The Varroa Mite: Time to Shift from Eradication to Management?

Authorities in Australia are racing to control the outbreak of the varroa mite in the country’s bee population. However, many beekeepers are now advocating for a shift in strategy, suggesting that it is time to learn to live with the mite rather than trying to eradicate it.

The varroa mite, a dangerous parasite that can destroy entire beehives, was first detected at the Port of Newcastle over a year ago. Since then, detections of the parasite have continued to increase. In recent weeks, thousands of beehives have been quarantined or euthanized after the mite was found in hives in Kempsey on the NSW mid-north coast.

Australia is the only continent where varroa has not taken hold, and authorities have maintained a policy of eradication. However, this strategy has devastating consequences for beekeepers. Denille Banham and Daniel Costa, beekeepers from Kempsey, will have to destroy 480 out of their 750 hives due to the presence of varroa mite.

Beekeepers are now calling for a shift towards managing the mite and learning to coexist with it. The United States has been successfully living with varroa mite since the late 1980s. The Honey Bee Health Coalition (HBHC) in the United States teaches beekeepers how to manage varroa mite and invests in research to develop pesticides that can effectively kill the pest.

Regular testing for varroa mite is crucial in management. American beekeepers test their hives two to four times a year. If there are more than three mites per 100 bees, control measures should be immediately implemented to prevent further spread. Chemical treatments and non-chemical techniques are used to kill the mites and interrupt their life cycle.

The HBHC is working with scientists in the United States, Canada, and Spain to create a “varroacide” for controlling the pest. Additionally, efforts are being made to develop varroa-resistant bees that can combat the mites or expel infested bees from the colony.

New Zealand provides examples of how beekeepers have successfully managed the varroa mite outbreak. Although the outbreak initially posed challenges and led to the closure of many beekeeping businesses, those who remained benefited from increased demand for commercial pollination services.

In conclusion, beekeepers in Australia are calling for a shift from eradication to management of the varroa mite. Strategies from countries like the United States and New Zealand, where successful management practices are already in place, can provide valuable insights for Australia’s beekeeping industry.