Internal and external mites of bees (Acarapsi woodi, Tropilaelaps spp., Varroa spp.)

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ An adult honey bee with a varroa mite on its back. The mite is a small red brown external parasite that feeds on the bees.

PLANT PEST

Internal and external
mites of bees

Exotic to Australia

Life form: Mite
Origin: Asia (tropilaelaps and varroa mites), unknown (tracheal)
Distribution: Varies depending on the species
Features: Four pairs of legs, 0.5 mm x 1 mm (tropilaelaps),
1.5 mm x 1.1 mm (varroa), tracheal mites not visible to the
naked eye
Pathways: Feral bee swarms transported on containers or ships
At risk: Honey, honey products, pollination-reliant food crops


Australia is one of the few countries in the world to remain free of varroa mite (Varroa destructor) and other exotic internal and external mites of bees. If varroa mite were to become established in Australia, our healthy population of European honey bees and the pollination services they provide could be reduced by 90 to 100 per cent.

The benefits that commercial honey bees and native bees provide to pollination-dependent plant industries is estimated to be worth $4-6 billion a year.

While the external Varroa mite – Varroa destructor – is the leading biosecurity threat, honey bees may be affected by a number of other exotic internal and external mites of bees including:

  • tracheal mite – Acarapis woodi (internal)
  • tropilaelaps mite – Tropilaelaps clareae (external)
  • tropilaelaps mite – Tropilaelaps mercedesae (external)
  • varroa mite – Varroa jacobosoni (external).

Tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) is not present in Australia or New Zealand, but is found in most other honey-producing regions of the world such as Europe, North America and parts of Asia.

Tropilaelaps clareae is present throughout Asia, while Tropilaelaps mercedesae is present throughout regions of mainland Asia and Indonesia. Both species are also present in Papua New Guinea.

Varroa destructor is found in much of Asia, Europe, North America, South America and New Zealand.

Varroa jacobosoni is now prevalent worldwide, with the exception of New Zealand, Australia and some countries in Central Africa.

See if you can identify the pest

Everyone needs to keep an eye out for mites of bees and their symptoms on bees.

Internal and external bee mites pose a high biosecurity risk to Australia because of their effect on European honey bee hives and the subsequent effect on pollination-dependent plant industries.

Tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi) are internal, microscopic parasites in the honey bee respiratory system and feed on the bee’s blood. They spend their whole life inside adult honey bees, except for mature females, which leave the host to attach to younger honey bees through bee to bee contact.

  • The mites affect the honey bee’s capacity to breathe, make the bee’s respiratory system susceptible to infection and reduces air flow to the wing muscles.
  • This results in weakened and sick honey bees which do not work as hard and have a significantly reduced lifespan.
  • Tracheal mite infestation can lead to the death of the colony, if it is combined with other stresses such as disease or lack of food.
Tracheal mites inside the air ways of honey bees Source: Plant Health Australia
Tracheal mites inside the air ways of honey bees. The mites are internal, microscopic parasites.

Tropilaelaps mites (Tropilaelaps clareae and Tropilaelaps mercedesae) are active, tiny external parasites that feed on the blood of drone and worker bee pupae. Adult mites lay eggs in the brood cells of honey bee larvae and feed on developing honey bees.

  • Infestation results in the transmission of honey bee viruses, such as deformed wing virus, and causes the death of many pupae.
  • This results in an irregular brood, deformed honey bees with missing legs or wings, and a reduced weight and life span of adult bees.
  • Irregular and poor brood patterns are also common, as nurse bees try to clean out the sick or infected pupae.
  • Heavy infestation of tropilaelaps mites will invariably lead to the colony leaving the hive, or colony collapse.
Tropilaelaps mites on European honey bee pupae, and a deformed honey bee resulting from tropilaelaps mite infestation Source: Plant Health Australia
Tropilaeaps mites on European honey bee pupae and a deformed honey bee resulting from tropilaeps mites infection.  The mites are external and tiny.

Varroa mites (Varroa destructor and Varroa jacobosoni) are small red-brown external parasites of adult honey bees, and drone and worker bee brood. Varroa mites feed and reproduce on larvae and pupae, causing deformities and weakening of honey bees as well as transmitting numerous viruses.

  • Varroa destructor affects both Asian honey bee and European honey bee, and has caused the collapse and death of European honey bee colonies wherever it is present.
  • Varroa jacobosoni occurs on Asian honey bee and is only very rarely known to affect European honeybee in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.
Varroa mite on honey bee pupa Source: Plant Health Australia
Varroa mite on honey bee pupae. The tiny round brown mite can be seen against the white pupae.

Importers

If you work around imported goods you need to look for swarms of bees or bees and their hives attached to:

  • commodities
  • shipping containers
  • vehicles
  • conveyances

Beekeepers and home gardeners

All beekeepers, from commercial operators, backyard enthusiasts, to people starting up their first hives, form part of the honey bee industry. Each and every beekeeper has a role to play in protecting honey bees from exotic pests.

Keep an eye on the health of your bees. Every beekeeper should be familiar with established pests, the symptoms they cause and how to control them. Beekeepers should also be aware of threats posed by exotic pests, and how to monitor hives and apiaries for their possible presence.

BeeAware has resources to help you manage your hives.

Check what can legally come into Australia

All Australians and international tourists have a role to keep out exotic pests and diseases.

Bee mites are widespread around the world. Australia remains free of these exotic pests. We need your help to keep it this way.

Check what you can and cannot bring into Australia, whether you are a:

Exotic bee mites are aggressive invaders

Bee mites are transported on bees, and could be introduced into Australia on exotic bees such as Africanised, Asian, Cape, dwarf or giant honey bees, as well as exotic European honey bees. These bees can hitchhike to Australia on many pathways such as goods, conveyances or personal effects.

Bee mites can spread via numerous pathways, including:

  • bee to bee contact
  • hitchhiking of infected bees on clothes, equipment and vehicles
  • normal apiary management practices
  • packaged bees and queen bees
  • transport of infected hives.

Varroa mites have also been observed on other flower feeding insects, such as:

  • bumblebees
  • flower flies
  • scarab beetles.

This indicates they may be able to spread short distances on such insects.

Import restrictions and biosecurity measures

Some items, by law, are subject to certain import conditions to be allowed into Australia. Please check the Biosecurity Import Condition System (BICON).

Be aware of any relevant biosecurity measures that may be in place for incoming goods and conveyances. Industry advice notices are reviewed regularly and could change.

Secure any suspect specimens

Containment is crucial. If you suspect you’ve seen a mite or symptoms of mites in your hive, take a photo and secure the bees in the hive.

Gardeners can keep an eye out for bees that do not look healthy or appear to be carrying round brown discs on their body.

Report detections of exotic pests

Any detections of exotic bees or bee mites must be reported to the authorities.

Import community

If you receive or work around goods imported from overseas, including mail, you need to be vigilant to bees and their hives because of the pests and diseases they can carry, as well as other exotic pests.

If you see a bee hive or an unusual pest, secure the goods to limit the movement of the pest and immediately report it to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s SEE. SECURE. REPORT. Hotline 1800 798 636 or by using the online form.

Growers and home gardeners

If you see bees or hives showing symptoms of disease or pests or anything unusual, report it to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline 1800 084 881. This will put you in touch with the Department of Primary Industries or agriculture in your state or territory.

When reporting your concern, you will be given advice on handling the specimen and what to do next until an officer can investigate.

Additional information

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