Australia on watch for bee-killing varroa mites

Canberra: Northern Australia is on the watch for a destructive varroa mite that has caused the collapse of bee colonies in other parts of the world, an official said on Wednesday. Stevedores at the Townsville port in Queensland state analysed beehives they found and confirmed the presence of at least two varroa mites, forcing authorities to conduct a biosecurity surveillance within a 10 km radius, Xinhua news agency reported. "Asian honey bees are the natural host of this species of varroa mite. However, a recent report by the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) has shown for the first time this species reproducing on European honey bees, and we are most concerned about it," an official said. As Australia's honey industry is reliant on the European honey bees, an outbreak of the mite would have disastrous consequences. The mites usually invade the hive and feed on the larvae, ultimately destroying a beehive within three to five years. While the mites have damaged bee colonies in Canada and the US, the varroa mite linked to European honey bees is known to be widespread in Papua New Guinea, neighbouring Australia, increasing biosecurity concerns. Asian honey bees have been established in parts of far northern Queensland state in Australia for many years, but the mites themselves are not known to be present, the official said. Authorities have destroyed the feral beehive found at the port, and to date, no others were found in the area.  However, the surveillance programme will be extended to a number of other managed hives in the Townsville area to ensure there is no varroa mite infestation.