Danger From a New Enemy

Comparing the larger European bee with the Asian beeAdd new comment · Email this page

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Asian bee will devastate Australia’s honeybees

Friday, 4 March 2011

by Becky Crew

Cosmos Online

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Asian honeybees (right) might be much smaller than European honeybees (left), but they are much quicker, and can often get past the European bees’ guards to rob their hoards.

Credit: Paul Zbrowski/Queensland Government

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SYDNEY: Scientists have predicted the spread of a wild and highly invasive species of bee across Australia, and being a natural carrier of the deadly varroa mite, will likely devastate current populations of farmed honeybees.

The Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) was first identified in the north-eastern city of Cairns in 2007, after having spread from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands. According to experts at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), these bees are impossible to farm and are prone to robbing farmed honeybees of their hoards and building nests in houses and letterboxes.

“They’re a bit like a weed,” said Denis Anderson from the CSIRO, a principle research scientist specialising in bee pathology. “From what we’ve seen of the Asian bee so far, it can adapt to cold and tropical environments, it can control the temperature of its nest and is social. So it looks like it will go all over Australia,”

Easily adapts to different environments

In the 1970’s, the Indonesians introduced the Asian honeybee to the western half of Papua New Guinea, and since then has gone wild and invasive, spreading over the whole countryside by 1995.

In 2003 it was picked up in the Solomon Islands. Since then it has made its way here. “As far as we’re aware, no modelling has been done yet on where it would spread to in Australia,” said Anderson.

“But the Asian bee is a very closely related species to the European bee, which has adapted to environments all over Australia, and is found from Northern Europe right into the tropics. Based on where it has spread in Papua New Guinea – through its highlands, which are very cold, to the temperate areas and down on the coast where it is very tropical – they can adapt to many different environments,” he said.

Will actively rob farmed honeybees

Not only are these bees likely to spread across Australia, they will actively attack the colonies of farmed European honeybees (Apis mellifera), which are vital to the farming industry due to their use in planned pollination of crops.

“They really rob the European bee,” said Anderson. “It arrived on one island of the Solomon Islands which had 2,000 hived European colonies in boxes. Within five years, the Asian bees had robbed them all.”

“The Asian bees are smaller and quicker, they can avoid European guard bees, fill up on honey and keep doing it and doing it until the colony peters out. Beekeepers will have to modify their equipment to keep them out, and it’ll coast AU$15 a box to put these modifications in,” Anderson explained.

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