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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Bee species & races

The Aculeate group of the order Hymenoptera includes bees, ants and wasps.  Bees, with few exceptions, feed on food of plant origin, especially pollen.  Consequently, they are important pollinators of natural vegetation and crops.  They are biologically diverse with 1200 genera, and around 30,000 species, around half of them named by science.  They include social, semi-social and solitary bees all with their own importance as part of ecological biodiversity.

Only two types of bee groups are exploited by humans for direct gain. There are a number of species of stingless bees whose honey is often particularly valued for its special medicinal properties.  The other major group of exploited bees are the honey bees (Apis mellifera). Honeybees are classified into the family Apidae and the genus Apis.  They characteristically control their brood nest temperature, keep their brood separate from their food, and live exclusively on pollen and honey. There are four accepted groupings of honeybee species with three of these species groups further subdivided into additional species.


Further, within the species groupings of the honey bees, separate subspecies or races are also recognised.  The behavioural and biological characteristics of each race can be distinctive and each race will have their own value and disadvantages for the beekeepers wishing to keep them. In general these differences arise in response to evoloutionary pressures and so enable each race to maximise its capacity for survival withn a given environment.  In particular, there are significant differences between tropical and subtropical and European races of honey bees.  This is an evolutionary consequence of adaptation to different habitats.  The difference between races is so marked that it affects the management of these differing bees.  However, even within races, there can be tremendous genetic variation and determining what is a typical honey bee race is often subjective.  These naturally occurring genetic variations are what bee breeders use to enhance desired characteristics and reduce those that are less desirable. 


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