Bees world wide

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Bees world wide

BEES AROUND THE WORLD

There are around 30,000 named species of bees.  Most are solitary: each female bee makes her own nest, lays a single egg and provides food for the single larva that develops.  A few species show a high level of social development and live together in a permanent, large colony, headed by a single egg-laying queen.  Although many species of bees collect nectar that they convert to honey and store as a food source, it is only these large colonies formed by social species that store appreciable quantities of honey.  These bees belong to the genus Apis, known as honey bees, and others are the stingless bees, belonging to the genera Trigona and Melipona.  These species have been exploited by man for thousands of years: until recent centuries, honey was the most common sweetening commodity.

The honey bees most widely used for beekeeping are European races of Apis mellifera, a species of honey bee indigenous also to Africa and the Middle East.  Honey bees do not occur naturally in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand or Pacific islands: European bees have been introduced to these regions during the last four centuries.  Over the last half century, European bees have been introduced to most countries of Asia.  In industrialised countries, all beekeeping technology has been developed for use with European honey bees, and most beekeeping and research literature relate only to this bee.

AFRICA

Apis mellifera are also indigenous to tropical Africa.  All races of tropical honey bees are more likely to abandon their nest or hive if disturbed, because they have a greater chance of survival in the tropics.  In some areas, honey bee colonies migrate seasonally.  These are crucial factors governing tropical bee management.

In much of sub-saharan tropical Africa, local beekeeping methods are used, with log, bark, basket or clay hives placed in trees.  The collection of honey from wild nests is also carried out where sufficient natural resources remain.

ASIA

At least nine honey bee species - varying in biology and behaviour - occur in Asia.  Some of these bee species build nests consisting of single combs, in trees, bushes, or in cliffs, and a great variety of methods have been developed for their exploitation by humans.  For example, the giant honey bee, Apis dorsata, suspends its large combs (often 1 m in diameter) from tree branches and overhanging ledges on rocks and buildings.  Man obtains honey crops from this species by plundering their colonies, an activity known as honey hunting.  Throughout Asia, from Gurung tribesmen in the Himalayas, to mangrove-dwellers in the Sunderbans of Bangladesh, the rain-forest people in Malaysia, people living in the river deltas of southern Vietnam, and indeed, wherever the giant honey bee is present, honey hunters have their own customs for exploiting these bees.

Apis cerana is known as the Asian hive bee because like European Apis mellifera, it can be kept and managed inside a hive.  European Apis mellifera have been introduced to most of Asia, and may be the predominant honey bee species now present in China, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries.

THE AMERICAS

There are no honey bees indigenous to the Americas.  Instead, their ecological niche was filled by many different species of stingless bees, which were, and still are in some areas, exploited for their honey that is especially valued for its medicinal properties.  Knowing nothing of these indigenous bees, European settlers long ago took with them European honey bees, and an industry developed based on this bee.  In 1956, some tropical, African Apis mellifera bees were introduced into Brazil.  These bees survived far more successfully in tropical Brazil than their European Apis mellifera predecessors.  These 'Africanised' bees (dubbed 'killer bees' by the media) have spread through tropical parts of South and Central America, and are now in southern USA.  In Brazil and neighbouring countries, beekeepers developed new management methods and now create excellent livelihoods with these bees.  However the bees' arrival in southern states of USA is causing concern, and beekeepers will have to change their practises to fit the bahavior of these tropical bees.

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