection. Agriculture Victoria’s Varroa mite surveillance concluded 6 weeks after the bee parasite was detected, confirming that the Varroa mite had not spread beyond the port and established in Victoria.

Victoria’s State Quarantine Response Team (SQRT) played a critical role in the success of the response. SQRT is comprised members of the hobby and commercial beekeeping community, who worked alongside Agriculture Victoria’s Incident Management Team to conduct bee hive surveillance after the detection.

Current Victorian restrictions

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Permits

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Beekeepers can apply for a permit on the Beekeeper permits page

An application for a permit can also be made through the Customer Contact Centre on 136 186 or email honeybee.permits@agriculture.vic.gov.au.

Upon submitting your application an authorised officer will assess, sign and send you a copy of the permit.

Beekeepers will need a printed copies for each load they deliver, a copy for the Orchard manager on arrival, and a copy for their broker or agent.

Permits must be kept for 30 days.

A reminder that existing certification requirements for moving bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products into Victoria still apply. For information about health certificate, see Moving bees interstate,

Victoria will reassess restrictions on the movement of hives, queens, bee products and used fittings into Victoria as the situation evolves and the risks decrease.

Agriculture Victoria is working closely with counterparts in NSW and other states to ensure permit systems are appropriate for the current risks.

State Quarantine Response Team (SQRT)

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The State Quarantine Response Team is extremely valuable to Agriculture Victoria, the beekeeping industry and the agriculture sector as it provides a large pool of trained in-hive surveillance experts, who are confident in handling bees, and ready to be called on as part of a honeybee emergency response.

SQRT members conduct in-hive surveillance and participate in the government’s preparedness and response to biosecurity incursions such as Varroa mite.

Agriculture Victoria’s SQRT members work alongside authorised biosecurity officers in field teams to conduct in-hive surveillance.

Being part of the SQRT is a partnership between Agriculture Victoria and the Victorian honeybee industry. The program was created in Victoria and is now being implemented in other states across Australia.

If you are experienced in beekeeping and want to join the SQRT team, you will be required to complete the Victorian Honeybee SQRT Training course. The self-paced e-Learning course will inform you of the expectations required of you as a SQRT team member to actively participate in an emergency response effectively. Sign up here: learning.agriculture.vic.gov.au

This link will take you directly to the course via a ‘Sign Up’ form.

When signing up, you must select “I need to access honeybee preparedness training” in the section “Why are you here”. The training will then appear directly in your Dashboard and Goal Centre.

If you have any problems accessing the training please email honeybee.biosecurity@agriculture.vic.gov.au

Yes, SQRT positions are paid to support Agriculture Victoria’s surveillance team when they are deployed.

When you apply you’ll be requested to complete some ‘employee’ paperwork, such as a police check, providing your COVID certificate, a pre-employment form, WorkSafe, etc. Completing this employment paperwork as fast as possible is imperative to ensure you are ready to go and can be deployed.

There are currently 181 fully trained SQRT members. Additional beekeepers are currently undergoing training to boost SQRT numbers in response to the Varroa mite incursion in NSW.

For further information on being part of the SQRT team contact: Honeybee.Biosecurity@agriculture.vic.gov.au.

For anyone who is not part of the SQRT program, you can be involved in early detection of an incursion of varroa mite by conducting a sugar shake test. And remember, if you see anything suspicious (like varroa mite or braula fly) please call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 immediately.

Page last updated: 20 Sep 2022