Australian beekeepers have had a series of disasters and near disasters to contend with for the past several years, from bushfires to drought to floods, as well as loss of habitat and forests, diseases and other problems.
Now it appears there may be another threat on the horizon. The world’s smallest honeybees, dwarf honeybees, Apis florea and Apis andreniformis, that are native to tropical and subtropical Southeast Asia, may have entered the country.
There are seven known species of Apis honeybees, and A. andreniformis was the fifth honeybee species to be described. Dwarf honeybees have a thick red/orange or black thorax, and abdominal banding that is alternatively white and dark brown. Their wing color is clear with dark brown veins. They only grow to be 10mm long, but are extremely aggressive, invasive, and host several parasitic mite species.
This 1:05-minute video by Singapore Geographic shows how dwarf honeybees protect their nest during rain:
Until recently, Apis andreniformis was considered to be part of the species Apis florea but recent discovery of distinct differences has caused them to be considered sister species.
The Varroa mite is the number one threat to Australian honeybees. Although these two species of dwarf honeybees do not carry Varroa mites, they do carry Tropilaelaps and Euvarroa mites. These are serious threats to European honeybees.
These social bees live in colonies that house around 3,000 insects and they are prone to swarming. This makes them a major threat to the Australian environment.
A nest of dwarf honeybees was recently discovered on a ship docked in Melbourne, without a queen. It had previously docked in Port Kembla, according to Dr. Satendra Kumar, NSW Department of Primary Industries Chief Plant Protection Officer. The fact the queen was missing means there is a small chance a queen and swarm left the ship during the journey, according to Dr. Kumar.
Since the world’s smallest honeybee could pose a great threat to the apiary industry and environment, beekeepers have been urged to be watchful for the invasive dwarf honeybee nests, especially in the vicinity of Port Kembla and Wollongong. Dwarf honeybee nests can be hard to find since they typically form on branches surrounded by foliage.
Locals in the Illawarra have been urged to be on alert for these nests. If locals suspect seeing dwarf honeybees or a nest, please report it to NSW DPI immediately so they can investigate and take appropriate action if necessary.