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  • 30 Apr 2024 9:15 AM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    The BSSA produces a bi-monthly magazine, Buzzword. Download edition 121 here.

  • 21 Mar 2024 2:51 PM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Authored by: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) - WA

    Red dwarf honey bee was first detected in March 2023 on the Burrup Peninsula, near Karratha.

    The bee poses a significant threat to local European honey bees and is known to be a vector for numerous exotic bee pests, including brood diseases, mites and bee viruses.

    DPIRD is leading the biosecurity response to eradicate red dwarf honey bee with assistance from the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Northern Territory Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.

    A Quarantine Area remains in place for the Burrup Peninsula and to date 25 red dwarf honey bee active colonies, one swarm and 13 abandoned nests have been located and destroyed.

    DPIRD plant biosecurity project manager David Cousins said the drones were being trialled as some areas on the Burrup Peninsula were difficult to access by on-ground surveillance teams.

    “The drones will enable us to cover the hard to reach areas to boost surveillance efforts and check for any suspect bee colonies,” Mr Cousins said.

    “We are trialling two different types of drones – one to identify water sources and map the terrain and vegetation and the other to use thermal imaging to help find nests in hard to access areas.

    “As the bees are attracted to water, knowing where the fresh water sources are will help us to target surveillance to these areas.

    “Mapping the terrain will provide a better picture of areas that may be difficult to access by foot.”

    Mr Cousins said red dwarf honey bees were social bees and usually lived in small colonies.

    “They exhibit swarm behaviour and are known to abandon their colony and relocate to a new site if conditions become unfavourable or are disturbed,” he said.

    “To help track any bees that may have left a colony, new lures are also being trialled including egg yolk and sucrose syrup, water array, vane traps, bait stations and bee lining.

    “The lures will be placed in areas of known red dwarf honey bee activity to identify which ones are most effective.”

    Beekeepers with hives, equipment or those who have collected swarms on the peninsula are reminded they are not permitted to move them outside the Quarantine Area to prevent the pest from spreading.

    Red dwarf honey bees are considerably smaller than European honey bees, just seven to 10 millimetres in length, with a red-brown abdomen and black and white bands.

  • 19 Mar 2024 10:51 AM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Authored by: Australian Government, Department of Agriculture,  Fisheries and Forestry.

    In response to the recent varroa mite outbreak, the Catalysing Australia’s Biosecurity (CAB) initiative is leading a cutting-edge partnership between the Australian Capital Territory Government, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, University of Canberra and CSIRO, to detect varroa mites – a danger to honeybees across the globe.

    A new low-cost technology, BeeRight, has been shown to detect varroa mites in beehives in New Zealand and could be the solution to slowing the spread of this destructive pest.

    If varroa mites establish in Australia’s honeybee population, pollination activities would be significantly reduced, posing an extreme risk to Australia’s food security.

    BeeRight technology is an Internet of Things solution that can be set up in any hive without damaging the hive or bothering the bees. The technology has the potential to monitor for:

    • beehive activity
    • colony strength
    • queen status
    • productivity
    • swarming status
    • hive location
    • presence of disease
    • when to treat hives.

    Two pilot trials will take place in Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales from 1 April to 7 June 2024. The trials will collect data from hobbyist and commercial beekeepers, putting the BeeRight technology and environmental DNA (eDNA) to the test. Data collected from the sites will be analysed by a team of data scientists and entomologists to determine if BeeRight and eDNA can detect varroa.

    If successful, we’ll be one step closer to slowing the spread of varroa in Australia and reducing the risk of losing hives due to the virus.

    We’ll share more updates soon on this novel technology. For more information email innovationpilots@aff.gov.au

  • 11 Mar 2024 10:40 AM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Author: Claire Fenwicke, Riotact

    Canberrans have been chosen to take part in a trial which is aiming to change the way diseases are detected in bee hives.

    As the apiary industry faces threats from varroa mite, a new technology is being trialled which would turn any hive into a self-monitoring smart hive.

    Joel Kuperholz is the CEO and co-founder of Vimana Tech, which has developed the ‘BeeRight’ system.

    It’s designed to be low-cost and scalable, and can let beekeepers know if their hives are healthy and active, how their queens are faring, honey levels, and if there are any biosecurity concerns or diseases present – without having to pull the hive apart.

    “In order to save the bees, we believed that we had to help save the beekeeper,” Mr Kuperholz said.

    “In order to do that, it means helping beekeepers manage more hives more efficiently … [This technology means] instead of doing ad hoc inspections and drive out to manually inspect that hive … you can actually monitor it and get day-by-day information.”


    One part of the device slips onto the top of the hive, while the smart component is run by solar power and sits on the outside.

    Mr Kuperholz said while this technology was first designed to help commercial beekeepers manage their hives more efficiently, it’s hoped this will be accessible to hobbyists and private hive owners as well.

    “We have the beekeeper at the forefront of our mind, but hobbyists are really important as well. They might not have the wealth of experience that a lot of commercial operators have and they may want a little bit of help managing their hive,” he said.

    “As we went on that journey … we were able to realise this product can help in the management of varroa going forward.” 

    Australia is no longer trying to eradicate varroa mite, which arrived on our shores in June 2022.

    A management plan has been approved with varroa development officers (VDOs) to work directly with beekeepers over the next 24 months.

    Beekeepers have different opinions about how they want to treat their hives and which varroa mite detection methods they’d like to use. Most methods kill about one per cent of the bees each time.

    At a government monitoring level, there are also questions about how much self-assessed inspections can be trusted.

    Mr Kuperholz hoped this technology would provide a level of confidence and trust for both parties.

    “This breaks norms that have existed for 30-, 40-plus years. Reading academic papers from the 70s, 80s, 90s, they all touch on alcohol washes and that’s still the known thing [to test for diseases],” he said.

    “In the 70s we didn’t even have seatbelts in cars, so innovation and need for increasing safety standards exist so much in our world, and it’s really important we take that … into agriculture.”

    It could also bring more reassurance to ‘pollinator rentals’ as hives are moved across the country to pollinate crops, such as almond trees.

    The technology’s trial has been picked up by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

    The ACT will be used as the trial’s ‘clean’ site, as it’s known to be varroa mite free. Another pilot will be run in Kempsey in northern NSW, which is known to have the disease.

    Known varroa mite detection methods and their detection rates – such as alcohol washes, sugar shakes and sticky mats – will be compared against this data.

    Beekeepers who take part in the trial will be expected to take environmental DNA (eDNA) samples and submit them as part of the 10-week trial.

    The University of Canberra is also on board to process the data, before the final report is written by scientists with the CSIRO assessing BeeRight’s potential to detect varroa mite.

    ACT Biosecurity Coordinator Kirsten Tasker said her team would help install the devices and chase up the collection of samples in Canberra.

    She also reassured the community the Territory was protected against varroa mite.

    “We are still testing by other means as well, so our beekeepers are still doing alcohol washes and sugar shakes to prove freedom from varroa for the time being,” Ms Tasker said.

    The report is expected later this year. 

  • 7 Mar 2024 11:11 AM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Author: Nilima Marshall, Science Reporter

    Bumblebees can teach each other to solve complex puzzles that are too difficult to learn alone through trial and error, scientists have found.

    Experiments have shown the insects are able to learn a complicated puzzle box task from their peers to gain access to a sugar reward.

    But when there was no help involved, individual bees struggled to complete the puzzle from scratch.

    The researchers said their study, published in the journal Nature, shows bees can learn complex tasks through social interaction, challenging the long-held view that this trait is unique to humans.

    To carry out the study, the scientists set up a two-step puzzle box task where the bees first had to learn how to move an obstacle before operating a rotating lid that could be opened to access a sugar solution.

    The scientists trained “demonstrator” bees to complete the task, with a temporary reward at the first step.

    Untrained bees learned to open the two-step box from the demonstrators without needing a reward after the first step.

    However, when there were no demonstrators to show how it was done, the bees failed to solve the puzzle independently through trial and error.

    Lead author Dr Alice Bridges said: “This is an extremely difficult task for bees.

    “They had to learn two steps to get the reward, with the first behaviour in the sequence being unrewarded.

    “We initially needed to train demonstrator bees with a temporary reward included there, highlighting the complexity.

    “Yet other bees learned the whole sequence from social observation of these trained bees, even without ever experiencing the first step’s reward.

    “But when we let other bees attempt to open the box without a trained bee to demonstrate the solution, they didn’t manage to open any at all.”

    The team said their work “opens exciting possibilities” for understanding how cumulative culture evolved.

    Cumulative culture refers to the gradual accumulation of knowledge and skills over generations, allowing for refinement of ideas, technologies, and practices though collective intelligence.

    Lars Chittka, professor of sensory and behavioural ecology at Queen Mary University of London, said: “This challenges the traditional view that only humans can socially learn complex behaviour beyond individual learning.

    “It raises the fascinating possibility that many of the most remarkable accomplishments of the social insects, like the nesting architectures of bees and wasps or the agricultural habits of aphid- and fungus-farming ants, may have initially spread by copying of clever innovators, before they eventually became part of the species-specific behaviour repertoires.”

    Meanwhile, another study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, has shown that chimpanzees can learn a new skill by observing each other.

    Scientists from the Netherlands and Belgium trained a chimpanzee to solve a puzzle box that required three steps to open to gain a food reward, and it was then able to pass on the knowledge to 14 others, among a cohort of 66.

  • 27 Feb 2024 10:23 AM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Author: Alexander Mikheyev, Australian National University

    A tiny foe threatens Australian beekeepers’ livelihood, our food supply and the national economy. First detected in New South Wales in 2022, the Varroa mite is now established in Australia.

    The parasitic mite, which feeds on honey bees and transmits bee viruses, has since spread across New South Wales.

    It is expected to kill virtually all unmanaged honey bees living in the bush (also known as “feral” honey bees), which provide ecosystem-wide pollination. Honey bees managed by beekeepers will survive only with constant and costly use of pesticides.

    As the last holdout against Varroa, Australia has a key advantage – we can still take action that was impossible elsewhere. We know Varroa-resistant bees would be the silver bullet. Despite decades of research, no fully resistant strains exist, largely because the genetics of Varroa resistance are complex and remain poorly understood.

    A recently released national management plan places a heavy focus on beekeeper education, aiming to transition the industry to self-management in two years. This leaves research gaps that need to be urgently filled – and we can all work together to help tackle these.

    Unlocking the genetic key to resistance

    Without human intervention, Varroa kills around 95% of the honey bees it infects, but the survivors can evolve resistance. However, losing almost all bees would decimate Australia’s agriculture.

    Our feral honey bees will have no choice but to evolve resistance, as they have in other countries. However, feral honey bees are not suited for beekeeping as they are too aggressive, don’t stay with the hive and don’t produce enough honey.

    In principle, we could breed for a combination of feral resistance and domestic docility. But figuring out the genetics of how feral bees resist Varroa has been a challenge. As most bees exposed to the parasite will die, the survivors will be genetically different.

    Some of these differences will be due to natural selection, but most will be due to chance. Identifying the genes responsible for resistance in this scenario is difficult. The best way to find them is to measure genetic changes before and after Varroa infestation. But to do that, we need bee populations largely unaffected by Varroa.

    This is where our unique Australian opportunity comes in. We have a small and vanishing window to collect bees before the inevitable rapid spread of the mites, and the mass die-offs, occur.


    We are collecting information… and bees

    My lab at the Australian National University’s Research School of Biology has started collecting data on feral bee populations around New South Wales to identify pre-Varroa genetic diversity.

    We will also monitor changes in bee population size and the spread of viruses and mites.

    The most efficient way to collect bees is to go to a local clearing, such as a sports oval surrounded by forest. Unbeknownst to the cricket players, honey bee males (that is, drones) congregate at these sites by the thousands on sunny afternoons looking for mates.

    You can lure them with some queen pheromone suspended from a balloon, and sweep them up with a butterfly net. Bee drones have no stinger and only come out for a couple of hours when the weather is fantastic, making collecting them literally a walk in the park, suitable for nature enthusiasts of all ages.

    You can help this effort by collecting some drones in your local area – this would save us time and carbon emissions from driving all over the country. We will provide pheromone lures, instructions, and materials for sending the bees back via mail. By sacrificing a few drones for the research now, we might save millions of bees in the future.

    If you can spare just a couple of summer afternoons, this would give two timepoints at your location, and we can monitor any changes as the Varroa infestation progresses. More information can be found on our website.

    Apart from our project, there are also other urgent research questions. For example, how will native forests respond to the loss of their dominant pollinators? Will honey bee viruses spread into other insects?

    Work on these and other projects also requires pre-Varroa data. Unfortunately, Varroa falls through our research infrastructure net. Most of Australia’s agricultural funding is industry-led, however, the beekeeping industry is small and lacks the resources to tackle Varroa research while also reeling from its impacts.

    Other industries that rely on honey bees for pollination, including most fruit, nut and berry growers, have diverse research needs and are one step removed from the actual problem.

    Together, we can take action to save Australia’s honey bees and assure security for our key pollinators.



  • 26 Feb 2024 10:30 AM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Author: Megan Hughes, ABC Rural

    Biosecurity Queensland is investigating how a parasitic mite related to the Varroa destructor mite, which has caused devastation in the bee and honey industry across New South Wales and Victoria, could have arrived at the Port of Brisbane.

    A single individual of Varroa jacobsoni was found during a routine inspection of a sentinel hive at the port.

    Like Varroa destructor, jacobsoni can cause colony losses.

    A spokesperson for Biosecurity Queensland said tracing was underway to determine if the pest had spread beyond the port.

    "Surveillance will be conducted in conjunction with the Queensland bee industry and the Australian government," they said.

    Varroa jacobsoni has been detected in Queensland before.

    It was first found in the Port of Townsville in 2016, but after years of work was declared eradicated in 2021.

    This is the first new incursion since the National Management Group (NMG) for the varroa response shifted their focus from eradication to management as a Varroa mite plan was implemented.

    Movement restrictions

    While Varroa jacobsoni is a different species to the pest plaguing the southern states, it could become a significant threat to beekeepers.

    Why are NSW's bees in lockdown?

    Varroa mite could impact more than your honey toast. The parasite threatening bee populations agricultural industries rely on.

    While the mite's natural host is the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana), researchers from the CSIRO have observed it reproducing on European honeybees (Apis mellifera) — the species favoured in commercial honey production — in Papua New Guinea.

    Biosecurity Queensland is expected to issue movement restrictions for hives in the detection area to prevent further spread.

    "The movement restrictions will apply to all beekeepers who have hives in or have had hives in the surrounding localities to the Port of Brisbane within the last 90 days," the Biosecurity Queensland spokesperson said.

    Restrictions will include the movement of bees, bee hives, and bee products including honey and used beekeeping equipment.

    Beekeepers must also notify Biosecurity Queensland of any hive movements in or out of the movement control area or any bees bought or sold in the past 90 days.


  • 23 Feb 2024 10:37 AM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Author: Clarence Slocklee Gardening Australia, ABC

    Blue is a rare colour in nature, but there are some spectacular blue Aussie flowers that add interest to any garden; Clarence suggests a few.

    Blue wildflowers in the bush really stand out – partly because humans have an affinity to blue but also because blue is one of nature’s rarest colours – only 10% of flowering plants have blue flowers and almost none have blue leaves.


    Blue is a hard colour to produce. To look blue, plants use red pigments, called anthocyanins, whose appearance is changed by acidity levels to appear red, purple or blue. That’s how you can alter the colour of a hydrangea flower from red to blue by changing the acidity of the soil.

    So why bother? Because bees are drawn to blue flowers, so being blue increases a flower’s chance of being pollinated.

    Scaevolas or Fan Flowers

    Fantastic performers, blooming from spring to autumn, spilling over pots and hanging baskets, or growing as a groundcover in gardens. They don’t need deadheading, they attract bees and butterflies, and have few pests and diseases. They like a sunny spot and good drainage, but can handle dry conditions, light frosts or sea winds. Up to 15-20cm high, they can form wide mats, so give them some space.

    Lechenaultias

    Famous for their jewel-like, intense colours, and the blue form - Lechenaultia biloba – is a standout. Native to WA, they need a sunny spot with excellent drainage so are best in a container if you’re not on sand. They form a mound to 30cm tall and 30-50cm wide and can be short lived, but are relatively easy to propagate, so try taking cuttings to replace your plant.

    Isotoma

    Found in well-drained granitic soils across the Eastern states, Isotoma axillaris is tougher than its delicate look suggests. They like full sun and will reward with long-lasting flowers from spring through to autumn.

    Dampiera

    In the same family as Lechenaultia [Goodeniaceae], dampieras come in a range of colours and forms but most have blue flowers. Dampiera trigona forms a loose mound to 30cm high and is great in containers, or where it can mingle with other plants, forming superb colour combinations. They like sun or light shade, well-drained soil and a warm spot. The bees and butterflies love them.

    Dianellas

    The strappy flax-lilies nearly all have blue flowers, and many are followed by blue berries, so you get a double dose of blue. ‘Lucia’ is a cultivar of Dianella caerula, which comes from the Latin for ‘dark blue’ so that’s a giveaway about its colour. Growing 30-40cm high and spreading to clumps about 50cm wide, they’re great for nature strips, borders or tough spots because they take sun or part shade and tolerate dry and frost, sand to clay.

    Blue was preserved for royalty and gods, but with these plants you can enjoy some heavenly blue in your garden every day.

    Original article and video can be found here.

  • 4 Dec 2023 2:23 PM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Canoelands orchard farmer John Christie was fearing the worst. In 2022 the deadly bee parasite varroa mite had penetrated Australia’s borders at Newcastle on the NSW central coast. Just months later, in July 2023 at Canoelands, Christie’s beloved bees had been doused in petrol and killed by government officials – without even testing for the presence of the mite. It was part of a rash NSW government eradication program, to eliminate the deadly mite from Australia, something no other country had ever achieved once it had arrived.

    As the mite spread across NSW, tens of millions of bees were destroyed and businesses were lost until eventually, the government conceded the plan was a failure. In Australia, as in every other country infested with the mite, it became abundantly clear the mite needed to be managed.

    Like so many other farmers, Christie credited the success of his beautiful 100 year old family farm at Canoelands to the presence of his bees – with ten beehives, diligently pollinating until the end of each spring each year. But as the government and industry bodies steadfastly stuck to the eradication strategy, pleas for an alternate strategy by Christie and other farmers and beekeepers to manage the infestation fell on deaf ears.

    For generations, Christie’s Canoelands Orchards has been a cornerstone of the Hawkesbury region, supplying Sydney with fresh stone fruit, citrus fruit, apples and berries. With encroaching development, many city fringe farmers haven’t survived. Christie’s family farm is one of the last in the north west rim.

    Part of the key to the success of his operation has been the presence of his beehives. However, on that Monday night in July, the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) left Christie devastated. His daughter-in-law Christie told the Hawkesbury Post at the time “Our bees are being killed. Our hearts are broken!! There is no sign of the mite in our hives. ….Although we understand the threat and the requirement for drastic action, if more was done to ensure that this didn’t spread in the first place we would not be in this position. This is just so sad,” she said.

    Spring has now come and almost gone. It’s been an unusual season Christie says. The high temperatures and dry early season. “It’s been a very different season. It’s been a very early fruit picking season. Fruit that we would not have picked until next year we are picking now,” he says.

    All up he reckons the crop is 30 %down. Whether that is the reduction in bees or seasonal conditions, most likely a mix of both – it’s hard to tell. The outcome has been better than he expected. “There were quite a lot of bees they didn’t kill. They killed all the bees from people that were registered and that had hives, but not all the hives were registered, and there were quite a lot, they didn’t bait the stations.

    “There are bees around, we know there are bees around, it’s surprising,” Christie said.

    For a man who has given his life to his orchard and bees, the experience has been bruising. With a weariness in his voice Christie is however still looking to the future.

    “I pretty much haven’t got over it yet. I haven’t got any more bees back. I’ll get myself into gear one day but right now I’m cracking on. I’ve lost a bit of heart over it. So I think I’ve got to toughen up and go and get some more bees,” he said.

    “As far as the future goes, yeah, I don’t know. There are a lot of other pollinators out there aside from bees. It’s not the end all, here.”

  • 23 Nov 2023 7:42 PM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    The Department of Primary Industries and Regions together with the Beekeepers' Society of South Australia (BSSA) and the South Australian Apiarist Association (SAAA) are holding a varroa mite information session covering:

    • National Varroa Response Transition to Management plan
    • Management of varroa mite using IPM principles
    • Discussion around South Australia's preparations regarding varroa mite.

    The meeting will be held on Sunday the 26th of November from 3pm to 5.30pm at the Bridgeport Hotel in Murray Bride. You can register to attend in person or online session for free at eventbrite.com


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