In September 1990 a soldier brought a colony of the little honey bee Apis florea
to our laboratory in Baghdad. He mentioned that the colony's comb was found in a tree at Madeli town, 10 km west of the Iraq-Iran border and 150 km east of Baghdad. When we went there and to other towns located near the border we found many colonies of A. florea.
Colonies were found at Khanaqin, about 60 km north of Mandeli and 10 km west of the border, and at Jalowla, 30 km west of Khanaqin. Our identification of the species was then confirmed by the Iraqi Museum of Natural History and the International Institute of Entomology in London.
All colonies are in the open air. Some are suspended from branches of pomegranate and mulberry trees 2 to 4 m above ground, grapevine branches 1 to 1.5 m above ground and date palm leaf stalks at up to 10m. Other combs were attached to wooden stands of refrigerators and water pots placed in shaded courtyards (20-30 cm above ground).
It is not known how long these bees have been in Iraq. However local people in these areas say they have been familiar with these bees for many years. Since this species occurs in Iran, we believe swarms have crossed the border from neighbouring areas in the Iranian province of Kharmanshah. Local people harvest honey from these colonies by "hunting", but they may learn a method of beekeeping which is superior to honey hunting. Beekeepers in the Sultanate of Oman either move wild colonies of Apis florea to specially prepared artificial 'caves' or niches or suspend them in trees near their houses. An important factor affecting these colonies in Iraq is the extensive aerial application of pesticides to date palm plantations.
It seems that Apis florea is extending its range further west, either 'naturally' or through human intervention.
Thanks to Dr Mohammad S Abdul-Rassoul and Dr D B Baker for confirming the identification of Apis florea specimens.