Australia’s honey bee population is at risk of being wiped out due to a deadly varroa mite parasite that is threatening the industry.
The varroa mites are tiny brown parasites that feed on bee larvae and pupae and often lead to malformations; all while also transmitting numerous viruses.
Six hundred hives have already been destroyed in NSW, containing between 10,000 and 30,000 bees each.
The parasite was first detected near the Port of Newcastle and has since been identified in the Hunter region and the Mid-North Coast.
Authorities are attempting to euthanise the bees and burn the hives before the outbreak grows even further out of control.
Essentially, it's a Covid-19 pandemic for bees on steroids.
This is really fucking grim:— Jamieson Murphy (@jamiesonmurph) June 28, 2022
"It is generally accepted that varroa mite will eventually become established in Australia. When it does, it's expected to progressively kill 95-100% of Australia's wild honey bee population."#auspol
Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders told the ABC: “We now have eight affected premises and those eradication orders will continue over the next few days.
"We're also looking at a release of a chemical in certain parts of those eradication zones which will help nullify some of the feral populations that we know exist."
The impact this mite could have on the feral honey bee population cannot be understated.
A report from Plant Health Australia revealed that other countries have experienced varroa mite infestations and it didn't go down well with the bees.
"The effect of Varroa mite in other countries has seen wild honey bee colonies and managed colonies drastically decline," a report said.
"In the US and Europe, Varroa mite killed 95-100% of unmanaged or wild honey bees within three to four years of infestation."
South Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) has already announced the restriction of bees and associated products from coming into South Australia from New South Wales.
PIRSA said in a statement: “As the varroa mite has only been detected in NSW to date, the restrictions do not currently apply to any other state or territory except NSW.
"It also applies to any of the above products that have been in NSW since 1 April 2022 but may be seeking to enter SA from another state."
If the outbreak were to become more widespread it could have a seriously devastating impact on Australia’s agricultural industry.
There are 35 agricultural industries that rely on bee pollination, according to the ABC, and with fruit and vegetable prices already soaring, an added factor would certainly not be welcomed.
Federal Agricultural Minister Murray Watt estimates a varroa mite outbreak would cost the industry $70 million a year.
Both commercial and hobby beekeepers are being urged to work with the agricultural industry to eradicate any such outbreak before it turns into a bigger issue.
Amateur Beekeepers Australian Manning Valley rand secretary Vicki Grace, told ABC: “We understand it’s for the greater good, it’s better to sacrifice some so that the majority are safe.”
Mr Saunders has ensured beekeepers would be looked after despite the outbreak, releasing a statement via his Facebook.
He said: “I’m still optimistic that there is a path forward here. What we need to focus on is getting as much information back from as many beekeepers as possible in a short time frame.”
He added: “There will be the opportunity to maintain hives in the future.”
There is a tiny silver lining in this awful situation and it seems like the mite hasn't affected Australia's local bee population.
Entomologist Tim Heard told the ABC: "The biology of the mite, their life cycle and the way they feed on their host is very much in tune with their host and so we don't believe that they can jump to other species, including our native bees."
Featured Image Credit: Maryna Lipatova / Alamy. blickwinkel / Alamy.