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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Distribution of honey bees

Bees and flowering plants have evolved during a period of 130 million years to become increasingly dependent upon one another.  Today there are 20,000-30,000 species of bees of which around 16,000 have been scientifically described.  Ancestors of honey bees emerged 40 million years ago, with a modern type of open nesting species appearing in south east Asia around 10 million years ago.  Subsequently species that nested inside cavities appeared, eventually spreading throughout tropical and temperate Asia and into Europe.  These European bees became isolated from the Asian species as desert developed in the Middle East, and evolved into the species that we know today as Apis mellifera, with an indigenous distribution stretching from the Arctic Circle to South Africa, and with eastern limits of the Ural Mountains in the north and the central deserts of Afghanistan in the south.  The cavity-nesting bees in Asia evolved into Apis cerana and the several other cavity nesting species of Apis known today.  The open nesting species gave rise to the several types of open nesting species existing today.  Thus, Asia has a diversity of Apis species, while Europe and Africa have just one species.  However, it is this single species, Apis mellifera, upon which the world's industrialised beekeeping sector is based.


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