October 11, 2016

German Black Bee

Honey bees are not native to the New World, although North America has about 4,000 native species of bees. Honey bees were brought to America in the 17th century by the early European settlers. These bees were most likely of the subspecies A. m. mellifera, otherwise known as the German or ‘black’  bee, although they occurred originally from the UK to eastern Central Europe. Native Americans referred to these black bees as ‘white man’s flies’ noting that when honey bees appeared in areas previously devoid of them, European settlers would not be far behind.

This honey bee is very dark in colour and tends to be very defensive, making bee management more difficult. One of the German bees’ more favourable characteristics however is that they are a hardy strain, able to survive long, cold winters in northern climates.

But because of their defensive nature and their susceptibility to many brood diseases, including American and European foulbrood, this strain lost favour among beekeepers well over a century ago and was quickly replaced with Italian Bees . Although until recently the feral bee population in the U.S. was dominated by this strain, newly introduced diseases have almost wiped out most wild honey bee colonies, making the German bee now no longer a strain found in North America.

More about Honey Bee Strains and Hybrids

Russian Hybrid Honey Bees

Russian Hybrid Honey Bees are one of the newer bee stocks in the U.S. The Department of Agriculture’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana have produced queens derived from bees found on the far eastern side of Russia in the coastal Primorski region on the Sea of Japan and around Vladivostok.

The researchers’ logic was that these Russian Bees have coexisted for the last 150 years with the devastating ectoparasite Varroa destructor, a mite that is responsible for severe colony losses around the globe. Moreover, they are also highly resistant to tracheal mites, the other major enemy of honey bees here in the West. While these bees are much more expensive than other strains and require special management techniques, they may be the only answer to the Varroa problem. Such stock very importantly also provides a chemical free alternative to pest control.

The USDA tested whether this stock had evolved resistance to varroa and found that it had, with numerous studies showing that bees of this strain have fewer than half the number of mites that are found in standard commercial stocks.

Russian Hybrid bees also tend to rear brood only during times of nectar and pollen flows, so brood rearing and colony populations tend to fluctuate with the environment, thereby suiting them better for areas with more severe and longer winters.

Russian Hybrid Bees also exhibit some unusual behaviour compared to other strains. For example, they tend to have queen cells present in their colonies almost all the time, whereas most other stocks rear queens only during times of swarming or queen replacement. Russian Hybrid bees also perform better when not in the presence of other bee strains as research has shown that cross-contamination from susceptible stocks can lessen the varroa resistance of these bees.

More about Honey Bee Hybrids and Strains

Development of Sub-species of Genus Apis

Honey bees first evolved in tropical conditions and at this time the land mass that is now Europe would have been tropical. Whereas representatives of most types of bee were indigenous to all the continents, bees belonging to the genus Apis were originally to be found only in Asia, Africa and Europe.  The genus Apis comprises the four species: Apis florea, the Little Honeybee, Apis dorsata , the Giant Honeybee, Apis cerana , the Eastern Honeybee and Apis mellifera , the Western Honeybee.

As temperatures became cooler the open nesting types, Apis florea and Apis dorsata , would not have been able to survive except by migrating to the tropical region of Southern Asia. The development of colony clustering and the use of closed nests, usually in cavities, allowed some species to occupy cooler temperate zones and this is believed to have occurred in Southern Asia, possibly in the Himalayan region. Once established, the cavity nesting honey bees what would spread East and West, eventually occupying both tropical and cool temperate zones.

These bees probably separated further into two groups as a result of glaciation which occurred between 1 million to 25,000 years ago and desert and semi-desert then further separated the two groups during intervening warm periods. These two groups of honey bees are what we now know as Apis mellifera (Western Honey Bee) and Apis Cerana (Eastern Honey Bee) and although they originated from a common stock they evolved into distinct species.

The Western boundary of the Cerana territory was in Afghanistan some 600 km to the East of the nearest Mellifera colonies in Iran. The Cerana territory comprised the Indian Subcontinent South of the great mountain ranges, Ceylon, Malaysia and Indo-china and the East Indies including the Celebes, Timor and the Philippines and in Eastern Asia it occupied most of Japan.

Mellifera spread westwards through Asia Minor to colonise the Balkans and the Mediterranean region, and southwards through the Arabian peninsula to occupy Central and Southern Africa. Similarities between neighbouring subspecies suggest that the Iberian peninsula and Southern France were colonised from North Africa.

In the warm period which followed the Ice Age, 14,000 years ago the ice sheet gradually retreated and the tundra was replaced by forests of birch, pine, hazel, elm and broad-leaved oak. The Western honey bee therefore was once more able to extend throughout Europe.

However, in colonising this vast territory, stretching from the Urals to the Cape of Good Hope, Apis mellifera had to adapt itself to a large variety of habitats and climates ranging from the Eastern Europe with its harsh winters, late springs and hot, dry summers, through Alpine, cool temperate, maritime, Mediterranean, semi-desert and tropical environments. This adaptation was achieved by natural selection, producing some two dozen subspecies or races. All the subspecies of the Mellifera group can interbreed given the right conditions, but the crosses show some distinct characters.

Although Cerana bees must have shared a common ancestor with Mellifera, they have evolved into a separate species. It is not possible to cross Cerana with Mellifera even in lab conditions, because the two species are now genetically incompatible. They also have different reactions to common diseases and pests. Cerana can tolerate varroa and has developed an effective defence strategy against the Giant Hornet, against which Mellifera bees have no defence. Cerana is however, highly susceptible to the acarine mite, which arrived with the introduction of Mellifera bees into Cerana territory, it is also highly susceptible to sac brood and foul brood, but not markedly so to nosema.

The different races of A. mellifera can generally be differentiated in physiological terms. Bees from warmer climates tend to be smaller in size and lighter in colour than those adapted to the colder regions. The effect of altitude seems to be similar to that of increasing latitude.  There are also differences between races in behaviour and breeding patterns. Some subspecies are more prone to swarming than others, some produce large numbers of young queens when swarming, others only a few.

The bees of the warmer regions do not need to cluster as tightly as those confined to the nest through long, cold winters. Brood rearing is adapted to take maximum advantage of the local flora. Where bees of the same race have occupied different kinds of habitat, they have formed local strains which have accommodated themselves to the different conditions. Similarly, honeybees of different races which have occupied similar habitats have evolved similar behavioural characters. Even the ‘dance routines’ by which honeybees communicate information about the location of food sources may differ in detail between races as different races may be conditioned to foraging over different distances from the nest. The behavioural characters of the different races and strains, brood rearing pattern, foraging behaviour, clustering, etc., are fixed genetically, so that a colony cannot readily adapt itself when transferred to a different kind of environment.

The Dark European Honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera , is fairly uniform over its whole range, having had but a comparatively short time in which regional varieties could evolve, but even in this race differences can be observed between strains. In France, where the bee has been domiciled longest, there are distinct differences in brood rearing pattern between the Mellifera bees of the Landes district in the Southwest, the bees of the Paris area and those of Corsica. The Landes bees are typical ‘heather bees’, conditioned to a principal nectar flow in late Summer and early Autumn. In the Paris area there is no Summer nectar flow and the bees show early Spring brood activity. Exchange of colonies between the Landes and Paris resulted in poor performance in both cases. In Corsica the Mellifera bees follow a Mediterranean pattern with little or no brood production in summer and a second peak in autumn.

The behavioural patterns which have evolved in the different races have ensured the survival of the various subspecies in their native habitats and some of these patterns may be repeated in different races. There is one race which, although of small economic importance, possesses an apparently unique biological character which renders it of great importance in the study of the genetics of honeybees. In all other races, when a colony is rendered queenless, laying workers may appear which are capable of laying drone eggs only. In A. m. capensis , the Cape Bee, when a colony is deprived of its queen, a laying worker appears within a few days which, for a period, is able to lay predominantly diploid female worker eggs and from these eggs true queens capable of being mated can be raised.

More Information on the Evolution of Honey Bees

What are the Origins of the Honey Bee?

The genus Apis comprises four species: Apis florea, the Little Honeybee, Apis dorsata , the Giant Honeybee, Apis cerana , the Eastern Honeybee and Apis mellifera , the Western Honeybee. Some writers also include Apis laboriosa and Apis andreniformis as separate species, but it is likely that these are geographical subspecies of Apis dorsata and Apis florea respectively, although they do show greater physical variations than the other subspecies and in fact are possibly in a more advanced stage of species development.

It is thought that bees originally evolved from hunting wasps which acquired a taste for nectar and decided to become vegetarians. Fossil evidence is sparse but bees probably appeared on the planet about the same time as flowering plants in the Cretaceous period, 146 to 74 million years ago.  The precursor of the honeybees may have been living about this time, but fossils of the true Apis type have been discovered dating back to 22 to 25 million years ago in what is now Western Germany. A bee resembling Apis dorsata but much smaller, about the size of a present day Apis mellifera is known to have beeen alive about 12 million years ago.

It is believed that Apis florea and Apis dorsata may have existed as separate species as early as 34 million to 23 million years ago. It has not yet  been possible however to estimate when bees of’ the Apis mellifera/cerana type first appeared on Earth. But they must have acquired separate identities at least 2 milllion years ago. The two species appear to have been  physically separated at the time of the last Ice Age and there was no subsequent contact between them until brought together by human intervention in recent times. In the post-glacial period Mellifera and Cerana and to a less extent Dorsata and Florea, have shown similar evolution into distinct geographical subspecies or races.

Read more about Honey Bee Evolution up to the Present Time

Beekeeper’s Role in Combating Africanized Bees

Africanized bees get a bad press and this tends to rub off on beekeeping in general with a lot of people believing that all bees are dangerous and beekeepers simply increase people’s likelihood of getting stung. In fact beekeeping should be encouraged as a way of reducing the problem of Africanized bees as beekeepers are in fact the only ones who are going to be able to reduce the problem.

The reason for this is that without beekeepers, the density of more docile European bees in an area will decrease, leaving that area open to infestation by Africanized bees. Only beekeepers have the knowledge and resources to maintain high densities of European bees that can genetically dilute Africanized populations. It is this dilution and breeding out of the more unpleasant over defensive aggressive traits that will work.

Beekeeping and Africanized Bees

If you are beekeeping in an area with known Africanized bees then you will have to change some of your beekeeping methods. Here are some points to consider:

  • As soon as your colony becomes unusually defensive you should re-queen with a bee from certified European stock.
  • Mark your queens so that you are sure that your colony has not been re-queened with an Africanized one.
  • Place your hives away from where they are likely to be any nuisance to others. Place them by hedges or fences to encourage them to fly upward on leaving their hive, thereby reducing the likelihood of them flying into passer bys.
  • If you bees have become more defensive in the short-term, use more smoke than normal to passify them when inspecting them.
  • Beekeepers will in the short-term need to recognize that the practice of combining several hives on a pallet will not work as the vibration from working one hive disturbs them all. For this reason, beekeepers in Latin America have switched to single hive stands.
  • Consider white-faced veils instead of black as Africanized bees are more attracted to dark objects than Europeans and a white outer surface minimizes bees massing on the veil and obstructing your vision. The interior side of the netting can be black to minimize glare.

More Africanized Bee Information

Reduce the seriousness of an attack by Africanized Bees

As Africanized bees spread across North America, more and more people are  having to adjust to living alongside these bees. Thankfully the incidences of serious attacks are not as frequent as the media would have us believe. However there is no doubt that Africanized bees do prove a serious risk in some circumstances especially to the elderly, the very young and those with a serious life threatening reaction to bee stings.

It is wise therefore to be aware of the best course of action to take if you are attacked by Africanized bees. Here are some things that you can do to reduce the seriousness of the attack.

1. If bees start bumping into you or flying around you or you see that you have disturbed a nest then Run away quickly. Encourage others to drop everything and do the same.

2. The bees will target your face, eyes and neck, so as you run try to pull your shirt or similar garment up over your head to protect yourself, obviously ensuring that you can still see where you are going.

3. Do not flail your arms about or try to the kill bees as crushed bees only emit more alarm pheromones and encourage more bees to join the attack.

4. Continue running until you find shelter in a building or secure vehicle. Africanized bees will chase something they suspect of trying to attack their nests for over a 100 yards. Do not jump into water as the bees will still be there when you come up for air.

5. Once you have reached shelter or have outrun the bees, remove all stingers. When a honey bees stings, it leaves its stinger in the skin, this kills the honey bee so it can only sting you once, but it also means that venom continues to enter into the wound for a short time after. Never pull out the sting with your fingers or with tweezers as this will leave part of the sting in, instead scrape it off with a credit card or your nail.

6. If you see someone being attacked by bees you should call the Emergency Services.

The venom in an Africanized bee sting is no more toxic than a European bee sting, in fact it is slightly less venomous. The problem arises from the sheer number of stings as many more Africanized bees will attack you if they feel threatened than would European honey bees. Most people can tolerate 15-25 stings without requiring special medical treatment, but any more and even those with no allergy to bee stings will start to experience problems.

People with a history of systemic allergic reactions (fainting and breathing problems), however, should always carry with them an emergency kit of injectable epinephrine, use it if they are stung and then immediately seek medical help. Anyone who receives more than 15-25 stings or feels in any way unwell after an attack should also seek medical supervision for possible delayed systemic complications. Severe complications can occur at any stage of your life even if you have never had a previous reaction to stings before, so do not take any risks.

More Killer Bee Information

How to reduce the likelihood of being attacked by Africanized Bees.

As Africanized bees spread across North America more and more people are having to learn to live with these bees and adapt their behaviour, just as they have had to do when living near poisonous snakes or large bears. The first thing to remember is that Africanized bee attacks while being very alarming when they do occur and in some instances fatal, are in fact relatively rare. The movie depiction of angry swarms of  ‘killer bees’ lurking in bushes and trees and then chasing and covering an unsuspecting passer-by in seconds is thankfully far-fetched.

However attacks do occur and even if you are not chased by hundreds of bees, the over defensive behaviour of these insects does mean that if you disturb an Africanized bee’s nest you can be chased and stung by many more bees than if you disturbed most other type of bee. Multiple stings especially in those who are allergic or the elderly or very young can be very serious. Therefore it is worth taking some precautions to reduce the likelihood of an attack by Africanized Bees and here are some suggestions.

  • Check your house and yard at least once a month to see if there are any signs of bees taking up residence. If you do find a swarm or colony, do not touch it. Keep your family and animals away from the bees until you have had it removed or inspected by a pest control company or an experienced beekeeper.
  • It is impossible to prevent Africanized bees from building nests as they will use almost anything for this purpose. But try wherever possible to fill any cracks or gaps in house walls or holes in the ground near to your living area. A tidy yard will also reduce the likelihood of bees building nests, as Africanized bees often nest in piles of refuse or unused materials and are even known to build nests in discarded soda cans.
  • When gardening or clearing, cutting bushes or trees check first for signs of bees coming and going. If in any doubt wear head protection. The same applies if you are using mechanical equipment as bees become very agitated by such noise.
  • If you go hiking try to stay on defined trails, carry bug spray and always carry your cell phone with you in case you have to call for help. You should also consider wearing light coloured clothing as bees are more prone to attack dark things.
  • Avoid wearing strong perfumes as bees are sensitive to odours and these will attract their attention.
  • If bees start to bump into you, behave strangely or follow you, vacate the area quickly, as this is often the first sign that a colony is on the alert and may be about to attack.

These Africanized bees can be alarming and unpredictable but by using common sense and taking sensible precautions you should be able to avoid any serious problems.

More Killer Bee Information

The Difference between European Honey Bees and Killer Bees

There is very little physical difference between a Killer or Africanised Honey Bee and a European Honey Bee. The Africanised Bee is actually very slightly smaller but this difference  is not immediately obvious and often  microscopic analysis is the only way to tell them apart.

The main differences between the two types of bees is to be found in their behaviour and specifically the following:


On average a European honey bee colony will swarm once a year, whereas the Africanised bee will often swarm as often as every six weeks. In addition unlike the European bee when Africanised bees swarm they will often produce two swarms at a time. Swarming is the natural means by which bees replicate and spread. As the numbers in a hive expand a new queen (or queens in the case of  the Africanised ones ) will be produced and once mated these will leave the colony with a large number of the worker bees and honey stores to set up a new colony. By swarming so often Africanised bees are able to spread and populate a wider area considerably quicker than their less ambitious cousins.


As the Africanised bee swarms so frequently their numbers do not usually get as high as European bees so they are happy to occupy much smaller spaces than the Europeans. They will often occupy holes in the ground or trees and even meter boxes, mail boxes, flower pots or soda cans, will be considered. They also do not tend to occupy nests for long whereas European bees will colonise a site for years or as long as it remains weather and predator proof. Africanised bees also do not seem to mind if their nest is unconcealed and open whereas Europeans tend to look for protected sites, sealing up all but one small entrance.


Africanised bees are far more defensive of their brood (young) and their honey stores and it is this behaviour trait that gives them their bad reputations. Unlike European bees, which will normally guard an area of a  few feet around their hive and rarely chase a potential predator for any distance or send out more than a couple of bees to investigate; Africanised bees  will guard up to 100 yards and will come out of their nests in large numbers to defend that area.


The Sting from an Africanised bee is no worse than a European bee and like them they can only sting once. The problem for anyone encountering these bees comes from their tendency to attack in greater numbers thereby inflicting multiple stings, which tend to be focused on the head and neck areas.

More Killer Bee Information

Life and Easy Times of the Male Honey Bee

A male honey bee or drone generally gets a bit of a bad press and women often like to highlight these poor creatures failings as being representative of the male gender in general. I of course am an impartial observer here and will leave you, ‘dear reader’ to judge for yourself.

Early Life of a Drone

In order for a drone to come into existence his mother ‘The Queen’ has to decide to lay an unfertilised egg, which means that this poor chap starts life fatherless, or to be more technical ‘haploid’. It does however mean that he has only one set of chromosomes, those of his mother, the queen. Perhaps it is this pure lineage that leads the drone to believe he is a prince amongst his more lowly worker sisters, all of whom came about as a result of a wild ‘mating party ‘ their mother, the queen, attended in her reckless youth.

Before the queen can lay her drone egg the workers must disrupt the evenly formed cellular structure they have created on the hive comb, to prepare a cell which is slightly bigger than the ones required for the worker bee young; as the drone will stay in the cell for 3 days more than a young worker bee and grow much larger.

The drone egg will hatch on day 3 into a larva, as do all worker bee eggs. The drone larva spends 7 days at the larval stage (6 days for a worker bee) during this time he will be fed a pollen and nectar mix by his adult sisters. The drone larva after 7 days develops into a pupa. The cell is then capped by the worker bees with wax and the drone pupa stays in there for 14 days, (12 days for a worker bee) emerging as a fully formed adult drone honey bee on day 24.

Adult Life

The adult drone emerges from his cell and unlike a newly born adult female worker bee he does not clean his birth cell and then start looking after newly laid eggs and larva but seeks out worker bees to feed him. As an adult drone he never feeds himself throughout his life and never goes out to forage for nectar or pollen, or help construct the hive.

The drone’s sole role in life is to find a un-mated queen and pass his genes on. Drones once their wings are strong enough will go out on daily mating flights, in the hope of finding a mate. As there are many more drones than potential queen bees, the majority of drone bees do not ‘get lucky’ and will return after a few hours to their hive, or another one as they are not too fussy as long as they get fed.

A drone has much larger eyes than a worker bee which helps him spot his target on his mating flight. He also has a larger body with a stouter abdomen, the latter maintained of course by his hard-working sisters.

However it should be noted that on the rare occasions when the temperature in the hive gets too high then drones will join the worker bees in fanning with their wings to help cool things down, so of course, it is unfair to say they do nothing around the home.

Since the worker bee’s stinger is a modified ovipositor (an egg laying organ), the drones unlike the female worker bees are unable to defend the hive.


As a result of his comfortable life a drone can live up to 90 days, unlike the 42 days of a worker. However should the drone be lucky in love he will never return to his hive, but will die on the wing, as his penis and connected abdominal tissues are ripped from his body during mating.

Any drones still alive in the hive at the end of Autumn will not be allowed to see out their days in quiet contentment. But will be attacked and thrown out of the hive by the female workers and left to die, as male bees do not overwinter.

…. and so endeth the life cycle of the male honey bee!

Maggie Roberts is a professional writer and beekeeper, with a particular passion for sharing her knowledge of bees and their role in the natural world. If you would like more information, help to start beekeeping or just to learn more about bees, then see http://www.beekeepingbeesandhoney.com/

Killer Bee Facts and Fiction

The Africanised honey bee or ‘Killer bee’ is widely feared by the public, a reaction that has been encouraged by sensationalist movies and exaggerated media reports. Although this bee is much more aggressive than a European honey bee, stings from Africanised bees kill only 1-2 people per year in the United States which is a similar figure to that of wasps and European honey bees.

Killer bees are a hybrid of African and European honey bee species and were accidentally introduced into the ecosystem from a laboratory in Brazil in 1956, where scientists were attempting to create a strain of bee with improved honey production.

The Africanised queens and consequently the colonies escaped, swarmed and began to quickly establish themselves throughout South and Central America. The first sign of Africanised bees in the United States was in October 1990, in Southern Texas. The bee then spread steadily across the southern part of the United States where the winters are mild and the summers are very warm. However scientists and entomologists believe that the Africanised bees are now adapting to colder climates and roaming further north at an average rate of 2 miles per day. If this projection is true, it could become a major problem to the European honey bee within the United States and possibly eventually even Europe.

How to Identify a Killer Bee .

People are often surprised to learn that killer bees are in fact slightly smaller in size than European bees. They are however virtually indistinguishable from each other when viewed with the naked eye and precise identification can only be done microscopically.

The Africanised bee will become agitated as a result of a perceived threat ten times quicker than a European bee. The latter will stay closer to their hive to defend it if they feel threatened and most of the colony will stay inside and start working to remove their honey stores, leaving just a few guard bees to see off the threat. However Africanised bees will leave their hive en masse’ to defend it, surrounding the perpetrator and inflicting as many stings as possible and are also likely to give chase for up to a quarter of a mile. It is this behaviour pattern that has led to them being called ‘Killer bees’. One of the main reasons why they behave in such an aggressive collective manner is that unlike the European honey bee their main focus is not on their honey stores, but on multiplying their numbers. This is because they are originally adapted to live in warm climates where winter hibernation is not necessary and therefore the need for large honey stores does not arise. For this reason they collect much more pollen (necessary for growth in young) and as a result are in fact better pollinators.


European honey bees rarely build nests on the ground or in exposed locations, whereas Africanised bees will build a nest anywhere they can find a hole large enough to fit through and their nests are much smaller. If they cannot find a suitable concealed location they will nest in the ground or in tree branches. The Africanised bees will often invade a European bee colony replacing its queen with one of their own.


European honey bees swarm once or twice a year, whereas the Africanised honey bees swarms ten times or more a year allowing them to colonize much larger areas. Furthermore, the Africanised bees will completely abandon or ‘abscond!’ from their nests whenever environmental factors become unfavourable, whereas European honey bees rarely ever abandon a nest completely.

The Future

Africanised bees are effectively a work in progress as they continue to breed with European bees. Scientists and beekeepers however are now using selective breeding programmes to try to control and manage the problem. In particular it is recognised that the African bee has a lot of positive traits, for example it is more disease and pest resistant than the European bee and is a more active forager. Therefore by selecting these traits in addition to trying to breed out its aggressive ones, the end result may be more favourable than was once feared.

By Maggie Roberts

To learn more about Beekeeping see http://www.beekeepingbeesandhoney.com/