European dark bee

Jump to navigation Jump to search

European dark bee
Bee October 2007-1.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Euarthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae
Genus: Apis
A. m. mellifera
Trinomial name
Apis mellifera mellifera

The European dark bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) is a subspecies of the western honey bee, whose original range stretched from west-central Russia through Northern Europe and probably down to the Iberian Peninsula. They belong to the 'M' lineage of Apis mellifera[1]. They are large for honey bees though they have unusually short tongues (5.7-6.4mm) and traditionally were called the German Dark Bee, a name still used today[2] even though they are now considered an Endangered Breed in Germany[3]. Their common name is derived from their brown-black color, with only a few lighter yellow spots on the abdomen[4]. However today they are more likely to be called after the geographic / political region in which they live such as the British Black Bee, the Native Irish Honey Bee, the Cornish Black Bee and the Nordic Brown Bee, even though they are all the same subspecie, with the word native often being added by local beekeepers, even if the bee was introduced[5]. It was domesticated in Europe and hives were brought to North America in the colonial era, where they were referred to as the English Fly by the native american indians[6].

The A. m. mellifera can be distinguished from other subspecies by their stocky body, abundant thoracal and sparse abdominal hair which is brown, and overall dark coloration. Overall, when viewed from a distance, they should appear blackish, or in mellifera, rich dark brown[7]. For breeding pure A. m. mellifera details of the wing veins (wing morphometry) are still considered to be a reliable distinguishing character[8], although it has now been established that the formation of wing veins are influenced by temperatures that capped brood are exposed to[9].


The A. m. mellifera is descended from the M lineage of Apis mellifera, of which all bees to a greater or lesser degree have a strongly defensive instinct (from the point of view of the bee) or strong aggression (from the point of view of the beekeeper), especially when compared to the C lineage[10]. A. m. mellifera hybrids have an even greater reputation of aggression amongst beekeepers, which can increase in subsequent generations, if left unchecked[11], although this characteristic can be overcome with continual selective breeding over some generations[12]. They are nervous and aggressive to the extent that routine inspections will take longer, decreasing the enjoyment of managing their colonies[13]. This characteristic is one that has been traditionally associated with A. m. mellifera going back to the old British Black bee before the early 1900's[14][15]: To quote Brother Adam who had first hand experience, "The native (British Black) bee had undoubtedly many extremely valuable characteristics, but equally so a great many serious defects and drawbacks. She was very bad tempered and very susceptible to brood diseases and would in any case not have been able to produce the crops (of honey) we have secured since her demise"[16].


  • significant winter hardiness
  • low tendency to swarm
  • some lines are claimed to be gentle
  • defensive against invaders such as wasps
  • careful, measured "maritime" brood cycle
  • strong drive to collect pollen
  • high longevity of the worker bees and queen
  • excellent flight strength even in cold weather


Apis mellifera mellifera is no longer a significant commercial subspecies of the Western honey bee, but there are a number of dedicated hobbyist beekeepers that keep these bees in northern and central Europe. Immigrants brought these subspecies into the Americas. Prior to their arrival, the American continent did not have any honey bees[citation needed].

Apis mellifera mellifera

In north western Europe, A. m. mellifera were the original honey bee stock until creation of the Buckfast bee a breed of bee whose progeny originally included the remnants of the old British black bee (A. m. mellifera), which became extinct due to the Acarapis woodi (acarine mite).

In the United States, research based on DNA sequencing analysis found DNA from the 'M' lineage of honey bees in the feral population of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Missouri, believed in part to be the DNA from imported bees of over 100 years ago (DNA from the other bee lineages was also found in these feral populations, suggesting that they likely came from escaped swarms from apiaries at unknown times in the past)[17].

Dedicated organizations[18][19] are today working on establishing conservation areas for the A. m. mellifera, like the A. m. mellifera Santuary in Colonsay & Oronsay in Scotland[20], while breeding groups have been set up to "establish racial purity" of "native strains"[21] and others running courses to train beekeepers in being able to calculate the "racial purity" of their bees through "wing morphometry"[22]. Other organizations are attempting to establish that the A. m. mellifera in their local geographic region are a distinct "variety"[23], some even claiming it is a separate subspecies[24] from that of A. m. mellifera in northern Europe, but to date no published research has been able to show this, however through morphometry and DNA analysis local geographic strains may be able to be identified, albiet not consistent across the geographic population, in which the strain's characteristics show less morphometric variation and therefore less environmental adaptability[25]. With one group even starting a "project to develop their own native breed of bee"[26]. Even though DNA analysis has been able to show that the amount of non-A. m. mellifera DNA within local populations of A. m. mellifera remains relatively low[27], with an Irish survey showing that "97.8% of sampled bees were determined to be pure A. m. mellifera"[28], a further study across eight northwest European countries showed that their A. m. mellifera poulations were genetically pure[29].

In the documentary More than Honey the bee kept and bred by Swiss (German) beekeeper Herr. Fred Jaggi was the A. m. mellifera, referred to as the "local black breed", in which he strives to maintain "racially pure" bees, lamenting when he discovers yellow coloration in the colony of one of his queens, meaning that she has bred with a drone from a different subspecie and produced "little half-breeds", she is subsequently killed[30]; we see in the documentary his pure bees succumbing to a brood disease and having to be gassed then burned: Herr. Jaggi abandons the local black bees and the goal of racial purity, choosing A. m. carnica bees instead, with an apiary that includes hybrids to enhance genetic diversity[31].

In 2012 a story began to circulate online[32] and in some British newspapers[33] (in which Dorian Pritchard the Conservation officer for BIBBA[34] and President of SICAMM[35] was interviewed and quoted) that the Old British Black Bee (A. m. mellifera) was not extinct and had been discovered in the rafters of a church in Northumberland, there were numerous inaccuracies in the story, including: 1) The "British Black" bee was "wiped out by a strain of Spanish flu in 1919"; the Spanish flu only affected humans, it was the Isle of Wight Disease between 1904 through to 1945 that wiped out the original Old British (and Irish) Black Bees of the British Isles: 2) "the Spanish flu which wiped out...every single bee in the UK", no beekeepers at the time made this claim, what was claimed was that the original pure A. m. mellifera of the British Isles was wiped out, hybrids with other non-A. m. mellifera bees often survived, notably the A. m. ligustica and later the Buckfast bee bred by Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey, also continental A. m. mellifera, imported in subsequent years to repopulate the country, showed strong resistance to the Isle of Wight Disease[36]: 3) "The British Black bee is different from other bees ...ideally suited to the British climate...more so than the European Black bee", this suggests that the "British Black Bee" found in the church is a different subspecie than the "European Black Bee" the A. m. mellifera, while in fact they are the same subspecie, as acknowledged by Philip Denwood writing in SICAMM's (International Association for the Protection of the European Dark Bee) magazine in 2014 (as a member of BKKA and BIBBA) " the last decade DNA studies... have conclusively shown that modern specimens of Dark Bees from the UK and Ireland fit into the genetic specification of Apis mellifera melifera (the European dark / black bee)"[37].


  1. ^ Gene flow within the M evolutionary lineage of Apis mellifera: role of the Pyrenees, isolation by distance and post-glacial re-colonization routes in western Europe. Apidologie 38 (2007) 141–155. 2 August 2006. p141
  2. ^ "Characteristics of Races of Honeybees" (PDF). Three Peaks. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  3. ^ "Rote Liste der bedrohten Nutztierrassen in Deutschland". Gesellschaft zur Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen e. V. (GEH). Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  4. ^ Mark L. Winston (1991). The Biology of the Honey Bee. Harvard University Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-674-07409-5.
  5. ^ Colonsay Dark Native Bees (Photo at bottom)). "Colonsay Black Bee Reserve". SNHBS. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  6. ^ Renaud, Tabitha (2010). Finding worth in the wilderness (Thesis ed.). Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa. p. 74. ISBN 9780494741429. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  7. ^ "Institute for Bee Research (European Apis mellifera)". Institute for Bee Research, Hohen Neuendorf, Germany. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  8. ^ "Computer software for identification of honey bee subspecies and evolutionary lineages" (PDF). Tofilski 2008, Gerulaetal 2009, Kandemir et al. 2011.
  9. ^ "Low temperature exposure (20 °C) during the sealed brood stage induces abnormal venation of honey bee wings". Journal of Apicultural Research. 57 (3): 458–465. 2018. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  10. ^ Yates, J.D.; Yates, B.D. (1996). Beekeeping Study Notes for the BBKA Examinations Vol.1 (2nd ed.). Northern Bee Books. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0905652818.
  11. ^ Bruder, Adam. "Die wirtschaftliche Bedeutung der Kombinationszucht (seitennummer 7-8)" (PDF). Gemeinschaft der europäischen Buckfastimker e.V. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  12. ^ Waring, Claire; Waring, Adrian (2014). The Bee Manual. J H Haynes & Co Ltd. p. 23. ISBN 0857338099.
  13. ^ Davis, Celia F. (2014). The Honey Bee around & about (2nd ed.). Bee Craft Ltd. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-900147-15-9.
  14. ^ Winston, Mark L. (1991). The Biology of the Honey Bee (paper ed.). First Harvard University Press. p. 10. ISBN 0-674-07409-2.
  15. ^ Yates, J.D.; Yates, B.D. (1996). Beekeeping Study Notes for the BBKA Examinations Vol.1 (2nd ed.). Northern Bee Books. p. 29. ISBN 978-0905652818.
  16. ^ Brother Adam O.B.E. (1975). Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey (first ed.). British Bee Publications. p. 12.
  17. ^ "Honey Bee & Bumble Bee Genetics Research". Insects Genetics Lab. University of Arkansas. Archived from the original on 27 May 2011.
  18. ^ "BIBBA". Bee Improvement & Bee Breeders Assoc. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  19. ^ "NIHBS - Aims & Objectives". The Native Irish Honey Bee Society. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  20. ^ "The Bee Keeping (Colonsay and Oronsay) Order 2013". The National Archives. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  21. ^ Establishing Racial Purity. "Galtee Bee Breeding Group - Aims & Objectives". Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  22. ^ "Wing Morphometry Course". Pembrokeshire Beekeepers' Association. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  23. ^ Black, Bob. "Native 'British Bees' could hold key to honeybee survival". blacks cornish bees. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  24. ^ "Update 15 - genetic results". Cornwall Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Group. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  25. ^ Strange, James; Garnery, Lionel; Sheppard, Walter (October 2008). "Morphological and molecular characterization of the Landes honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) ecotype for genetic conservation". Journal of Insect Conservation. 12 (5): 527–537. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  26. ^ "Pembrokeshire Beekeepers' Association developing native bee breed". BBC News. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  27. ^ L Ruottinen, P Berg, J Kantanen, TN Kristensen & A Præbel. "Status and Conservation of the Nordic Brown Bee" (PDF). The Nordic Genetic Resource Centre. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  28. ^ Native Irish Honey Bee Society (NIHBS); E. Moore.; G. Soland; G. McCormack NIHBS Secretary; J. Hasset; K. Browne; M. Geary (2018). "A significant pure population of the dark European honey bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) remains in Ireland". Journal of Apicultural Research. 57 (3): 337–350. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  29. ^ A.B. Jensen; K.A. Palmer; J.J. Boomsma; Bo.V. Pedersen (2004). "Varying degrees of Apis mellifera ligustica introgression in protected populations of the black honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera, in northwest Europe". Molecular Ecology. 14 (1): 93–106. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  30. ^ "More than Honey". Marcus Imhoof. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  31. ^ "The Origins of the Documentary 'More Than Honey'" (PDF). Marcus Imhoof. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  32. ^ "Good to bee back: 'Extinct' British breed of honeybee found alive and well in church rafters after nearly 80 years". Money Saving Expert. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  33. ^ "Bees find sanctuary in church roof". Church Times. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  34. ^ "BIBBA History And Development". BIBBA. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  35. ^ "SICAMM (International Association for the Protection of the Dark Honey Bee)". Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  36. ^ ""Isle of Wight" or Acarine Disease: its Historical and Practical Aspects by Brother Adam". Bee World journal 1968, vol.49-1, p.6-18
  37. ^ Denwood, Philip. "SICAMM Conference 2012, Landquart, Switzerland. Proceedings and Reports 2014" (PDF). Societas Internationalalis pro Conservatione Apis mellifera mellifera. Retrieved 16 November 2018.

External links[edit]