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