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Hive Foster Program - Varroa Response
Page Updated 14 September 2023
The Varroa Mite Eradication Program could impact your stingless bees
- The pesticide, Fipronil, is being used in a baiting program in the Red Zones shown on the map (below). This pesticide is highly toxic to stingless bees and may remain active within these areas for up to three years.
- Owners of stingless bee hives in the Red Zones should consider taking their hives out of these areas now.
- The Australian Native Bee Association (ANBA) may be able to assist hive owners who do not have a safe place to take their hives.
The Varroa Mite, an extremely serious pest of European honeybees, was discovered at Newcastle, NSW, in June 2022. It has now been detected at over 260 locations in NSW.
Urgent work is being done by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to try to eradicate this Varroa Mite incursion. Thousands of managed hives of European honeybees have been euthanised in the Red Zones shown in the map below and now the DPI is destroying feral nests of European honeybees within the Red Zones.
Click this link to view the DPI’s current large scale interactive map where you can zoom in to check your own exact location: Click Here
Fipronil baiting has been running since late 2022 in some Red Zone areas, and is about to commence in many new Red Zones. To find out whether Fipronil baiting is underway in your area, visit: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/emergencies/biosecurity/current-situation/varroa-mite-emergency-response/wild-european-honey-bee-management
The DPI is using sugar syrup baits containing the toxic pesticide, Fipronil, to destroy feral nests of European honeybees. This baiting program will operate periodically for up to twelve months. Strict protocols have been planned to prevent native insects, reptiles, birds and mammals from accessing the baiting stations while the Fipronil is present.
Feral European honeybees will collect toxic sugar syrup and take it back to their nests inside hollow trees. In due course the feral nests will die, leaving substantial stores of honey which will be contaminated with Fipronil inside the trees. The Fipronil may continue to remain toxic in these areas for up to three years1.
Unfortunately, native stingless bees and other nectar-feeding insects, reptiles, birds and mammals may visit dead feral European honeybee nests and collect contaminated honey. Some of these native insects and animals may die from Fipronil poisoning ².
It is legal to move boxed hives or log nests of Australian native bees from Red Zones into other areas, to prevent them being affected by the Fipronil pesticide. See the ‘Native Bees’ section in: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/emergencies/biosecurity/current-situation/varroa-mite-emergency-response/varroa-frequently-asked-questions
In fact, the DPI has advised beekeepers who manage native stingless bees to consider removing their hives from the Red Zones: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/emergencies/biosecurity/current-situation/varroa-mite-emergency-response/wild-european-honey-bee-management
If you own or manage a boxed hive or portable log nest of Australian native stingless bees within one of the Red Zones, you need to make a choice. You could:
(1). Leave your native stingless bees where they are in the Red Zone.
Your bees could come into contact with the toxic pesticide, Fipronil, in a DPI baiting station or in a poisoned nest of feral European honeybees. The Fipronil in the Red Zones may continue to be active for up to three years1. If your stingless bees do collect some Fipronil pesticide, your colony may die.
(2). Move your native stingless bees, yourself, to the property of a friend or relative outside the Red Zones.
You will maintain control of your hive and will be able to move it or work with it whenever you like. Read ANBA’s tips on how to move your stingless bees. Make sure that the climate of your new site is favourable for stingless bees. For instance, if you are in the Newcastle region, you could move your hives to a northern coastal area, southwards to Sydney / the Illawarra, but not to areas further west than the Hunter Region.
(3). Accept the ANBA’s offer of assistance, if you do not have a safe place to take your bees.
ANBA could foster your bees for you on a property outside the Red Zones – see details below.
ANBA OFFER OF ASSISTANCE FOR HIVES OF AUSTRALIAN STINGLESS BEES IN RED ZONES
ANBA is co-ordinating a rescue effort for hives of stingless bees which are in the Red Zones. ANBA is offering to assist you if you wish to move your stingless bees out of a Red Zone but you do not have a safe place where you can take your bees.
Your stingless bees would be set up on a foster property, approved by the ANBA. Your bees would be cared for there by ANBA volunteers, for as long as the risk of Fipronil poisoning persists within the Red Zones.
PROS AND CONS OF ACCEPTING THE ANBA’S OFFER OF ASSISTANCE
Benefits of accepting the ANBA offer
- Your stingless bees will be taken out of the Red Zones where they may come in contact the toxic pesticide, Fipronil, used in the DPI baiting program ².
- ANBA volunteers will set up your stingless bees on a foster property that has been chosen by the ANBA because it is as safe and pesticide-free as possible. Your hive or nest will be mounted on a platform and will be given a waterproof cover to protect it from the rain (you will be charged $50 per colony to cover its set up costs).
- Your stingless bees will be cared for by ANBA volunteers throughout the period when there is a risk of Fipronil poisoning within the Red Zones.
Risks and drawbacks of accepting the ANBA offer
- ANBA volunteers and the owners of the foster properties will strive to take care of your stingless bees. However, in spite of this, it is still possible that your colony may die or your hive may be stolen while it is being fostered.
- You will need to sign an agreement stating that you will not hold the ANBA, its volunteers or the owners of the foster properties liable in the event that your stingless bees die or are stolen. View a copy of this agreement letter here
- You will not be permitted to split your hive or harvest honey from it during the period that it is being fostered. Other Terms and Conditions
HOW TO ACCEPT THE ANBA’S OFFER OF ASSISTANCE
(1). Ensure that your hive box or log is in good condition and your stingless bee colony is strong and healthy. Otherwise, your colony may not be accepted.
(2). Request assistance for your stingless bees, or express your interest in this offer, by contacting the ANBA Varroa Response Program team:
(3). Download and sign the letter of agreement protecting ANBA, its volunteers and the owners of the foster properties from liability, in the event that your stingless bees die or are stolen while they are being fostered.
(4). Download and sign the Terms and Conditions form for the ANBA Varroa Mite Eradication Response program.
(5). Read this guide on how to prepare your stingless bees for transport. Bring your stingless bees, on an agreed date, to a nominated collection point that will be outside of the Red Zone areas. Pay the fee covering the cost to set up your hive (more information coming soon). Your stingless bees will be fully documented by ANBA volunteers, then they will be taken to a foster property.
NATURAL COLONIES OR POPULATIONS OF NATIVE BEES IN THE RED ZONES
Unfortunately, due to the length of time that the baiting program will run, there is no practical way that the ANBA can help you protect native bees in the bushland from Fipronil poisoning. This includes stingless bees that are nesting inside standing trees, and populations of semi-social and solitary native bees.
If you know of a natural stingless bee nest in a tree in a Red Zone, read this guide to see if there is anything you can do, yourself, to help the nest
If you notice that a natural nest of stingless bees in a Red Zone appears to have been poisoned, please report this to the DPI by phoning the DPI Pest Hotline: 1800 084 881.
- Taylor MA et. al. (2007) Destroying managed and feral honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies to eradicate honey bee pests, New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science, 35:3, 313-323, DOI: 10.1080/01140670709510197
- Koetz A and Hyatt S (2013) Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) remote nest treatment. Asian honey bee Transition to Management Program. Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Especially see summary point 3 on page 4, page 16, and the ‘Off-target species’ section on pages 17-18. https://www.planthealthaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Asian-honey-bee-remote-nest-treatment-report.pdf