Sentinel hives help keep Australian honey pure and free from Varroa

From a beekeepers perspective, Australia is the last bastion of pure honey.

That’s because Australia is the last place in the world still free of the dreaded varroa destructor.

Varroa destructor, commonly called varroa mite, are tiny insects that live on bees, and lay their eggs in honeycomb. Not only do they seriously weaken the bees, but they also spread viruses that cripple bees' ability to fly, and to gather pollen and nectar.

Everywhere else in the world commercial beekeepers use chemical treatments to keep the varroa mite under control.

To keep Australia free of the Varroa mite, bee hives have been installed at all our major ports.

They’ve been put there to help detect bees that might arrive here as stowaways on ships docking at the port.

The hives are checked regularly.

And their importance was underlined earlier this year when the captain of a US ship docking in Melbourne told authorities he had seen dead bees on board.

Joe Riordan, Senior apiary officer at the Victorian Department of Agriculture was immediately called in and sure enough a colony was found in a crate on board.

The colony was confirmed to be infected with the Varroa mite and so were destroyed.

But the possibility that some of the bees had swarmed, and/or got loose onto the Australian mainland could not be discounted and an emergency response plan was immediately set in motion.

As ABC’s Radio National recently reported, Riordan enlisted beekeepers from around Victoria to help test hives for Varroa.

"There's a sense of, 'well look, I'm a beekeeper, what I want to do is help. I'm not going to stand back and hope it's going to work, I want to be part of the team that actually beats it'," said Riordan.

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