honeybee is one of the first animals to be domesticated by man for the obvious
purpose of profiting from its lovely and useful products (honey and wax).
keeping - or Apiculture - is an old science. More than three thousand years
ago there was already a deep knowledge of this insect and its behaviour.
basis of this science, art and sport was already established, though with obvious
mistakes that time has proved wrong. But considering the technological limitations
of those days, almost everything to be known about the empirical ways of bees
was already known in the ancient, though developed cultures of the world (China,
Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome).
relevant or even new came into this science for thousands of years, since the
time of the ancient Greeks. The swarms were trapped the same way, the hives
were also built in ancestral ways, the honey and wax was collected by the same
systems (and still is in some parts of the world, including Eivissa). It was
not until the second half of the XIX century that a new revolution in this science
did happen and modern Apiculture started.
of these new ideas for the progress of this science came from America. The US
citizen Langstroth, who invented a new type of hive, with extraordinary results
for the bees' production, is considered to be the father of modern Apiculture.
It was also in America, with the introduction of different races of honeybees,
where the selection and the crossing of different types could be studied in
a more scientific way. The results were spectacular and the real Apiculture,
as a solid industry, begun.
ended our first chapter talking about the different "varieties" of
the specie "Apis melliphica": the honeybee.
modern times and for practical terms, Root divides the honeybees into two main
groups or sub-species, the black ones and the yellow ones. (More recently, there
are also indeterminate numbers of hybrids between all the different varieties
of both groups, and it's not easy anymore to see any of them as a pure specie).
bees of the black group form the eldest and most extended of both groups, all
over the place. These are the bees known from ancestral times: it is the bee
that Aristhothelles and Plinio wrote about. It is believed to be originally
from Greece or Asia Minor. We can distinguish branches of the European black,
or common bee: The Dutch ones, the first to be imported in America, developing
its own characteristics as they were colonising this continent: The German ones,
from the centre of Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, British Islands,
France Spain and Portugal.
bee is very active, strong and sober, living as native, wild in its own environment
as they do in these three last countries, they are also passive and very prolific;
the swarms are easily formed and they can be rather big. It was introduced in
America much later then the Dutch, where it adapted well, being now very appreciated
for their good service.
important sub-species of the common black European bee, are: the "Carniolica"
bee (Apis carniolica), from the Alps and the river Donau area, very resistant
bees, with also a very mild and passive character, easy to work with. But their
hives need more protection then others because they don't even defend themselves
from other insects' attacks.
"Caucasian bee", even more passive and mild then the "carniolica",
the most peaceful in the world. The bad news is that they produce too much "propoleos,"
cementing their honeycomb, producing a lower-quality honey:
Banat bee, originally from Rumania, not too aggressive, adapts well to all European
climates, being active until the beginning of the winter. (Within this group,
we can also include the most aggressive African bees' sub-group).
Italian honeybee is the most important of the yellow group, with another three
sub-groups of what we can call Mediterranean yellow-bees: Syria and Palestine
bees. (Of the yellow group we also can find the Oriental bees, from Egypt and
the Sahara, India, China and Japan).
Italian bee is, of course, originally from Italy. Known as well as "Apis
ligustica", it is well extended all over and is also the most important
in the world in commercial terms. This is a pretty bee; lighter colour then
the common bee, especially when it's young, with two nice yellow-orange rings
across the abdomen. The end of it is black and it is - according to the great
majority of beekeepers - the most beautiful of all. It is also very prolific
and active, forming the biggest swarms of the lot, with a mild character when
it is a pure race, easy to work with, but also very efficient stealing honey
and pollen from other hives and lonely bees.
was introduced in the United States in 1855, at the same time that they started
to extend and be used through different countries in Europe. Soon all beekeepers
felt a real passion for this bee and for years it was the favourite of the Apiculture
industry. But some other problems started to show for this particular bee. Its
queen comes out for her wedding flight before the other races do, and her flight
is also longer then other queens, because, for unknown reasons, the queen prefers
drones of other races. If there are other swarms in a radius of at least five
kilometres, there is a good chance for her to be crossed with other kinds of
drones, so the future generations will be hybrids. Also this bee prefers to
live in big swarms, the bigger the better, so if the swarm that she belongs
to is too small for her, she will abandon her own hive and queen and will join
a bigger swarm.
has also been proved by specialist W. Vogel, Dzierzon, Roma Fßbregad that the
new-born hybrids get the morphology and the working aptitudes of the mother
queen, but the character comes from the drone. If an Italian queen is crossed
with a drone of the black races, the Italian bees become stronger, keeping or
enlarging the working activity. But also this normally tranquil and mild bee
as a pure race becomes tremendously aggressive and dangerous to work with.
Spanish introduced the European common black bee into Mexico. In 1763, they
arrived in Pensacola, Florida and in 1793 a few swarms were taken to New York.
By 1797, the common black bee was already colonising West of the Mississippi.
There were two kinds of honeybees ("Apis trigona" and "Apis mellipona")
used by the natives from long before pre-Columbus times. The peculiar fact about
these bees is that they don't sting, but they can bite painfully when they get
too excited or the hive is under threat. Also the Apis mellipona produces a
much darker wax, known as "Black wax", which is not as much appreciated.
are still quite a few more races of the specie "Apis melliphera" all
over the world, important for the quality and the quantity of its production,
but it is a long list, beyond the scope of these articles. Also since the development
of the new Apiculture (especially in the last twenty years, with the new electronics
and micro-technology) beekeepers have tried to improve the quality of their
swarms and their production by crossing queens and drones of different races,
with good results in some cases.
select the races according to several different qualities and aptitudes of the
bees, such as the fertility of the queen, the age that the bees can reach, the
distance they can fly, the length of their tongue, the amount of pollen and
honey they can carry, resistance to work and illnesses, their character, etc.
most cases, crossed bees increase the production, with a better result then
the different pure species by themselves. Other times, the results are not so
good, producing problems, especially with their character. It can change so
much that it's like starting all over again for the beekeeper, so he loses control
of the situation and the production drops. This is most probably what's happening
at present in America, with what they call the African or Killer bees. Apparently
they are the result of crossing Italian queens with some of the varieties of
the common black-bee-drone, reproducing as wild in very large virgin areas,
without any competition and control, forming enormous swarms of very aggressive
bees. It is also said that the rising of the temperatures all over our planet
helps this bee, which could easier conquer more territory up to the North of
our modest Island, the great majority of beekeepers keep faithful to our common,
bad character black bee. At least we know how its honey and sting taste. There
are also some other varieties, but for practical terms, most prefer our ancestral
and lovely "Maya".