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Bees in ‘lockdown” to stop spread of deadly Varroa mite in NSW

Lachlan Leeming and Kamahl Cogdon, June 30, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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Bee hives are in lockdown across NSW as the government tries to stop the spread of the Varroa mite, which could decimate our local bee populations and cost the honey bee industry $70 million a year. Picture: iStock media_cameraBee hives are in lockdown across NSW as the government tries to stop the spread of the Varroa mite, which could decimate our local bee populations and cost the honey bee industry $70 million a year. Picture: iStock

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A “bee lockdown” has been introduced to limit the movement of hives around NSW after a deadly foreign parasite* was detected last week.

The statewide emergency order, issued on June 26, bans the movement of bees across NSW after the devastating Varroa mite was detected in hives arriving at the Port of Newcastle, about 160km north of Sydney.

A 10km quarantine* zone was immediately put around the port while the hives were destroyed, before the NSW government stepped up its response to include the entire state.

The emergency order came after contact tracing revealed a beekeeper had used equipment from within the 10km quarantine zone on a beekeeping property 450km away at Trangie.

Handout pic provided by CSIRO of the Varroa mite on a bee pupa. Seven species of Australian bees have no resistance to this mite which is devastating bee colonies worldwide but has not yet entered Australia. media_cameraThis close up shows a Varroa mite on a bee. Picture: CSIRO

Southern Cross University bee expert Dr Cooper Schouten said the domestic honey bee industry risked losing more than $70 million a year if the Varroa mite became established in Australia, with major impacts also on those who supply pollination services.

NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders described the detection of the Varroa mite as “high stakes”, given Australia was one of the few countries in the world not to have the parasite.

“The stage right now is to lock everything down and do the contact tracing,” Mr Saunders said, urging beekeepers to “check your hives” immediately for the mites.

“Whether you’re a hobbyist* or professional beekeeper, if you look at your hives, you know if something isn’t right.”

Bee Keeper media_cameraBeekeeper Ben Grant, pictured with Madelyn, 9, and Emily, 7, says the detection of the Varroa mite in NSW is a blow to the industry. Picture: Justin Lloyd

Illawarra-based bee farmer Ben Grant said the detection of the parasite in NSW was a blow to the industry.

“It’s heavy news for us all, it has decimated* bees worldwide,” Mr Grant said.

“It’s so detrimental* to bees and, after that, mankind of course.

“We’ve done such a good job to keep it out of the country.”

Mr Grant said he hoped some Australian ingenuity* would help combat the parasite locally.

University of Sydney physical biochemist Dr Joel Mackay said his team was working to develop insecticides* that would kill the Varroa mite without harming bees.

“In this way, we are hoping to establish a more robust control strategy for when the time comes that Varroa slips through our defences, which have held up pretty well so far,” he said.

“Most insecticides are non-selective – they will kill many insects, not just the ones you’re trying to target – so we are on a quest to change that.”

GLOSSARY

  • parasite: an organism that lives on another living thing for survival
  • quarantine: isolate, keep away from others
  • hobbyist: someone who does a particular activity as a hobby, rather than as a job
  • decimated: killed or destroyed a large number
  • detrimental: causing harm or damage
  • ingenuity: ability to think creatively about a situation or to solve problems in a clever way
  • insecticides: substances used for killing insects

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. The Varroa mite was detected in hives arriving at which port?
  2. How big was the quarantine zone placed around the port?
  3. Why did the NSW government step up its response and issue the statewide emergency order?
  4. How much money does the Australian honey bee industry risk losing if the Varroa mite becomes established?
  5. What is physical biochemist Dr Joel Mackay working on?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Bee safe
What measures do you think beekeepers could take to help protect their hives from Varroa mite? Use your ideas and information in the story to write or create a step by step ‘Bee Safe’ guide.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Farmer Ben Grant says in the story that the mite is “so detrimental to bees and, after that, mankind of course”. Why would losing so many bees be so harmful to humans? Write sentences explaining your ideas and knowledge on this question.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
Lockdown the hive!
As the emergency siren in the hive sounds, the worker bees drop their tools and fly straight into action. I hear someone yell, “This is not a drill people, this is not a drill.”

The hive is going into lockdown! What’s going to happen next?

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