European Honey Bees

European honey bee or the western honey bee scientifically known as Apis mellifera is a species of honey bee native to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Like all other honey bee species, the European honey bee is eusocial, creating colonies with a single fertile queen, thousands of normally non reproductive worker bees and hundreds of fertile drones. The colonies of European honey bees usually have 20000 to 80000 bees and each colony consists of developing eggs, larvae and pupae. Their colony activities are organized by complex communication between bees through both dance language and pheromones.

There are more than 20 recognized subspecies of European honey bees and they have been spread enormously beyond their natural range due to economic benefits related to honey production and pollination. At present, they are naturalized on all continents except Antarctica. European honey bees usually make their nests in hollow trees and man made wooden structures that protect the colony’s food store and young bees. They can survive in wetlands, grasslands and deserts if there is sufficient food, water and shelter. But they prefer habitats that have an abundant supply of suitable flowering plants such as gardens, meadows and open wooded areas.

Africanized Honey Bees

The Africanized honey bee also known as the killer bee is a hybrid of the European honey bee species produced by cross breeding of East African lowland honey bees with European honey bees. They are slightly smaller than the European honey bees but far more dangerous because these bees are extremely aggressive a lot more than average honey bees when it comes to defending their colonies. Africanized bees are great pollinators but their colonies produce less amount of honey and tend to abscond and swarm in greater frequencies compared to the European honey bees.

Honey Production

Apis mellifera literally meaning honey bearing bee is the most widely distributed and domesticated honey bee species in the world. They are the world’s largest honey producers and some of the world’s most expensive and healthiest honeys like Manuka, Tupelo, Sourwood and Acacia are produced by them. Compared to the other honey bee species, they are easy to manage and a single colony is capable of producing more than 30 kg of honey per year. Except for delicious honey, European honey bees produce several marketable products such as beeswax, propolis and royal jelly.

Pollination

European honey bees are the most frequent floral visitors in natural habitats worldwide. They pollinate a number of economically important crops including strawberries, blueberries, almonds, black currants, cranberries, apples, cherries, pomegranates, etc. Some crops like cherries and blueberries are more than 80% dependent on honey bee pollination and almonds depend entirely on honey bees for pollination at bloom time. Managed European honey bee colonies contribute billions of dollars to the value of worldwide crop production every year. Therefore, a healthy beekeeping industry is invaluable to a healthy world agricultural economy.

European Honey Bee Sting

European honey bees rarely sting when they are away from the hive foraging for water, pollen and nectar unless you stepped on or roughly handled. They usually sting to defend their hive and only worker bees sting intruders. Bee stings are painful but relatively harmless for most people. However, if you are allergic to insect stings, you need to be very careful with bees because bee stings can trigger dangerous and deadly anaphylactic reaction in your body within a short period of time. So if you get stung multiple times, quickly remove the stingers and seek medical help immediately.

For extremely severe allergic reactions, you may use Epipen auto injector to improve breathing, raise a dropping blood pressure, reverse hives, stimulate the heart and reduce swelling of the face, throat and lips. After injecting Epipen into the middle of your upper leg, get medical help right away because the effects of epinephrine are rapid but won’t last long. You can also treat yourself with long term immunotherapy treatments to make your immune system ready to neutralize bee venom and prevent allergic symptoms.

Predators and Pests

European honey bees have a considerable number of dangerous predators and pests in their natural environment. Among all of them, Asian giant hornets are the most deadly and abundant predators attacking the European colonies. European honey bees have no innate defense against the Asian giant hornets and a small group of them can easily destroy an entire European hive in less than five hours. Some mammals like Bears, gorillas, honey badgers and skunks attack beehives for honey and can cause very serious hive damages within a short period of time. Except for that, destructive pests such as small hive beetles and wax moths can destroy weak bee colonies by causing damage to combs, stored honey and pollen.

Mites and Diseases

European honey bees are highly vulnerable to some parasitic mites including varroa mites, tracheal mites and tropilaelaps mites. Among all of them, varroa mites are the most destructive because they are widespread and the European honey bees have no natural defense against them. These mites weaken the honey bees by sucking up their blood, hemolymph, fat bodies and also transmit deadly bee diseases that can eventually wipe out entire bee colonies. Except for that, European bee colonies are vulnerable to some bacterial, fungal, viral and other diseases including American foulbrood, European foulbrood, chalkbrood, stonebrood, cripaviridae, sacbrood, chilled brood, dysentery, etc.

Conclusion

European honey bees are native to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. There are more than 20 recognized subspecies of Apis mellifera including Apis mellifera mellifera, Apis mellifera adami, Apis mellifera carnica, Apis mellifera iberiensis, Apis mellifera caucasia, Apis mellifera ligustica, etc. All subspecies of Apis mellifera can interbreed or hybridize and the Africanized honey bee is a hybrid of the Apis mellifera subspecies. Compared to the other honey bee species, European honey bees produce a large amount of honey and provide highly valued pollination service for a wide variety of economically important crops.

An average adult can tolerate about 10 bee stings per pound of body weight. However, if you are allergic to insect stings and get stung by bees multiple times, you must get medical attention immediately. European honey bees have a considerable number of harmful pests, microbes and predators in their natural and introduced environments and most of the time European honey bees have no innate defense against these harmful organisms. Therefore, the beekeepers must provide intense protection and care for the European beehives especially in their nonnative environments.

European Honey Bee Facts

  • European honey bees were introduced to North America in 1622.
  • European queens can lay more than 1000 eggs per day.
  • They fly at a speed of around 25 km per hour and beat their wings 200 times per second.
  • Worker bees can only live for 6 weeks during the honey production seasons but they can live up to 6 months in winter.
  • The average lifespan of a drone bee is about 8 weeks and a queen bee can live up to 5 years.
  • European honey bees usually forage several kilometers from their nest.
  • Honey bees have been producing honey in the same way for millions of years.
  • The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.
  • The hive controls the type of bees that emerge.
  • Queen bees store a lifetime supply of sperm and drones die immediately after mating.

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