In late June 2016, a single Asian honey bee nest was found within the hollow metal support of a container stand at the port of Townsville. Scientific analysis of the bees confirmed that two varroa mites were present on two of the bees. Further analysis detected an additional three mites in capped cells.
Varroa mites are considered to pose a high risk to European honey bees although it is currently believed that this species of varroa mite (varroa jacobsoni) does not readily transfer between host species—that is, if the mite is found on Asian honey bees, it does not readily move to European honey bees.
Traps and sentinel hives that are already in place around the port as part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program have not collected any exotic bees or mite pests until recently when there have been several more detections of Asian honey bees in the Townsville region. In some of these detections, varroa mite has been found in the hive. All hives have been destroyed and surveillance is continuing.
A 10 km surveillance zone remains in place around each of the current detections of Asian honey bees in Townsville. In these zones Biosecurity Queensland officers are continuing to look for feral honey bees and check managed hives. The surveillance activities involve sweep netting flowering plants, setting feeding stations to attract any foraging bees, analysis of rainbow beeeater pellets collected from known roosting sites and aerial pheromone traps to detect male Asian honey bees.
Biosecurity Queensland staff are also checking catch boxes and sentinel hives that are set permanently around the port as part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program.
The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests continues to meet in response to this detection. At its’ last meeting, the committee agreed that this varroa jacobsoni incident relates to an emergency plant pest as described under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed. It also determined that based on the evidence available to date, this pest is technically feasible to eradicate.
Genetic testing of bees, conducted by the University of Sydney, indicates that all of the Asian honey bees detected in Townsville in 2016 are related. All of these bees are consistent with those that originate from Papua New Guinea. This means that the Asian honey bees detected in Townsville in 2016 have not come from earlier detections of Asian honey bees in Townsville in 2009, 2013 or 2014, each of which were eradicated
While Asian honey bees are established in an area around Cairns in Far North Queensland, varroa mites are not known to be present in that population.