Varroa mite - frequently asked questions

Updated 29 July 2022

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

Varroa mite

+ Expand all- Collapse all

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 53 sites across NSW.

Varroa mite is not currently present in Victoria and a permit system has been established to restrict the movement of hives into and across Victoria to safeguard Victoria’s honeybees and the broader agriculture industry.

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.

Varroa has been detected in NSW. NSW Department of Primary Industries has implemented a statewide standstill, which is critical to preventing the spread of Varroa.

NSW Department of Primary Industries continues to undertake tracing of hive movements associated with known Varroa mite detections.

Varroa mite has not been detected in Victoria.

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

This includes the implementation of a state-wide control area which prohibits the movement of bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products, including pollen and honeycomb into the state from NSW.

Once the NSW standstill is removed, Victoria will assess the risk associated with any movements before issuing of a movement permit.

While it is not possible 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. We are doing this through the implementation of a state-wide control area which prohibits the movement of bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products, including pollen and honeycomb into the state from NSW.

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

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.

The Sunraysia permit system has been extended to include South Australia and Queensland to ensure enough bees can be sourced for Victoria’s valuable almond pollination.

Victoria’s Sunraysia almond producers require up to 150,000 hives to fully pollinate crops their crops and we’re doing what we can to support Victoria’s almond producers while doing our best to keep Victoria free of Varroa mite.

Agriculture Victoria is repatriating some hives that have been in NSW for the past four months.

Hives that arrived in NSW after 1 March 2022 have not been in orchards but have been dormant, preparing for pollination season.

This means there is less chances of them having contact with NSW hives.

Victorian apiarists are also registered with Agriculture Victoria and have a higher testing regime than other states. The recording and tracking requirements lowers the risk of a Varroa mite incursion in Victoria.

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.

Currently Victoria remains free of the Varroa mite.

In the event of a varroa mite detection during almond pollination, Agriculture Victoria will undertake appropriate risk management actions to ensure Varroa does not spread.

This may include euthanasia of hives and movement restrictions. The health of the bees during any movement lockdown will be central to any decision making.

Subsequent actions will be determined based on the surrounding circumstances and information at the time of detection.

Current Victorian restrictions

+ Expand all- Collapse all

Restrictions are in place limiting the movement of bees into and within Victoria.

All of Victoria has been declared a Control Area. The movement of bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products, including pollen and honeycomb, from NSW, or any state or territory that has declared the presence of Varroa mite, is prohibited without a permit.

This also applies to any bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products in other states and territories that have been in NSW  at any time after 1 January 2022.

This does not include processed honey and wax or new beekeeping tools and equipment which can be transported as normal.

Beekeepers can apply for a permit now on the Agriculture Victoria website: agriculture.vic.gov.au/varroa

Anyone seeking to move bees, beehives, beekeeping equipment and bee products into Victoria’s Sunraysia region, from within Victoria or from another state, must obtain a permit.

Permits are being issued to beekeepers from Victoria, SA and QLD to help ensure bees can be sourced for Victoria’s valuable almond pollination.

Permits will not be granted for the movement of NSW beekeeper’s hives from NSW at this time.

Agriculture Victoria will not be allowing any NSW hives to enter the state as there is the chance these have been in contact with Varroa mite.

NSW is currently determining the extent of the spread of Varroa mite. While this occurs, Victoria will take a precautionary approach to ensure the safety of the state’s bee and agriculture industries.

Agriculture Victoria will assess permit applications for Victorian beekeepers to bring back bees that are currently in NSW within 100km of the Victoria-NSW border.

This applies to bees that arrived in NSW no earlier than 1 March 2022. Any hives that have been in NSW before this date will not be permitted to return to Victoria.

To return to Victoria these eligible hives will need to meet all permit requirements and undergo pre-arrival and post-arrival testing for varroa.

Return of these hives will need to be completed by 11.59 pm Friday, 29 July 2022.

These hives are considered low risk as they generally have had limited time and contact with NSW hives.

The risk from returning hives increases the longer they remain in NSW so movement of hives back into Victoria must be completed by midnight, 31 July 2022. Impacted beekeepers were directly contacted and notified.

This geographic limit reduces risks of bringing Varroa mite into Victoria, while also supporting the need for bees from all pollination-dependent industries.

Victorian hives present in this area are a long way from known infested zones and most were moved into NSW recently to overwinter. This means they are lower risk.

The geographic limit is set and there will not be any exceptions to this rule.

Agriculture Victoria has assessed the risk of a proposed “bee border bubble” for NSW bees. The risk was deemed too high to protect Victoria’s bees and therefore Victoria will not be allowing a “bee border bubble” to be implemented.

Agriculture Victoria is repatriating some hives that have been in NSW for the past four months.

Hives that arrived in NSW after 1 March 2022 have not been in orchards but have been dormant, preparing for pollination season.

This means there is less chances of them having contact with infested hives.

Victorian apiarists are also registered with Agriculture Victoria and have a higher testing regime than other states. The recording and tracking requirements lowers the risk of a Varroa mite incursion in Victoria.

Permits

+ Expand all- Collapse all

Beekeepers can apply for a permit on the Beekeeper permits page

For conditions, see the FAQ ‘What are the permit conditions for entering the Sunraysia region?

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,

Anyone seeking to move bees, beehives, beekeeping equipment and bee products into Victoria, or from within Victoria to the Sunraysia region, must obtain a permit

Permit applications for bees and hives from Victorian, South Australian and Queensland beekeepers are being assessed at this time.

Applications from NSW beekeepers are not currently being accepted. Victoria will monitor the situation as it evolves.

Victoria will reassess restrictions on the movement of hives to and around 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.

Agriculture Victoria will continue the permit system through the almond pollination season, at least until the end of August. Further permit systems will be used as appropriate.

Permits are being issued to beekeepers from Victoria, South Australia and Queensland to help ensure bees can be sourced for Victoria’s valuable almond pollination.

Permits will only be granted if conditions are met, including testing hives for Varroa mite 14 days or less before consignment using sugar shake test (Victoria and South Australia only – not accepted from Queensland), alcohol wash test, drone uncapping or brood uncapping inspection, making records and marking inspected hives.

Full details are available at the FAQ: What are the permit conditions for entering the Sunraysia region?

If beekeepers see or suspect Varroa, they must report it immediately by calling the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

The following permit conditions apply to move bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products into the Sunraysia region.

  1. The permit holder must ensure that within 14 days prior to consignment that 10% of all hives (10% of brood boxes, in the case of double box hives) in each load are tested for Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) by the owner or agent on behalf of the owner, with all negative results, using sugar shake test (VIC and SA only), alcohol wash test or drone uncapping inspection. QLD consignments must use an alcohol wash test or drone uncapping inspection.
  2. A Varroa mite check record must be maintained for 12 months as evidence of the completed Varroa mite check.  Any record template can be used providing it contains the following records:
    1. The date the mite check was complete
    2. Which test was used.
    3. The number of hives inspected.
    4. A confirmed negative result for the status of Varroa mite for each test.
    5. Expected consignment date.
    6. The name of the person who completed the test.

The Varroa mite check record template (WORD - 48.3 KB) can also be used to make and keep these records.

  1. The inspected hives must be marked and dated to indicate that the mite check has been conducted and a negative result for Varroa mite obtained, by marking with a permanent or paint marker on the hive lid with the mite check date and method that was used.
  2. Varroa mite check records must be emailed to honeybee.permits@agriculture.vic.gov.au with the number of the permit, prior to entering the Sunraysia region or submitted at the time of applying for this permit.
  3. No bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products(excluding processed honey and wax, and new beekeeping equipment) other than those listed, can be moved under this permit.
  4. Until the 15th September 2022, the permit holder must notify Agriculture Victoria by email to honeybee.permits@agriculture.vic.gov.au within 24 hours of moving the listed bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products to a destination that is not specified in the movement details under this permit, being:
    1. any destination within the Sunraysia region
    2. any onwards destination outside the Sunraysia region.
  5. A copy of this permit must be:
    1. available for inspection by an inspector anytime the livestock, livestock products or fittings are being moved into, within or out of the Sunraysia region
    2. provided to the owner or occupier at each destination within the Sunraysia region, and must be retained by the owner or occupier for a period of 30 days
    3. provided to any broker or agent arranging, sourcing, or facilitating the movement of the bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products to any destination within the Sunraysia region and must be retained by the broker or agent for a period of 30 days.
  6. The permit holder must clearly identify the Hive Load and Permit Number for each drop of hives on a property while within the Sunraysia Region by:
    1. securely attaching a copy of this permit to the Hive Load sealed in a waterproof bag
    2. displaying the permit number in a prominent location (such as on the lid or on a corflute sign) on the Hive Load, or
    3. a similar method so that the load can easily be identified by the permit number.
  7. The permit holder must immediately notify honeybee.permits@agriculture.vic.gov.au if they become aware or have reason to believe that the bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products:
    1. have been in contact or associated with any bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products infested or suspected of being infested or associated with Varroa mite (Varroa destructor), or
    2. were in any Australian State or Territory at any time after 1 January 2022, where Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is present.
  1. The permit holder must maintain records of all movement of the bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products listed under this permit for a period of 6 months from the date of issue of the permit, including:
    1. number of hives at an address or GPS location
    2. address or GPS location
    3. date of arrival
    4. date of departure.
  2. Copies of all records must be made available to an inspector on request.

If transiting to Victoria from QLD via NSW, the following conditions must also be met.

  1. The permit holder must ensure, prior to movement, that a relevant NSW transit permit is in place to allow transit through NSW prior to arrival in Victoria, and the hives are delivered to Victoria in accordance with those permit conditions.
  2. The load must be secured and covered at all times to prevent access by bees not originating from within the load.
  3. The load must not transit through a NSW declared notification, surveillance or eradication zone for Varroa mite.
  4. The load must transit NSW in the shortest possible time and not remain within NSW for longer than 48 hours.

State Quarantine Response Team (SQRT)

+ Expand all- Collapse all

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: 01 Aug 2022