Bee health

Honey bees and wild bees play an important role in ecosystems and, together with other insects, are indispensable for the pollination of flowering plants and thus for biodiversity and food security. Only a healthy, intact bee colony can fulfil these tasks. Our goal is to sustainably safeguard the honey bee population in Austria. Unlike other farm animals, honey bees are free-flying and choose their food independently from the surrounding nature. Thus, honey bees and their health are in constant interaction with the environment and its use by humans (e.g. the type of land management, the use of pesticides and biocides, treated seeds and genetically modified organisms). Climate change and the globalised economy pose further challenges for bees and beekeeping, as they change habitats and living conditions and open the door to a global spread of pathogens, parasites and pests that are dangerous to bees. This also applies to bumble bees and solitary bees, which, together with honey bees and other flower-visiting insects, make an indispensable contribution to the biodiversity of the animal and plant world in the ecosystem through their pollination activities and contribute to food security.

When it comes to bee and colony losses, scientists agree that they are influenced by many factors. Among other things, the habitat of the bees, the interaction with agriculture, beekeeping and apiculture, the occurrence of pathogens and proper disease control play a role.

Our bee science and bee protection department is happy to answer any questions you may have on the topics of bee health and bee protection as well as other bee-related concerns.

Bee Diseases & Pests

Bee diseases

Various bee diseases and pests can become a problem for bee colonies and cause great damage to them. Early detection and correct diagnosis of bee diseases is therefore crucial. In our pathogen database you will find extensive information on the various pathogens and pests of the honey bee. Here you can filter on the animal species "honey bee".

An overview of the diagnosis of various bee diseases and pests can be found on our Bee Disease Diagnosis Help page.

The notification requirement according to EU Animal Health Law VO (EU) 2016/429 (AHL = Animal Health Law) and Delegated Regulation 2018/1629 applies to:

  • American foulbrood
  • Infestation with Varroa spp. (varroosis)
  • Infestation with Aethina tumida (small hive beetle)
  • Infestation with Tropilaelaps spp.

Since the Bee Diseases Act (BGBl. 290/1988) is also still valid until it is withdrawn, the obligation to notify also applies to the following constellations:

  • Varroosis in case of epidemic occurrence;
  • any suspicion of such diseases (see above)
  • any imminent or actual death of at least 30% of the colonies of an apiary.

The notification is to be made immediately to the competent authority (district administration or magistrate). The official veterinarian orders the sampling by a bee expert or carries it out himself, enters the data into the Veterinary Information System (VIS) and forwards the sample to the inspection body.

American foulbrood

American foulbrood is a serious disease of the honey bee that leads to the death of the bee brood. It is caused by the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae and transmitted by the highly contagious permanent forms (spores) of the bacterium. Due to the high infectivity and severity of the disease, notification is mandatory throughout the EU. In the event of an outbreak of American foulbrood, all apiaries within a radius of 3 km are inspected and control measures are to be carried out in apiaries with diseased colonies in order to eliminate the pathogen.

American foulbrood is responsible for a large proportion of the officially recorded cases of animal disease in Austria. To prevent an outbreak of the disease, hygiene measures as well as examinations for the early detection of a possible spore contamination in materials from the bee colony are particularly important (e.g. feed crown sample). Further information can be found in our pathogen database . There is no risk for humans - neither when processing the colonies nor when consuming bee products such as honey.

Varroa mite

The varroa mite (Varroa destructor) originates from Asia and parasitizes bees and bee brood. Different bee viruses are transmitted by the varroa mite. Both the parasitization and the bee viruses damage bees and their brood stages. The varroa mite has been present in Austria since about 1980, and today it can be found in every bee colony. The varroa mite is responsible for a large part of colony collapses in autumn and winter.

Since 01.01.2014, medications for varroa control in Austria require approval as veterinary medicinal products (TAM). Bees may only be treated with substances approved for this species (Regulation (EU) No. 37/2010) (§ 4 (5) TAKG).

Only approved veterinary medicinal products may be used for control. The veterinary medicinal products approved in Austria for varroa control can be found in the Register of Medicinal Products of the Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG), where directions for use as well as expert information can be retrieved for each preparation.

In our pathogen database you will find extensive information on varroa mites, varroosis, varroa control or illustrative videos on the biology and control of varroa mites.

Further information

In 2017, was launched to provide assistance in the effective control of the varroa mite, following the example of the warning services in the field of crop production. Here you will find the Varroawetter service as well as a lot of additional information on the topic of varroa mite.

Suspected bee poisoning

The competent authorities in cases of suspected bee poisoning are the district administrative authorities (Bezirkshauptmannschaft, Magistrat). In case of suspected crime, a report must be filed with the police. If you are unsure, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Possible causes of poisoning damage

  • Plant protection products: poisoning by plant protection measures in agriculture and forestry or in gardens; largest share of poisoning damages
  • Crimes: bees are poisoned wantonly
  • Industrial waste gases (e.g. emissions containing arsenic, lead or fluorine)
  • Poisoning by toxic nectar or pollen

Signs of bee poisoning

  • Mass mortality on the ground in front of the hive entrance, on flight boards and in hives
  • Conspicuous behavior of bees at the flight hole
  • Strong and sudden decrease in bee flight and colony strength. If the foraging bees in the field are hit by agents of high acute toxicity, many of them die already during the flight.
  • Brood changes: Plant protection products from the group of growth regulators that damage brood development leave characteristic damage patterns (white-gray crescents on the inner edge of the compound eyes) on dead pupae and young bees that do not appear until 10 to 25 days after spraying.

News: Small hive beetle

Lifting of traffic restrictions for bees, bumblebees and beekeeping equipment from Sicily.

In Sicily, infestations of the small hive beetle were detected in individual apiaries in both November 2014 and June 2019. These cases could be attributed to isolated incidents of carryover from the mainland and were eradicated through strict control measures accompanied by extensive monitoring.

Due to the successful eradication of the small hive beetle from the region of Sicily, the situation was reassessed in Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2021/597. It was decided that the ban on the dispatch of honey bees, bumble bees, unprocessed apiculture by-products, apiculture equipment and apiculture products intended for human consumption in combs will apply only to the region of Calabria from 21.4.2021.

Spread to Europe

In 2014, the small hive beetle was discovered in southern Italy, where it has become established in Calabria. This is the first established population of the beetle in Europe. From 2015 onwards, sentinel colonies were set up by the veterinary authorities in Calabria and Sicily to get a picture of the infestation situation. In the rest of Italy, monitoring activities have so far not resulted in any detections of the small hive beetle.

Legal regulations for the importation of bees

Since there is also a risk of introduction of the small hive in Austria, it is absolutely necessary to comply with the legal regulations for the import of bees. The Delegated Regulation (EU) 2020/ 688 of the Commission of 17. December 2019 allows the movement only if the hives of origin do not show signs of American foulbrood, Aethina tumida and Tropilaelaps mite, and come from an apiary located in the centre of a circle of at least "100 km radius, where infestation with Aethina tumida (Small hive beetle) has not been reported and which is not restricted due to a suspected case or the confirmed occurrence of infestation with Aethina tumida (Small hive beetle)."

Since the whole region of Calabria is subject to restrictions as a surveillance zone (according to 2021/597/EU), movement of bee colonies from the region of Calabria, as well as a 100 km buffer zone encompassing this region, is not allowed.

For the transport of queens in cages (single queen with a maximum of 20 attendant bees per cage), the following smaller minimum distances to infestation areas of the small hive beetle are possible: the distance to the borders of a protection zone, which itself has a radius of at least 20 km around a confirmed occurrence of the small hive beetle, must be at least 30 km. Therefore, at least 50 km distance to a confirmed case is required. This is provided that regular official controls of the area take place with well-defined statistical reliability. For the movement of bumblebee colonies, breeding must take place in environmentally isolated production establishments.

The basic requirements for any movement are valid veterinary certificates from the country of origin, notification of the movement through TRACES, and notification to the competent veterinary authority of the recipient country. Thus, both the authorities of the country of origin and the receiving country are informed about the movement of honey bees or bumble bees and can carry out targeted controls.

Precautionary measures to prevent introduction

For precautionary reasons, neither bee colonies nor queen bees should be moved from Italy or brought back to Austria in the course of migration.

Information on the current epidemiological situation in Italy

Sample submission

Our offer for examinations on bee health and bee products

We are at your disposal as competent contact persons for the examination of bee diseases. You can send us samples of your bee colony if you suspect a disease. We will carry out the requested examinations for you. The current price list applies to examinations for which a fee is charged. You can find it under Downloads at the bottom of the page.

We kindly ask you to enclose a written order form with the samples. The order form can be found in the downloads. For details on sample types, sample size, packaging and shipping, please refer to the enclosed leaflet "Private Probeneinsendung".

Samples can be sent to the contact address below. Alternatively, submission is also possible from Monday to Thursday from 9-12 and 13-15 and Friday from 9-12.

Bee health projects



Dr. Josef Mayr

Last updated: 28.03.2024

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