bee biology

Honey bee species around the world

Besides western honey bees, we have six other species.

In addition to the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, there are six other Apis species in the world today. These belong to three groups or subgenera.

  • Subgenus Micrapis
    • Apis andreniformis
    • Apis florea
  • Subgenus Megapis
    • Apis dorsata
  • Subgenus Apis
    • Apis cerana
    • Apis koschevnikovi
    • Apis mellifera
    • Apis nigrocincta

Redefined honey bee species

You will sometimes see three others listed. Two of these, Apis breviligula and Apis binghami were once grouped under the subgenus Megapis. Today however, they are considered subspecies of Apis dorsata. The third, Apis indica, was listed under the subgenus Apis, but is now considered a subspecies of Apis cerana.

If this seems all very confusing, it is. Scientists have long classified organisms according to their similarities and probable evolutionary history. However, recent advances in genetic science have forced the reclassification of many organisms—both plant and animal—sometimes in surprising ways.

Characteristics of other honey bees

Apis florea and A. andreniformis make up the dwarf honey bees. They are small Asian bees that build compact, exposed nests in trees and shrubs. A. florea produces a small amount of harvestable honey each year.

Apis dorsata, known as the giant honey bee, lives throughout south and southeast Asia. This fiercely protective bee builds exposed nests on cliffs or limbs. The nests can easily be three feet wide, so the bees developed unique methods of self-defense, including the shimmer response.

The red bee, Apis koschevnikovi , originated in Borneo and A. nigrocinta evolved in the Philippines. A. cerana, the eastern honey bee, is the only other species kept in manmade hives similar to A. mellifera. It is popular in several regions of Asia.

Most other “named” bees are subspecies or hybrids. The so-called Africanized honey bee, for example, is a hybrid between the European Apis mellifera and an African subspecies Apis mellifera scutellata. You can click here for more information on Apis mellifera subspecies.

Rusty Burlew
Honey Bee Suite

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