How surveillance protects our bees

Surveillance for bee pests from overseas is essential to maintaining a healthy bee population in Australia and protecting our beekeeping industry.

The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP) monitors for the presence of exotic bee pests and pest bees, as well as regionalised bee pests, across 32 sea and air ports.

Dr Jenny Shanks, Bee Pest Surveillance Coordinator at Plant Health Australia (PHA) explained that the program aims to detect new pests and diseases as early as possible.

“2018 was a big year for the program with over 14,600 surveillance records made across the program’s activities by government, industry and volunteers,” said Jenny.

“One of these activities is the maintenance of sentinel hives of healthy European honey bees at high-risk locations like seaports where pests may enter Australia.”

“The hives are regularly inspected for external exotic bee pests and samples are collected to test for internal pests and viruses.”

In 2018, approximately 6,800 adult bees were collected from the sentinel hives to be dissected and inspected for internal pests, like tracheal mite, by Bugs for Bugs.

A further 240 adult bee samples were provided to the CSIRO in Canberra to test for exotic honey bee viruses like slow paralysis virus.

Jenny explained that another activity is sweep netting of flowering plants to monitor for exotic pest bees such as red dwarf honey bee and giant honey bee.

“You may have seen staff walking around seaports and airports with butterfly nets: they are doing floral sweep netting,” she said.

In 2018 government apiary and biosecurity staff did a total of 130 surveys using sweep nets, which was an increase in the frequency and number of locations for surveys.

“Another exciting development for the program in 2018 was that it was the first year that Asian hornet, an exotic pest of European bee hives, was surveyed for,” said Jenny.

Special traps were deployed at key Australian seaports and inspected by border surveillance staff who found no evidence of this invasive hornet.

“In addition to sentinel hives, trapping and floral sweep netting, we also capture swarms of bees found in empty catch boxes or on structures around ports,” she explained.

“Honey bees found near a port might be swarms from local populations, but they could also be newly arrived swarms from overseas, so the bees in swarms are identified and inspected for exotic pests and diseases.”

An example of the importance of surveillance was the detection of a swarm of European honey bees infected with varroa mite at the Port of Melbourne in June 2018.

“The response to this displayed how effective the biosecurity surveillance system is,” said Jenny.

“Commonwealth border surveillance staff acted swiftly to respond to this detection, capturing and destroying the swarm, and inspecting further for exotic pests.”

“In addition, Agriculture Victoria undertook extensive sentinel hive and floral sweep netting activities around the port in the months after, showing that Australia remains free of varroa.”

If you see anything unusual in your bee hive call the Exotic Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881, or if you need help with the health of your bees contact your state’s Bee Biosecurity Officer.