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BEE Pest Blitz - Check your hives for Varroa and report your findings in April

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

DPIRD 3 April 2023



Dear Western Australian Beekeeper,


In June 2022, Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) were detected in New South Wales.


Eradication efforts are still ongoing in NSW, however, the mites continue to be detected and pose a significant threat to the Australian honey bee industry.


Swarms originating from interstate and overseas are routinely intercepted at WA ports, highlighting the need for Varroa vigilance in WA.


Throughout April, we are calling on all Australian beekeepers to join the Bee Pest Blitz: check your hives for Varroa and report your findings, even if you don’t find mites.


How to report mite surveillance activities in WA

  1. Ensure your Beekeeper Registration is up to date with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).

Your beekeeping brand ID, e.g. WA8, is issued upon registration with DPIRD (it's a legal requirement for keeping honey bees in Western Australia).


To check if you are registered or find your brand ID, the WA Brand and PIC Register can be searched by hive brand or beekeeper.


To register or update your details, visit the department’s Bees webpage or call our Brands Office on 1300 926 547.

  1. Check your apiary for exotic mites using an approved surveillance method: alcohol washing, sugar shaking or drone uncapping. To learn about these surveillance methods, visit the BeeAware’s Surveillance for exotic pests webpage.

  2. Submit the Report honey bee mite surveillance results online form with:

  • Your beekeeper registration (brand) ID

  • The apiary postcode

  • Number of hives checked for mites (using an alcohol wash, sugar shake and/or drone uncapping)

  • Mites detected (yes/no)

If you detect exotic mites during apiary surveillance activities, keep the sample and immediately call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. If you encounter any difficulties with the online form, email PBhoney@dpird.wa.gov.au for assistance.


Why would I report that I did not find a pest?

Like all WA beekeepers, we are hopeful that you will not find any exotic mites.


However, even if you don’t detect mites, we still want to hear from you.


Reporting your surveillance results – even when you don’t find exotic pests – serves two important points:

  1. Proof of surveillance

It is commonly said that ‘no news is good news’.


However, this is not true: no news (reports) may just mean that no one is looking.


For example, Varroa mites are thought to have been in New Zealand for three years before they were discovered, by which time the mites were too far spread to eradicate.


Therefore, ‘no detections’, that is looking and not finding, is good news.


Early detection of Varroa and other ‘unwanted hitchhiking pests’ is critical for protecting local bee populations and bee-dependent industries.


In the event of an exotic pest incursion, early detection maximises the opportunity for eradication or containment.


While the department’s apiary unit actively conducts surveillance for bee pests at ports, pollination events, and trade inspections, we need your help.


There are only a handful of staff in the department’s apiary unit, but there are almost 60,000 registered beehives in WA.


With your help, we can cover more ground and have greater confidence in our pest-free status.

  1. Proof of freedom

Reports of pest-absence are also used to provide our trading partners with evidence that specific pests are absent from WA. This supports our access to domestic and overseas honey markets.


Why is the Bee Pest Blitz promoting alcohol washing?

Under the Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice (the Code), all beekeepers in Australia are required to undertake surveillance for exotic mites in their hives twice per year (usually sampling in spring and autumn).


Varroa and other exotic mites are hard to spot: the vast majority will be hidden in capped brood or embedded - like a tick - in the underside of adult bees.


Hives also rarely show symptoms until the mites have been long-established. Therefore, a regular brood inspection is very unlikely to detect Varroa.


Instead, beekeepers must use specialised - but simple - surveillance methods, i.e. alcohol washing, sugar shaking, or drone uncapping, to detect exotic mites.


Historically, sugar shakes have been highly promoted as the method is considered easy, ‘bee friendly’, and is often preferred by amateur and recreational beekeepers.


However, the sugar shake can be time-consuming or inaccurate in some conditions; for example, high humidity and moisture makes sugar shaking less effective at removing mites.


Drone uncapping is a quick and easy method for mite surveillance, however, it relies on a good supply of drone brood, which can be seasonal or affected by periods of poor conditions.


Alcohol washing is the most common method for mite detection in countries where Varroa is present, as it can be quickly completed in any season or environment.


Alcohol washing immediately kills the sampled bees (so we suggest avoid washing the queen! 😊) and mites, which causes most mites to quickly detach from the bees.


Based on recent learnings from New Zealand, the method for alcohol washing has been revised in 2023.


Importantly, the method now recommends washing/shaking for a shorter period of time (15 seconds) but rinsing (repeating the procedure on the same sample) three times.


In addition, low-suds laundry detergent can be substituted for alcohol/methylated spirits as the washing solution (this will still be called an ‘alcohol wash’).


Visit the national Bee Pest Blitz website or the BeeAware’s Surveillance for exotic pests webpage to learn about the new, nationally-endorsed method for alcohol washing.


Can I report the results of an alcohol wash completed outside of April? Or data from sugar shaking and drone uncapping methods?

Yes. Although the national Bee Pest Blitz campaign will only use alcohol-washing data produced in April, DPIRD welcomes beekeepers to report all exotic mite surveillance activities using the online form.


The Report honey bee mite surveillance results form will remain open beyond April.


There is no limit to the number of reports that can be made by a single beekeeper.


Beekeepers may also choose to upload older data records – just ensure the date of the surveillance activity is correctly entered.


Can I report outbreaks of other apiary pests or diseases?

The Report honey bee mite surveillance results form is only for mite surveillance activities in WA.


However, beekeepers in WA are encouraged to help the department map the distributions of established apiary pests and diseases using the MyPestGuide® Reporter app.


After a challenging season of limited nectar flows and hungry bees, the department has received numerous reports of Chalkbrood and American foulbrood in southwest WA.


We urge all beekeepers to stay vigilant, manage and properly store (bee-proof) deadout hives and beekeeping equipment, and report all outbreaks of these declared pests.


If you suspect you have seen an exotic bee or bee pest, immediately call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline 1800 084 881.


Where possible, take photographs and/or collect a sample of the pest.


For more information about reporting bee pests and surveillance in WA visit www.agric.wa.gov.au/reportbeepests.


Where can I find more information or training?

In July/August 2023, the department will run WA Beekeeper Emergency Response training, which will upskill beekeepers in relevant surveillance methods and biosecurity emergency response procedures for exotic bee pests, i.e. Varroa. To sign up for the Beekeeping Emergency Response (WA Hive Heroes) Training, emailpbhoney@dpird.wa.gov.au with your full name, beekeeping brand, and contact details.


For more information about the national campaign and mite surveillance methods (alcohol washing, sugar shaking, and drone uncapping) based on current best practice, visit the Bee Pest Blitz website and the BeeAware’sSurveillance for exotic pests webpage.


For more information about beekeeping and reporting apiary pests in WA, visit the department’s webpages for Beesor Reporting bee pests and surveillance.

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