What are Honeybees?
Over 12,000 different species of bees are populating the world -
Out of this vast variety, commonly referred to as Honeybees are only a few species.
In a nutshell, what differentiates "Honeybees" from all the other bee species is their capability to produce and store large amounts of honey. For easier access to their honey by humans, honeybees are kept in beehives and managed by beekeepers, i.e. Hive Bees.
Through selective breeding of these species certain favourable characteristics are promoted, resulting in "domesticated" honeybees. Domesticated honeybees are docile (friendly bees, not so eager to sting), prolific (productive and fertile, forming strong colonies), without a strong urge to swarm.
Why are certain bees kept in hives and not others?
Most bee species are not suitable to be hived as they are not living in large colonies; some bee species are solitary bees. Hiving bee colonies becomes economical only when they form large colonies.
The two main reasons to hive bees are:
What is the purpose of Honeybees?
When thinking about bees, what comes to mind first is "Honey" -
Bees produce honey for their own consumption and store it to survive through times when there is nothing to collect -
For hundreds of years beekeepers kept a relationship with honeybees solely for the benefit of obtaining some of their honey.
This publication from RIRDC provides excellent and comprehensive information about Pollination. Without managed Pollination with Hive Bees our modern way of farming in concentrated areas would simply not be possible.
Maybe a better term for our Honeybees would be Pollination Bees or simply Hive Bees.
The European Honeybee (Apis mellifera)
When we talk about Honeybees here in Australia, the European Honeybee is basically what we are talking about.
The different climate zones and geographical regions of Europe have produced different subspecies of the European Honeybee, as illustrated on a map on the right, which can be found on this website: http://www.sicamm.org
The three main subspecies kept here in Australia are:
Italian Bee -
The most commonly kept sub-
Second most popular breed worldwide behind the Italians. Popular with beekeepers due to its extreme gentleness. The Carniolan tends to be quite dark in colour. They keep a moderate strength hive and are not very likely to swarm. The colonies are known to shrink to small populations over winter and build very quickly in spring. It is a mountain bee in its native range (Carniola region of Slovenia, the southern part of the Austrian Alps, and northern Balkans) and is a good bee for colder climates. Workers have grey-
Any of the abovementioned sub-
Since European honeybees were introduced to Australia around 1822, those colonies that have escaped (swarmed) have multiplied and one might think that 190 years of cross-
The Eastern Honeybee (Apis Cerana)
We first need to clarify that to date the presence of the Eastern Honeybee (Apis Cerana) is not welcome in Australia and colonies found are getting destroyed.
When mentioning Apis Cerana in front of a group of commercial beekeepers and honey producers, it feels like poking a stick into a hornets nest -
Consider this: To date Australia is the only country in the world free of Varroa destructor, but it appears that everyone has resigned to the fact that it is only a matter of time that we will get it as well -
Apis Cerana might not be the Honeybee of choice today -
Apis cerana is one of the few bee species that can also be "cultivated". Like the Western honeybee, Apis cerana is kept by farmers for honey production and pollination. Traditionally the bees were kept in log hives, now being replace by wooden boxes with removable frames. The Apis cerana bee size is similar or somewhat smaller than Apis mellifera, and they also have more prominent abdominal stripes.
Apis cerana, the indigenous hive bee of Asia, is very similar to the European honeybee as far as comb building, dancing, and nesting behaviours are concerned. It has been reported to be an excellent pollinator of mountain crops that bloom in early spring, such as almonds, apples, pears, plums, and different vegetable seed crops. However, it produces less honey than Apis mellifera and has some undesirable behavioural characteristics like frequent swarming, absconding, and robbing.
Their honey yield is smaller, because they form smaller colonies and partly because they have yet to benefit from selective breeding programs that have produced modern day Apis mellifera.
Honey production of Apis cerana is being increased through a focused queen breeding and selection programme. It has already been reported that honey production of bee colonies can be increased many times by adopting modern methods and selective breeding programme. Wongsiri (1992) has reported that due to adoption of modern management methods and selective breeding programme in Chonghua County, Guandong of China the colony number and honey yield increased year by year. By 1963, honeybee populations expanded from 2,000 to 6,000 colonies and honey yields increased from 5 kg/year to 50 kg/year (Wongsiri, 1992).
Apis cerana is found at altitudes from sea level up to 3,500 metres in areas with appropriate flora and climate. This bee species has adapted to adverse climatic conditions and can survive extreme fluctuations in temperature and long periods of rainfall. It is unique in its ability to survive temperatures as low as -
Apis cerana is a natural host to the Varroa destructor mite and the parasite Nosema ceranae, both serious pests of the Western honey bee. Having coevolved with these parasites, Apis cerana exhibits more careful grooming than Apis mellifera, and thus has an effective defence mechanism against Varroa that keeps the mite from devastating colonies. Other than defensive behaviours such as these, much of their behaviour and biology (at least in the wild) is very similar to that of Apis mellifera.
Workers do not re-