In addition to the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, there are 6 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
You will sometimes see three others listed. Apis breviligula and Apis binghami used to be listed under the subgenus Megapis but are now considered subspecies of Apis dorsata. 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.
Apis florea and A. andreniformis are known as dwarf honey bees. They are small Asian bees that build compact, exposed nests in trees and shrubs. A small amount of honey is harvested from A. florea.
Apis dorsata, known as the giant honey bee, is found throughout south and southeast Asia. This fiercely protective bee builds exposed nests on cliffs or limbs. The nests can easily be three feet wide.
Apis koschevnikovi originated in Borneo and is known as the red bee. A. nigrocinta is from the Phillipines. A. cerani, 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.