In the last two weeks, Australian authorities have exterminated millions of honeybees in a bid to prevent a potentially devastating parasitic plague affecting the southeast region of the country. The recent outbreak of the deadly varroa mite, a sesame seed-sized parasite that was first spotted at a port near Sydney last week, poses a massive threat to the country’s multimillion-dollar honey industry.
Colonies of honeybees have been put under “lockdown” as part of a wide range of biosecurity measures to limit the outbreak. “It is critically important that beekeepers in the Newcastle area do not move any hives or equipment in or out of the area,” said the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council.
Until recently, Australia was one of the few countries that was able to successfully clamp down on the spread of Varroa mite-induced plagues, known to be the biggest threat to bees worldwide. But this time, officials say that the tiny insect is here to stay.
What is the Varroa mite?
The Varroa mite, or Varroa destructor, is a parasitic insect that attacks and feeds on honeybees. Reddish-brown in colour, the tiny pests are known to kill entire colonies of honeybees, officials have warned. They often travel from bee to bee and also via beekeeping equipment, such as combs that have been extracted.
The spread of the mite is largely blamed for a sharp decline in the number of honey bee colonies worldwide. It has plundered bee colonies across the globe.
Although Varroa mites can feed and live on adult honey bees, they mainly feed and reproduce on larvae and pupae in the developing brood, causing malformation and weakening of honey bees as well as transmitting numerous viruses.”
Over time, as the mite population increases in bee colonies, the symptoms grow more severe. Generally, heavy infestations lead to crippled bees, impaired flight performance, lower rate of return to the colony after foraging and reduced lifespan, Bee Aware states.
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