Bee Pests and Bee Diseases

Pests & Diseases

Australian honey bees are free of the many bee pests and bee diseases found around the world making them some of the healthiest honey bees in the world.

The strength and productivity of a honey bee colony can be impacted by pests and diseases.  Every beekeeper (hobby or commercial) should be familiar with and understand

   *  the Australian bee biosecurity requirements in the Code of Practice
   *  pests and diseases and their management
   *  specific State or Territory requirements
   *  which pests and diseases are notifiable and who to contact.
Information on established and exotic bee pests and bee diseases for Australia, their management and biosecurity requirements and obligations can be found in the following links:

   * Biosecurity Code of Practice for beekeepers
   * Established Pests and Diseases in Australia, their symptoms, impact on the colony and the actions required if detected
   * Exotic Pests (not in Australia but affect colonies world wide) How to monitor your hives for early detection of any new pest to prevent these becoming established in Australia 
   * Notifiable Pests and Diseases in Qld and contact details for reporting
   * Qld Dept Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF)
   *  BeeAware
   *  Plant Health Australia

If a hive becomes infected with American Foulbrood (AFB) or you are unsure which disease may be affecting your hive,
submit a BROOD SAMPLE and FORM to Qld Dept Agriculture & Fisheries (QDAF)

If you observe mites on bees, an exotic bee or a new bee pest or bee disease currently unknown in Australia 
call IMMEDIATELY the Exotic Pest Hotline or call DAF on 13 25 23 or Qld Bee Biosecurity Officer     

Biosecurity Manual for Beekeepers

Bee Biosecurity Manual for Beekeepers

This book is
free to download

This is a 64 page, colour booklet.  Some of the topics covered include:

Biosecurity explained
Exotic and established pests
Keeping honey bees healthy
Inspecting hives
Pest surveillance
Barrier systems
Quality Assurance programmes
Biosecurity best practice check list
Fact sheets on pests and diseases

Varroa Mite

apis meliffera with varroa mite on back

Varroa mite on honey bee

Varroa mite on honey bee larvae
Photo:    Denis Anderson

The varroa mite is one of the most serious problems threatening honey bees in the world today.  Around the world they have caused mass disruption to crop pollination and honey production. 

Varroa mites are tiny red-brown external parasites of honey bees. They can feed and live on adult honey bees but mainly feed and reproduce on larvae and pupae in the developing brood, causing malformation and weakening of honey bees and transmit numerous viruses.This ultimately causes a reduction in the honey bee population, supersedure of queen bees and eventual colony breakdown and death.

See more information at DAF and BeeAware.

If you see or suspect the presence of varroa mites in Australia,
report IMMEDIATELY on the Exotic Pest Hotline, on the Qld Dept Agriculture & Fisheries (DAF)  website or call DAF on 13 25 23.

Asian Bees

Comparison of Asian bee to European honey bee

Comparison of Asian (left) and European (right) honey bees
Photo:  Paul Zborowski

Swarm of Asian bees in North Queensland

A swarm of Asian bees in Cairns
Photo: Trevor Weatherhead

Asian Bees
Information, identification chart, report sightings and more.

Characteristics of Asian honey bees
They are smaller (about 10 mm long) than European honey bees (about 15 mm long).
They are less hairy than European honey bees.
They have more prominent and even banding on the abdomen than European honey bees.
When swarming, they move in very tight clusters that range from the size of a closed hand to that of a basketball.

Asian bees in North Queensland
In North Queensland a population of the Asian bee (Apis cerana, Java strain) has become established in an area referred to as the Known Infested Area (KIA).  To date this Asian bee is still confined to North Queensland but has the potential to rapidly spread further, especially by transportation on land or by sea.

There are several strains of Asian bees throughout the world, some being kept in apiaries for honey production but the particular strain of Asian bee in North Queensland (Java strain) has unfavourable attributes.  Its “flighty” nature makes it difficult to box into a hive, keep in a hive, manage for honey production or for crop pollination.  It swarms prolifically, creates quite small nests, often into small cavities such as letter boxes, and produces only small quantities of honey.  

In the Solomon Islands it has all but wiped out the European honey bee population.  In Australia it is estimated that every third mouthful of food we eat requires pollination by honey bees.  Without European honey bees our food supply would be greatly diminished as many of our agricultural and horticultural crops are either totally dependent on or greatly benefit from honey bee pollination.

The Asian bee is the natural host of the devastating varroa mite and around the world these mites have caused mass disruption to crop pollination and honey production.  Fortunately, the swarm of Asian bees (Apis cerana, java strain) found in Cairns in 2007 was not carrying this mite.  The Asian bee is now endemic in the known infested areas in the Cairns area in North Queensland but carry no varroa mites. 

In 2016, 2019 and 2020 incursions of Asian bees were found in Townsville and Varroa mites (Varroa jacobsoni) were found on these bees.  Since 2016 these incursions have been the subject of the National Varroa Mite Eradication program.  Extensive work has been carried out to find and eradicate these mites by locating and eradicating the Asian bees. This work has included floral sweeping, aerial pheromone trapping, catch box assessments, bee lining, managed hive surveillance, investigating public reports of suspected Asian bee sightings and examining rainbow bee eater pellets for the presence of Asian bee wings.  These activities also ensured the mite had not spread. 

Successful eradication
On 1st July 2020 the Eradication Program declared the 2016 Varroa jacobsoni incursion successfully eradicated and on 6th August 2021 declared the 2019 and 2020 incursions successfully eradicated.  Townsville and mainland Australia are now free of this exotic mite Varroa jacobsoni.

Read the history of these incursions, the eradication program and the “proof of freedom” declaration in the MEDIA RELEASE (11 August 2021) by Hon Mark Furner and an INDUSTRY REPORT (30 August 2021) by the Chair of the national beekeeping industry, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC).

Keeping Australia free of the varroa mite
To keep Australia free of this exotic and destructive parasite
, report IMMEDIATELY ANY bee, nest or swarm that you see that looks different through the Exotic Pest Hotline, the DAF website or phoning DAF on 13 25 23.