Honey Bee Info

Do you know what you are dealing with? Below is some information provided for you about honey bees, habits and species for your reading pleasure. Honey bees (or honeybees) are a subset of bees, primarily distinguished by the production and storage of honey and the construction of perennial, colonial nests out of wax. Honey bees are the only extant members of the tribe Apini, all in the genus Apis. Currently, there are only seven recognized species of honey bee with a total of 44 subspecies (Engel, 1999) though historically, anywhere from six to eleven species have been recognized. Honey bees represent only a small fraction of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees. Some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apis are true honey bees.

* Eastern species

These are 3 or 4 species. The reddish Koschevnikov’s Bee (Apis koschevnikovi) from Borneo is well distinct; it probably derives from the first colonization of the island by cave-nesting honey bees. Apis cerana, the Eastern honey bee proper, is the traditional honey bee of southern and eastern Asia, kept in hives in a similar fashion to Apis mellifera, though on a much smaller and regionalized scale. It has not been possible yet to resolve its relationship to the Bornean Apis cerana nuluensis and Apis nigrocincta from the Philippines to satisfaction; the most recent hypothesis is that these are indeed distinct species but that A. cerana is still paraphyletic, consisting of several good species (Arias & Sheppard 2005).

* European (Western, Common) honey bee

Apis mellifera, the most commonly domesticated species, was the third insect to have its genome mapped. It seems to have originated in eastern tropical Africa and spread from there to Northern Europe and eastwards into Asia to the Tien Shan range. It is variously called the European, Western or Common honey bee in different parts of the world. There are many subspecies that have adapted to the local geographic and climatic environment, and in addition, hybrid strains such as the Buckfast bee have been bred. Behavior, color and anatomy can be quite different from one subspecies or even strain to another.

Regarding phylogeny, this is the most enigmatic honey bee species. It seems to have diverged from its Eastern relatives only during the Late Miocene. This would fit the hypothesis that the ancestral stock of cave-nesting honey bees was separated into the Western group of E Africa and the Eastern group of tropical Asia by desertification in the Middle East and adjacent regions, which caused declines of foodplants and trees which provided nest sites, eventually causing gene flow to cease. The diversity of subspecies is probably the product of a (largely) Early Pleistocene radiation aided by climate and habitat changes during the last ice age. That the Western honey bee has been intensively managed by humans since many millennia – including hybridization and introductions – has apparently increased the speed of its evolution and confounded the DNA sequence data to a point where little of substance can be said about the exact relationships of many A. mellifera subspecies.(Arias & Sheppard 2005)

There are no honey bees native to the Americas. In 1622, European colonists brought the dark bee (A. m. mellifera) to the Americas, followed later by Italian bees (A. m. ligustica) and others. Many of the crops that depend on honey bees for pollination have also been imported since colonial times. Escaped swarms (known as “wild” bees, but actually feral) spread rapidly as far as the Great Plains, usually preceding the colonists. The Native Americans called the honey bee “the white man’s fly”. Honey bees did not naturally cross the Rocky Mountains; they were carried by ship to California in the early 1850s.

*Africanized Bee

Widely known as the “killer bee”, Africanized bees are highly aggressive hybrids between European stock and the African subspecies A. m. scutellata; they are thus often called “Africanized bees”. Originating by accident in Brazil, they have spread to North America and constitutes a pest in some regions. However, these strains do not overwinter well, and so are not often found in the colder, more Northern parts of North America. On the other hand, the original breeding experiment for which the African bees were brought to Brazil in the first place has continued (though not as intended): novel hybrid strains of domestic and re-domesticated Africanized bees combine high resilience to tropical conditions and good yields, and are popular among beekeepers in Brazil.

(**All information above was extracted from the Wikipedia 03/2009)

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