Bee Pests and Diseases

General information

The European honey bee contributes directly to the Australian economy through the honey industry and to a lesser extent the packaged bee, bees’ wax and propolis sectors. Honey bees also contribute to the productivity of many horticultural crops, by providing essential pollination services that improve crop yield and quality. The Australian honey and bee products industry is valued at approximately $90 million per year.

It is estimated that bees contribute directly to between $100 million and $1.7 billion of agricultural production, mostly from unpaid sources such as feral bee colonies, but also from a small paid pollination industry of about $3.3 million, per year.1

This estimate refers to 35 of the most responsive crops to honeybee pollination. If all agriculture is included the estimates have run as high as $4-$6 billion2.

The industry is composed of about 10,000 registered beekeepers. Around 1,700 of these are considered to be commercial apiarists, each with more than 50 hives, and there are thousands of part-time and hobbyist apiarists, with total honey production around 16,000 tonnes of honey each year.

Varroa mite – the major threat to Australia’s honey bee and honey bee crop pollination plant industries

Australia has remained free of many of the major honey bee pests such as the Varroa mite that are present in other countries. If Varroa were to become established in Australia our healthy population of feral honey bees, and the pollination services they provide, could be reduced by 90-100 per cent. The effects would be significant for apiarists, who would face higher costs to manage their hives, and producers of crops such as almonds, apples, cherries, sunflower and canola that rely on pollination from bees.

The Australian Government has developed a continuity strategy to ensure that the honey bee and honey bee pollination responsive crop industries, research organisations and all Australian governments are prepared and able to effectively respond should the Varroa mite become established in Australia.

What are the pests and diseases of honeybees?

While Varroa, is the leading biosecurity threat, honeybees may be affected by a range of pests and diseases including:

  • Tropilaelaps mite (Tropilaelaps clareae)
  • Tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi)
  • Braula fly (Braula caeca)
  • American foulbrood (Bacillus larvae)
  • European foulbrood (Melissococus pluton)
  • Leafcutter bee chalkbrood (Ascosphaera aggregata)
  • Small hive beetle (Aethina tumida)
  • Stonebrood (Aspergillus falvum and A. fumigatus)

Is Australian prepared for honey bee disease and pest incursions?

In partnership with the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, Pollination Australia, Horticulture Australia Ltd, Plant Health Australia, Animal Health Australia, the Rural Industries Research Development Corporation and state and territory governments, the Australian Government is working to develop a nationally coordinated approach to manage biosecurity threats to honey bees and pollination.

Eleven projects have been identified that will enhance Australia’s preparedness, response and recovery to key biosecurity threats to honey bees and pollination, particularly Varroa mite. The projects contribute to improving national arrangements by:

  • determining the threat to Australia of Varroa mite, including an entry pathway analysis
  • updating AUSVETPLAN’s ‘Bee pests and diseases – disease strategy manual’ to formalise response actions that will be taken in the event of an incursion
  • developing a more comprehensive surveillance and monitoring strategy for key biosecurity threats to honey bees and pollination
  • determining the impact of a decline in bee populations in Australia on related industries
  • producing an integrated strategy to recover from a decline in bee population
  • developing a continuity strategy for pollination services in the event of a decline in bee population
  • produced a report following a simulation exercise to test national response arrangements and improve response strategies
  • communicating with bee keepers, honey bee and pollination industries, agricultural producers, and other interested parties: to raise awareness about the issues; to provide tools to assist in identifying and managing potential threats; and to coordinate an agreed range of activities in relation to bee biosecurity.

In addition, a variety of activities are being undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to try to prevent the entry of Varroa and other pests and diseases.

  • Surveillance outside Australia by the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS). NAQS develops and implements measures for the early detection of targeted pests and diseases.
  • Inspections by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) helps prevent the entry into Australia of foreign bees or diseases they carry by ensuring they are detected and killed before they can establish within Australia.
  • Surveillance within Australia to detect any incursions that have entered Australia to enable us to destroy the pest or disease before it becomes established or restrict its spread.

For specific information on regulations and legislation, visit your state or territory's department of primary industries or agriculture website.

Protecting your honeybees

If exotic honeybee parasites and pests enter Australia, early detection will be crucial in limiting their spread and impact on the Australian honeybee industry. All beekeepers (including commercial and backyard beekeepers) have a significant role in recognising and reporting any suspected infestation by Varroa (or other pests and diseases)

  • Know what to look for. If you suspect the presence of Varroa, immediately phone Exotic Plant Pest Hotline: free call 1800 084 881 and report the suspected outbreak
  • Implement appropriate controls
  • Follow any quarantine instructions in the event of an incursion
  • Don’t try to bypass quarantine controls aimed at protecting the industry.

Pollinators/Beekeepers

It may be necessary to confirm a field diagnosis with laboratory tests. Apiary officers in all states and territories can provide advice on the correct procedures.

Further information

Overseas information

  • COLOSS - an international project to identify the factors at the individual honeybee and colony levels causing severe colony losses and investigate synergistic effects between them

Other honeybee activities


1 (Source: Gordon, J., and Davis, L., 2003 Valuing honey bee pollination, RIRDC, Project No. CIE-15a, Pub No. 03/077).
2 (Ms Margie Thomson, RIRDC, Transcript of Evidence, 8 August 2007, p6. to the House of Representatives Standing Committee Inquiry into the Future Development of the Australian Honeybee Industry).