FAQs related to Varroa Mite
This honey IHS process has been underway for years. Beekeepers have been waiting for a decision for some time. Biosecurity New Zealand wanted to end the uncertainty sooner rather than later; there would never be a ‘good’ time.
Varroa has been present in New Zealand for six years and is a completely separate issue to the IHS. Biosecurity New Zealand does not believe that an internal disease control operation in New Zealand should have a bearing on decisions on international trade.
The mite originated in eastern Asia and spread into Europe, probably via Russia. Since the 1980s, Varroa has been carried into most other beekeeping regions of the world, killing thousands of colonies.
No. There is no possibility varroa could have been introduced through honey imports. Varroa has no known host other than the honey bee.
Up to five and a half days, but usually much less.
It is unknown how the mite arrived in New Zealand. Varroa is usually spread by live bees, and there have been no live bee imports permitted into New Zealand for at least 40 years. Varroa probably arrived either with an illegal introduction of queen bees from a varroa-infested country, or in a bee colony or swarm that established on or in a shipping container and survived the journey to New Zealand without detection.
We don't know for sure, but it was probably here for around two years before it was detected in 2000.
Varroa depends on adult bees for transport. The mite spreads naturally between bee colonies by travelling with drifting bees and swarms.
Modern beekeeping practices often involve shifting bees, beehives, and equipment between apiary sites, often over long distances. This has the potential to spread varroa more quickly over long distances.
It weakens and kills honeybee colonies. Bees are important because they pollinate a wide range of food crops.
The Varroa mite, (Varroa destructor - formerly Varroa jacobsoni) is an external parasite of honey bees that attacks adult bees and their developing larvae, or young.
Infected hives may show the following signs:
- Unexpectedly low bee numbers
- A patchy pattern on brood frames as would be seen with a heavy sacbrood infestation
- Small reddish-brown mites on the bodies of bees, and on uncapped drone pupae
- Weak crawling bees, possible with deformed wings
- Sudden hive population crashes, or hives being found in autumn with honey stores but no bees.
Beekeepers in risk areas should be carrying out active sampling of their hives, to detect varroa before mite numbers rise to damaging levels. Visual examination of adult bees is not an effective way to monitor for varroa.
The whole bee population is at risk from the mite. Numbers of mites in a colony typically build up over a year or so, until they are sufficient to kill the colony if it is not treated. The mite will wipe out most wild (or feral) bees, as they will not be treated by a beekeeper to control varroa levels. Only well-managed bee colonies will survive the arrival of varroa.
Beekeepers shift their hives long distances to pollinate crops, or gather honey. This enabled varroa to spread throughout the USA within a few years of being introduced.
There is an international trade in live bees. Queen bees are shipped world-wide, and are believed to be responsible for the spread of the mite to both North and South America, and Africa. New Zealand has not permitted bee imports for many years, but does export live bees.
If varroa is established in a country, a successful approach for the beekeeping industry is likely to include:
- not destroying infested hives;
- developing smart movement controls and applying them judiciously;
- very promptly getting overseas expertise to upskill the industry (and regulators) on what management and regulatory approaches to take;
- surveillance to monitor the spread of varroa and alert beekeepers to the need to control;
- putting a lot of resources into beekeeper education on management and control;
- working out ways to coordinate control on an area basis;
- carrying out research to identify the best management practices for controlling mites under local conditions;
- taking a strategic approach to registering chemical controls.