Four swarms of Asian bees found in Cairns have been cleared of carrying the dreaded Varroa destructor mite but the intruders themselves could pose the beginning of a serious threat to Australian honey bee populations.
Asian bees are known to have found their way into Australian ports at least half a dozen times in the last decade.
This time it’s a Javanese strain of the bee and because the latest incursion had lain undiscovered for at least three months, it is unknown how many more swarms might exist and how far afield they may have flown.
Within a one kilometre radius from the first colony, disturbed in the mast of a yacht undergoing repairs after two years docked at a wharf in Cairns, three more swarms were found and the search widened.
Already operating under marginal circumstances, many of Australia’s beekeepers can only afford a momentary sigh of relief.
Asian bees (Apis cerana) are capable of carrying two types of Varroa mite – destructor and jacobsoni; the latter would not threaten the health of local bee populations but destructor has wiped out commercial hives and feral populations the world over and Australia is the last remaining major beekeeping country free of it.
Asian bees remain feral, cannot be hived commercially and will attack Australian bees and rob their hives. Compared to the home breed, Apis mellifera, the intruders are nowhere near the same league in the volume of honey they produce.
In the recent experience of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, they could become a serious pest, not just for beekeepers, but of concern to agriculture generally.
Bees play a big role in the food supply chain.
“In the big scheme of things, honey's a bit of a minor product, really,” NSW Department of Primary Industries apiarist Dr Doug Somerville said.
“Roughly one-third of the food we eat relates back to bee pollinated crops, so most of the benefits of honey
Source:New South Wales Department of Primary Industries