List of Apis mellifera subspecies

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Apis mellifera, the European honey bee, has many subspecies.[1]

Subspecies originating in Europe[edit]

  • Apis mellifera ligustica, classified by Spinola, 1806 - the Italian bee. The most commonly kept race in North America, South America and southern Europe. They are kept commercially all over the world. They are very gentle, not very likely to swarm, and produce a large surplus of honey. They have few undesirable characteristics. Colonies tend to maintain larger populations through winter, so they require more winter stores (or feeding) than other temperate zone subspecies. The Italian bee is light colored and mostly leather colored, but some strains are golden.
  • Apis mellifera carnica, classified by Pollmann, 1879 - Carniola region of Slovenia, the Eastern Alps, and northern Balkans - better known as the Carniolan honey bee - popular with beekeepers due to its extreme gentleness. The Carniolan tends to be quite dark in color, and 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, and is a good bee for colder climates.
  • Apis mellifera caucasia (often misspelled as "caucasica"), classified by Pollmann, 1889 - Caucasus Mountains - This sub-species is regarded as being very gentle and fairly industrious. Some strains are excessive propolizers. It is a large honeybee of medium, sometimes grayish color.
  • Apis mellifera mellifera, classified by Linnaeus, 1758 - the dark bee of northern Europe also called the German honey bee - domesticated in modern times, and taken to North America in colonial times. These small, dark-colored bees are sometimes called the German black bee.

The hybrid populations of A. m. mellifera x A. m. ligustica, found in North America and Western Europe, have the reputation of stinging people (and other creatures) for no good reason. The near-extinct "pure" A. m. mellifera is not considered randomly aggressive.

Apis mellifera
  • Apis mellifera cypria, classified by Pollmann, 1879 - The island of Cyprus - This sub-species has the reputation of being very fierce compared to the Italian sub-species, from which it is isolated by the Mediterranean Sea

Subspecies originating in Africa[edit]

Several researchers and beekeepers describe a general trait of the African subspecies which is absconding, where the Africanized honeybee colonies abscond the hive in times when food-stores are low, unlike the European colonies which tend to die in the hive.

  • Apis mellifera scutellata, classified by Lepeletier, 1836 - (African honey bee) Central and West Africa, now hybrids also in South America, Central America and the southern USA. In an effort to address concerns by Brazilian beekeepers and to increase honey production in Brazil, Warwick Kerr, a Brazilian geneticist, was asked by Brazilian Federal and State authorities in 1956 to import several pure African queens from Tanzania to Piracicaba-São Paulo State in the south of Brazil. In a mishap some queens escaped. The African queens eventually mated with local drones and produced what are now known as Africanized honey bees on the American continent. The intense struggle for survival of honey bees in sub-Saharan Africa is given as the reason that this sub-species is proactive in defending the hive, and also more likely to abandon an existing hive and swarm to a more secure location. They direct more of their energies to defensive behaviors and less of their energies to honey storage. African honey bees are leather colored, difficult to distinguish by eye from darker strains of Italian bees.[2]
  • Apis mellifera sahariensis, classified by Baldensperger, 1932 - from the Moroccan desert oases of Northwest Africa. This sub-species faces few predators other than humans and is therefore very gentle. Moreover, because of the low density of nectar-producing vegetation around the oases it colonizes, it forages up to five miles, much farther than sub-species from less arid regions. Other authorities say that while colonies of this species are not much inclined to sting when their hives are opened for inspection, they are, nevertheless, highly nervous.
  • Apis mellifera intermissa, classified by von Buttel-Reepen, 1906; Maa, 1953 ("major" is a junior synonym) - Northern part of Africa in the general area of Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. These bees are totally black. They are extremely fierce but do not attack without provocation. They are industrious and hardy, but have many negative qualities that argue against their being favored in the honey or pollination industry.

Subspecies originating in the Middle East and Asia[edit]

  • Apis mellifera anatoliaca (or misspelled as "anatolica"), classified by Maa, 1953 - This race is typified by colonies in the central region of Anatolia in Turkey and Iraq (Range extends as far east as Armenia). It has many good characteristics but is rather unpleasant to deal with in and around the hive.


  1. ^ Michael S. Engel (1999). "The taxonomy of recent and fossil honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Apis)". Journal of Hymenoptera Research 8: 165–196. 
  2. ^ Abramson, Charles I., Aquino, Italo S. 2002. Brain, Behavior, Evolution 59:68-86) Behavioral Studies of Learning in the Africanized Honey Bee (Apis mellifera L.) web accessed Nov. 2006

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