From Whence You Came, Honey Bee?

Apis melliferaWestern honey bee. By Ivar Leidus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Apis mellifera Western honey bee. By Ivar Leidus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

As a new beekeeper, I never really considered much about the origins of honey bees. I knew they were not native to the United States, most are from Europe and the ones that sting in a swarm are called Africanized. Local beekeepers talk about ordering Italians or Carniolans to populate hives, and during a recent local beekeeper’s association presentation, Asian honey bees were mentioned. From where Apis mellifera, the Western honey bee arose, I did not know.

As it turns out, the origin of honey bees is a highly debated topic. Some say they arose from Asia; others say Africa. Recently, researchers from the University of California—Davis used short nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and two sets of previously published whole genome data, included additional sequenced genomes and applied multiple computational methods to analyze honey bee population genetics. They published their conclusions in Genome Biology and Evolution.

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How Do Agricultural Landscapes Affect Bee Health?

Honey bee carrying pollen.Honey bees are hard-working insects. Their pollination services are in such demand, humans tow hundreds of hives carrying millions of bees around in the back of semitrucks to bring honey bees to various locations such as California almond groves. Humans are also quite partial to the bee colony winter energy storage also known as honey. So while honey bees work hard to collect pollen and nectar from blooming plants and trees and store honey for the winter, humans insist on robbing the colony’s store of delicious sweetener for their own uses. Recent reports of high mortality in honey bee colonies has caused concern in many beekeepers who manage European honey bee apiaries for honey production and pollination services. These severe depletion of honey bee colonies have been attributed to the parasitic mite Varroa destructor in the colony, not only feeding off the larvae and pupae brooding in the colony but also transmitting viruses carried by the mite. Bee nutrition is important for the pollinators especially when overwintering in the hive. Without adequate nutrition, a colony may become weak and succumb to parasite or disease pressure, unable to survive until nectar and pollen are available in the spring. A study was recently published in PLOS ONE that examined how the landscape around Midwestern honeybee hives affected the ability of bees to overwinter and assessed their health by measuring levels of Varroa mites and honey bee viruses. Continue reading “How Do Agricultural Landscapes Affect Bee Health?”