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Friday, 8 January 2010

Disturbing spread of invasive bees

January 8, 2010 - 6:13AM

A bee that has caused untold harm overseas is causing grave concern after it was found on the rich Atherton Tableland west of Cairns in far north Queensland.

Two swarms of Asian honey bees have been located on the Tableland, the latest near Lake Eacham.

It is not the bees themselves that are causing great concern, but the fact they can host the varroa mite.

These mites attack European honey bees and the hives sicken and eventually die.

No country has yet been able to eradicate these honey bees or the mites once they've become established.

Quarantine authorities managed to contain and destroy an incursion of Asian honey bees into Darwin in 1998.

Asian honey bees were first detected at the port of Cairns in May, 2007 and while none of the 41 colonies located and destroyed thus far have carried the mite, it may only be a matter of time before varroa mites invade the continent.

Australia is considered the last bastion against the mite which has devastated commercial honey production in the United States and Papua New Guinea.

Biosecurity Queensland's Asian honey bee eradication co-ordinator Charlotte Greer said while Cairns was home to few bee hives, there were many on the Atherton Tableland, adding to the risk the exotic bees could bring.

While the risk from the varroa mite to Australia's $75 million honey and beeswax industry is obvious, it pales into insignificance against bees' value in pollinating plants, estimated to be between $4 billion and $6 billion, according to a House of Representatives report.

Ms Greer said authorities were nonplussed that swarms were appearing on the Atherton Tableland up to 50 kilometres from the coastal areas around Cairns.

A swarm was found near Mareeba in August and another was spotted by an alert local at Lake Eacham this week.

"It's so far away from everything, that's the shock to us," Ms Greer said.

"We're just scratching our heads as to how the bloody hell it got there, but we're very keen to find out."

She said an "uninformed hobbyist" may have inadvertently moved the bees or a swarm may have escaped from a shipping container during transport.

Far north Queenslanders are being asked to check their properties for signs of the invaders.

(Submitted by Matt Cardier)

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