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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Honey bee species

All honey bees are classified into the genus Apis and the family Apidae. There are four accepted groupings of honeybee species each morphologically distinct. Each of the Asian species groups is subdivided into two or more further species. It is characteristic of all species of honey bees to control their brood nest temperature, to separate their brood from their food by storing their food above their brood and to live exclusively on pollen and honey. Two of the groups are characterized by cavity nesting while the other two groups make a single comb in the open.

The greatest diversity of honey bee species is in India and adjacent regions, with all the species of honeybee except Apis mellifera present as native species. The Asian hive bee, Apis cerana, which is extremely closely related to the Western Honey bee, is only found in Asia where it is widely kept for its honey. The so-called giant honey bee, Apis dorsata and the closely related Himalayan honey bee, Apis laboriosa are large bees that build a single comb in the open. These species are frequently exploited by honey hunters. The little honey bee, Apis florea is probably the closest, living descendant of the earliest honey bees and has spread from Asia into the Middle East.

The bee species people most use for their own benefit is the common honey bee  Apis mellifera. This honey bee is native to the continents of Europe and Africa but, since the 1600s CE, has been widely and successfully spread throughout the Americas and Australasia as part of these countries' colonial or trading history. Latterly Apis mellifera has spread throughout Asia where in many places the western style industrialisation of honey production is taking place.

The following species are now recognised as distinct species of honey bee (Michener 2000 p807):

  • Small bees nesting with with single exposed combs: A. florea Fabricius  A. andreniformis Smith
  • Large species nesting with single exposed combs A. dorsata Fabricius, A. laboriosa Smith (A.beviligula Maa, A. binghami Cockerell)
  • Middle sized species nesting with multiple combs in cavities:
    A. mellifera Linnaeus,  A. cerana Fabricius , A. koshevnicovi Buttel-Reepen, A.nigrocincta Smith, A.nuluensis Tinget, Koeniger and Koeniger


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