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Bird barf busts bad bees

News release | 13-Aug-2018

Regurgitated food from Townsville’s Rainbow Bee-eaters is helping Biosecurity Queensland eradicate varroa mite, a pest that threatens the Australian bee industry.

Regurgitated food from Townsville’s Rainbow Bee-eaters is helping Biosecurity Queensland eradicate varroa mite, a pest that threatens the Australian bee industry.

Biosecurity Queensland’s National Varroa Mite Eradication Program Leader Stephen Anderson said the Rainbow Bee-eater’s diet was part of a variety of surveillance methods used in the program to detect Asian honey bees.

“Rainbow Bee-eaters love to eat bees but are unable to digest their wings which are later regurgitated as a pellet,” Mr Anderson said.

“Since June 2016, Biosecurity Queensland officers have collected more than 40,000 pellets which were subsequently analysed in a laboratory.

“As the pellets can contain hundreds of bees, the analysis gives a valuable indication of the type of bees in the surrounding area.”

Mr Anderson said although no Asian honey bee wings had been detected in the regurgitated pellets for the past two years, the onset of warmer and wetter weather will lead to increased bee activity and bee swarms.

“Bee keepers and Townsville residents should keep an eye out for Rainbow Bee-eaters’ roosts and Asian honey bee nests and report them to Biosecurity Queensland so that they can be tested for varroa mites,” Mr Anderson said.

“If the roosts can be located, pellets can be collected from the ground under them and tested for the presence of Asian honey bees which are about 10 millimetres long and a little smaller than the European honey bee.

“Night-time roosting sites of the distinctive Rainbow Bee-eaters can be found shortly before dusk as they congregate in large numbers before settling in for the night.

“Day-time roosts are usually small trees with dead branches in open areas and several Bee-eaters will be seen near these trees throughout the day.”

Mr Anderson said varroa mites had the potential to disrupt honey production and pollination services and cause serious economic damage to Australia’s agricultural industries.

“Biosecurity Queensland began an eradication program after Asian honey bees infested with varroa mites were first detected at the Port of Townsville in June 2016,” Mr Anderson said.

“It has been more than two years since the last varroa mite detection and Remembrance Day this year will mark two years since the last detection of Asian honey bee so we are well on the way to successfully eradicating varroa mites from the Townsville area.

“Bee keepers and the public can help eradicate varroa mites by either advising Biosecurity Queensland of any swarms or providing a sample of about 300 bees for testing.

“Additionally, as Asian and European honey bees can aid in the spread of varroa mites, anyone planning a trip can do their bit to avoid spreading varroa mite by checking their cars, caravans, boats and trailers to make sure honey bees are not hitching a ride.”

If you see Bee-eater roosting activity, please call Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 or email varroa@daf.qld.gov.au .

Media contact: Brad Muir, 07 3087 8600