Explained: Why Australia has put its beehives into lockdown

Australian authorities have swung into action after detecting red mites, which experts have described as ‘little vampires’ that feed on honey bees, at the Port of Newcastle

Australia is in lockdown again – but this time of its beehives.

As per Bloomberg, Australian authorities are racing to prevent the spread of a potentially devastating parasite plague after the discovery of a mite that has ravaged hives around the world sparked fears for the pollinators crucial to the country’s $57 billion agricultural industry.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened:

Authorities in New South Wales went into overdrive after the Varroa Mite was detected at the Port of Newcastle.

And for good reason.

These mites, which kill and weaken colonies by feasting on them and transmitting viruses, are a huge threat to bees worldwide.

The red mite, about 1.5mm long, feeds on the body fat of its host, causing death or deformation.


As per FT, the spread of varroa destructor has been blamed in part for a sharp reduction in the number of honey bee colonies outside Australia as it has spread from Asia to Europe, North and South America and New Zealand.

The tiny red-brown Varroa mites have been described as “a little vampire” that feeds on larval honey bees by ecologist Jay Iwasaki, as per RTE.

They can spread “some very serious viruses” through honey bee colonies, which are not native to Australia but vital to the country’s agriculture industry.

“Even if this incursion is snuffed out, the global nature of trade will continually bring infested honey bees to Australia,” Iwasaki said told Bloomberg.

It is also responsible for spreading viruses that could have a knock-on effect for Australia’s indigenous stingless bee population.

Representational image. AFP

Australia is said to be the only major honey-producing country where the Varroa Mite is not endemic.

As per RTE, over six million bees were euthanised across Australia’s east coast this week in an attempt to eliminate a devastating parasite which has continued to spread despite a lockdown of hives.

Six hundreds hives have been destroyed since the “Varroa destructor” mite was detected, with each containing anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 bees, New South Wales agriculture minister Dugald Saunders said.

“It’s a lot of bees,” he said, noting the number was likely to grow.

Authorities set up biosecurity zone

To stop the spread, keepers inside the 50-kilometre biosecurity zone will not be able to move hives, bees, honey or comb until further notice.

The state Department of Primary Industries said the measures aimed at “ensuring we eradicate the parasite.”

The tiny red-brown mites attack and feed on honey bees – killing entire colonies, although not those of Australia’s native bees.

Iwasaki noted that if the mite does get a foothold, there may be an unexpected beneficiary — native bee populations, which are not affected by the pest.

Native bees compete with feral honey bees for scarce resources, an issue exacerbated by habitat loss, including land clearing and climate disasters.

The country’s honey industry, however, relies primarily on non-native species.

“It is critically important that beekeepers in the Newcastle area do not move any hives or equipment in or out of the area,” said the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council.

“Moving hives away will only further exacerbate the issue and make eradication efforts futile.”

Aside from the honey industry, bees are essential in pollinating countless plants.

As per FT, the lockdown could have a far wider impact in Australia as hives are essential to a number of crops including almonds, a A$1bn sector that is reliant on a quarter of a million hives that are transported around Australia, and for which the season is set to begin in the coming weeks.

A prolonged lockdown could also threaten other critical harvests including macadamia nuts, blueberries, cherries and avocados, as per the report.

This, as Australia is already battling bushfires, floods and a mouse plague while globally, rising energy prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have raised concerns about food security.

With inputs from agencies

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