A recent article in The Guardian tells about the rediscovery of the European black bee (also known as the German black bee) in areas of northern Britain where it was once feared extinct. The Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association (Bibba) has been on the hunt for this once-common bee and is excited about the prospect of using its genes to strengthen stocks of British bees.
The black bee, Apis mellifera mellifera, is native to Great Britain and is, therefore, more adapted to the local climate. Beekeepers remember this hardy bee overwintering with small, strong populations even in the harshest of British weather. According to Wikipedia the black bee is hardy and gentle, with a low propensity to swarm and a high degree of predator (wasp) control.
The Guardian article reports that less than one percent of hives in the U.K. contain the genes of black bees. Apparently it is both easier and cheaper to acquire bees from southern Europe or New Zealand, so Bibba is hoping to organize a queen-rearing program to help reverse that trend. For now they are using genetic analysis to discover hives containing a significant amount of native stock.
The European black bee is larger than common commercial bees with longer hairs on its thorax and a distinctive vein pattern in its wings. The black bee was nearly wiped out by tracheal mites in the early 1900s and was subsequently replaced by other subspecies, such as A.m. ligustica, the Italian honey bee which is still in use today.