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New South Wales beekeepers have been given a brief respite in their desperate fight to contain a bee-killing parasite, but apiarists in Queensland will be watching on nervously as a new red zone close to the border has been imposed.

With the latest discovery of varroa mite in Narrabri, 400 kilometres north of Newcastle, where the tiny parasite was first detected on June 22, the situation appeared immediately bleak.

But worst-case fears the mite spread organically to the state’s north have been allayed, at least for now – though the situation is precarious and fast-moving.

NSW beekeepers are on the front line of Australia's fight to stop varroa mite spreading across the country.
NSW beekeepers are on the front line of Australia’s fight to stop varroa mite spreading across the country. (SMH / Rick Stevens)

Last night the NSW Department of Primary Industries confirmed varroa found in hives in Narrabri was epidemiologically linked to known cases in the Newcastle area.

Dr Chris Anderson, a protection officer from the department, said “close epidemiological links” in all cases so far meant the state was in a good position to stop a full-blown varroa outbreak with far-reaching consequences.

“The honeybee beehives at this property had been stored for a number of months within proximity to an existing infested premise in the Newcastle area before recently being moved to Narrabri,” Anderson said.

Officials rapidly set up a new emergency zone around the property, which lies around 150 kilometres south of the NSW-Queensland border.

The discovery, easily the furthest north since efforts to stop and eradicate varroa began, takes known infestations in the state to 19.

Hives inside a 10km-radius red zone are destroyed, while other containment zones widening to 50km trigger other government restrictions.

Beekeepers in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia are potentially at risk if NSW cannot stop the spread.

An outbreak of varroa mite, which can cripple a bee’s ability to fly, gather food, pollinate or emerge from their cell to be born, will threaten Australia’s $70m bee industry.

A new emergency zone has been set up around the property in Narrabri, in the north of NSW.
A new emergency zone has been set up around the property in Narrabri, in the north of NSW. (NSW DPI)

Because of the incestuous nature of varroa, a solitary bee carrying a single mite can lead to a mass outbreak.

The first egg laid is always male, and subsequent eggs female.

Once the eggs hatch, the male mates with the females.

If varroa spreads, it cannot be eradicated.

Are you a beekeeper affected by varroa? Contact me: [email protected]

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