Thursday, July 12, 2012

Extinct Black Honey Bee found alive in Britain

     The Black Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera Mellifera - I'm not stuttering) also known as the European Dark Bee, long thought to be extinct in most of Britain has been found in Londonderry, the Isle of Man, West Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Preston, Lancashire, Fife, Argyll and Bute and Denbighshire.
     Black bees have evolved adaptations to survive the cooler, wet British climate.  They are darker, have thicker, longer hair and larger bodies than their southern Mediterranean cousins (Italians, Carniolans).
     Francis Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, said: "People claimed the black bee went extinct, but it's good that this research proves that their genes are still around. It makes sense to use native bees because they are better adapted to the local climate."
     Due to the discovery of the native Black Honey Bee Martin Tovey, president of the British Beekeepers Association is encouraging British beekeepers to breed the Black Honey Bee rather than importing bees from southern Europe. “More bees bred from black bees would be a good thing as they survive the winter better, but I’m not sure they alone will reverse the collapse of colonies we have been suffering,” he said.
     The European Dark Bee or Black Honey Bee is distinguished by it's dark, stocky, hairy body with dark pigmentation of the wings.  Until 100 years ago the dark bee breeds were the original honey bee stock until the creation of the hybrid Buckfast bee created to counter the Acarine mite (sound familiar) which devastated European bees at that time.  During the second World War the British Black Bee nearly became extinct in Europe as the Nazis ordered the destruction of all breeding stock whose honey production they felt was not up to modern standards.
     The Black Honey Bee would be better adapted to our cool, wet Vancouver weather than the Italian and Carniolan bees which dominate beekeeping throughout North America.  Unfortunately, because of government regulations we can't import bees from Britain.


  1. We have some of the black honey bee still popping up in the italian and carniolin bee stock here in NZ, The first Apis melifera were the black bees imported here in 1830 by new settlers, just as they had to do where ever they went, including Australia, Canada and USA. You can always tell if you have mainly black bees as they are quite feisty with an attitude to boot ! Really hard workers tho with a tendency to swarm. .

  2. That's very interesting. I didn't think of it but of course the first bees imported would be black bees. We have no feral bees in Canada. The bee of choice in our area now appears to be a hybrid carniolan and most of our bees come from New Zealand. However, because queens mate with between 8-20 different drones the colour and size difference within a hive is quite significant. It would be interesting to see if there is any black bee genes in our bees. As the Africanized apis mellifera move north in the U.S. they are discovering a gene mixture with a recently tested N. Carolina bee genetically 12% Africanized. The Africanized bee has many positive attributes such as better honey yield and hygienic resistance to varroa. Smaller honey bees like the Asian Apis Cerana, Africanized Apis Mellifera and regressed (to 4.9 mm cell size) natural apis mellifera display greater hyvienic behaviour and subsequently a resistance to varroa. It will be interesting to follow the breeding of the black honey bee in Britain and it's varroa resistance and honey yield.


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