Apis mellifera capensis, known as the Cape honey bee, is a race of Apis mellifera whose natural distribution is confined to the southern tip of Africa, and which has a unique, highly complex biology that is only now starting to be understood. The most significant feature of Apis mellifera capensis is that worker bees are able to lay diploid, female eggs without any mating taking place. This biology is not known in any other honey bee species or race, where the usual 'rule' is that worker bees are only capable of laying unfertlised (therefore haploid - which means they only have half the normal chromosome number), male eggs that develop into drones.
However, this unique characteristic also causes this race to be genetically imcompatible with other African races. The recent (1990) movement by beekeepers of these bees from southern to northern South Africa caused the widespread death of African honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) colonies. The Apis mellifera capensis workers enter the Apis mellifera scutellata colonies, and this soon leads to colony break down and death. It seems that the eggs laid by the Apis mellifera capensis bees evade being killed by other worker bees, as would normally happen, and ultimately the colony breaks down. The spread of these Apis mellifera capensis bees in South Africa, together with the recent introduction of Varroa mites, has severely curtailed beekeeping in South Africa and these issues may eventually have consequences for bees and beekeeping throughout Africa.
Print topic information