Apis mellifera

Taxonomy

Family: Apidae
Subfamily: Apinae
Tribe: Apini Latreille, 1802
Genus: Apis Linnaeus, 1758
Subgenus: Apis (Apis) Linnaeus, 1758
Species: Apis mellifera Linnaeus, 1758
Common names: western honey bee, European honey bee, common honey bee

Overview

Apis mellifera is one of the best known and most studied insects worldwide. It is found worldwide due to human introductions outside its natural range for beekeeping. The species is also commercially exploited for products such as honey, wax, and propolis, and it is used for pollination of multiple crops. The average size of the workers as adults ranges between 10–15 mm long, fertile queens are larger (18–20 mm), and males (drones) can reach 15–17 mm of length at maturity. Workers of A. mellifera are usually reddish-brown (depending on the race, some are darker and some are lighter) and have dark bands in the metasoma; the legs of the workers are dark brown.

Diagnostic characteristics

  • Distal abscissa of vein M in hind wing absent (Fig 7 and 8).
  • Mesoscutum light to dark brown (Fig 10, 11, and 12).
  • Forewing length between 7.5–10 mm.
  • Drones without metabasitibial process (digit absent) (Fig 13).
  • Sting apparatus with 10 lancet barbs and 2–4 pairs of stylet barbs which are the vestigial form: very small (Jayasvasti and Wongsiri 1993) (Fig 15).
  • Distance from tip of lancet to the first barb = 55.18 µm (Jayasvasti and Wongsiri 1993) (Fig 15).

Host associations

As with all species of honey bees, A. mellifera is a generalist and visits a broad range of plants for food.

Nesting behavior

Nests of A. mellifera are found in cavities in trees or rocks as well as human constructions. Natural nests are composed of multiple parallel combs that are fixed to the roof of cavity with a uniform bee space in between.

The species has been domesticated and can be kept in human-made hives. The most common and broadly used is the Langstroth hive.

Diversity

There are multiple subspecies or races of A. mellifera, each of which is adapted to local geographic and climatic environments; in fact, there are between 26 and 29 subspecies of A. mellifera that have been proposed based on morphometry (Ruttner 1988, Sheppard and Weixner 2003, Gupta 2014).

The subspecies of A. mellifera are typically divided into four major groups based on morphometrics, genetics, ecological, physiological, and some behavioral traits. Group A includes all the subspecies of Africa; Group M includes the subspecies of western and northern Europe; Group C includes the subspecies from eastern Europe, and finally Group O includes the subspecies from Turkey and the Middle East (Ruttner et al. 1978, Ruttner 1988, Garnery et al. 1992, Frank et al. 2001, Miguel et al. 2011, and Gupta 2014).

Known invasives

The western honey bee has been introduced since colonization in the Americas and Australia as well as most of the Asian continent. This has been a matter of concern regarding native species of bees in the world because A. mellifera may compete for resources (forage and nesting) and introduce new parasites and disease. Although not fully proven, the competition between A. mellifera and other bees has been a matter of debate over many years, and it is still contentious.

Distribution

A. mellifera is native to Africa, most of Europe, and the Middle East, but has been introduced by humans to the Western Hemisphere, Australasia, and the rest of the world. The species has been recently introduced in commercial scale in the islands of Southeast Asia for exploitation purposes, which is possibly affecting the conservation of native species of honey bees as well as having a detrimental effect on native habitats (Koeniger et al. 2010, Engel 2012).

​Distribution map generated by Discover Life -- click on map for details, credits, and terms of use.

<p>Fig 1, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female face, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 1, Apis mellifera female face, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 2, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female lateral habitus, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 2, Apis mellifera female lateral habitus, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 3, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female abdomen, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 3, Apis mellifera female abdomen, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 4, <em>Apis mellifera</em> drone face, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 4, Apis mellifera drone face, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 5, <em>Apis mellifera </em>drone lateral habitus, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 5, Apis mellifera drone lateral habitus, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 6, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female abdomen, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 6, Apis mellifera female abdomen, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 7, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female wings, photo: C. Ritner</p>
Fig 7, Apis mellifera female wings, photo: C. Ritner
<p>Fig 8, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female hind wing distal abcissa absent, photo: C. Ritner</p>
Fig 8, Apis mellifera female hind wing distal abcissa absent, photo: C. Ritner
<p>Fig 9, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female vertex straight, photo: S. Burrows</p>
Fig 9, Apis mellifera female vertex straight, photo: S. Burrows
<p>Fig 10, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female scutellum brown, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 10, Apis mellifera female scutellum brown, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 11, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female scutellum yellow, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 11, Apis mellifera female scutellum yellow, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 12, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female scutellum reddish-brown, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 12, Apis mellifera female scutellum reddish-brown, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 13, <em>Apis mellifera</em> drone, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo</p>
Fig 13, Apis mellifera drone, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo
<p>Fig 14, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo</p>
Fig 14, Apis mellifera female, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo
<p>Fig 15, <em>Apis mellifera</em> female terminalia, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo</p>
Fig 15, Apis mellifera female terminalia, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo