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The black bee

our native honeybee



  Apis mellifera mellifera


History of the black bee

The western honey bee Apis mellifera started colonization of the Middle East, Africa and Europe 6 million years ago from Asia. That happened in different groups. Each group followed a unique route and started to differentiate itself into new subspecies according to the law of natural selection. The group of western honey bees that colonized Europe along the northern route today bears the name "Group M", the group of subspecies that colonized Europe along the southern shores of the Mediterranean bears the name "Group C".




     Colonization from Asia (© Mellifica)


 Spread and habitat honeybee


With the arrival of the last ice age, Group M set off south, fleeing the cold advancing north. Part of group M sought refuge in southern France, another part moved a little further south towards the Iberian Peninsula (which was possible because the sea level was lower). The group in southern France evolved into the subspecies Apis mellifera mellifera or black bee, the group on the Iberian peninsula evolved into the subspecies Apis mellifera iberica or Iberian bee. With the end of the last ice age, the climate in Northern Europe slowly warmed up again, resulting in reviving vegetation and thus became attractive again for pollinators such as honey bees. However, only the black bee could seize that opportunity, because other subspecies were all trapped behind natural barriers (often mountain ranges: Pyrenees, Alps, Apennines, etc.). The black bee extended its territory to an area that stretched from southern France to Scandinavia and from the British Isles to the west side of the Ural Mountains.


Decline of the black bee

The higher honey production of other subspecies made beekeepers experiment with us here. For example, Northern European beekeepers came up with the idea of ​​importing selected ligustica and carnic bees to cross them with their native black bees so that their new bees would inherit the best qualities from both parents. This import started in the second half of the 19th century, grew strongly in the interbellum period and reached its peak after WWII.


Apis mellifera carnica

Apis mellifera carnica


Apis mellifera ligustica

Apis mellifera ligustica


The ligustica (a subspecies from group C) had the name of much honey to collect and was therefore imported from Italy at the end of the 19th century. Initially by the French, but slowly this also advanced to Belgium and the Netherlands. Crossing the ligustica with the native mellifera, however, resulted in a stab and swarmful hybrid.

At the same time, a different story unfolded to the east of us. In our regions, the multiplication and selection of bee colonies was left to nature in the sense swarming, and after swarming they were put back on a beehive. In Germany and Austria, among others, people worked in a more structured way. The Austrian Hans Peschetz selected the tribe K - Peschetz 332 starting from a swarm caught in Upper Carinthia (carnica [also a subspecies from group C]) in 1926. In the 1930s Nazism won the political struggle in Germany headed by a well-known Austrian who was very fond of purity. This man proclaimed the carnica, coming from (the south of) his native country and now strongly selected, to "die Reichsbiene". Tribe 332 became described, recognized and appointed by Reichskörmeister dr. Goetze . Beekeepers and especially breeding and research stations in Nazi Germany were "motivated" to trade in the black bee for carnica.

Those who chose to continue to beekeeping with their own native black bee were the pinch: their queens were more and more fertilized year after year by ligustica and / or carnicadars, which, like the earlier hybrids, yielded very unpleasant honey bees. The black bee thus received the label of "aggressive and swarmful", of course wrongly there because those characteristics dealt with the hybrids. These beekeepers eventually gave up their (hybridized) black bee and switched to the easiest solution to the problem: like the rest, they started importing soil-foreign propagating material, this import increased exponentially during the interbellum period and reached its end point after the Second World War. Carnica in particular was imported after 1945, since it was already strongly selected on the one hand and available everywhere in Germany, on the other hand, it had meanwhile become apparent that the ligustica often had problems with wintering in our northern climate. These mass imports made the remaining black bee populations disappear one by one.


OUR natural landscape

The black bee and her wild cousins ​​were largely responsible for the creation of our natural landscape, selecting wild flowers that supplied them with nectar and pollen. In return, they rewarded them with all-important pollination services. Hence, it can be said that she and the other pollinators are largely responsible for the wildflowers you see around you today.


The black bee in the Netherlands in 2015

Today, one population of black bees is known in the Netherlands on Texel, which is kept free of influences from other bee breeds through an official regulation. It is not allowed to bring bees from the mainland to Texel. Based on morphological characteristics and DNA research, it has been established that the native bee population on Texel is relatively pure Apis mellifera mellifera and has hardly been crossed in with ligustica or carnica. Partly due to the efforts of the Twentsche Beekeepers 't Landras, the black bee has been preserved for the Netherlands.

Research has shown that the bee colonies on Texel, without intensively combating the varroa mite, show strikingly little winter mortality. This has aroused the interest of the 'Duurzame Bij' Foundation where honey bees have been selected for varroa-tolerant properties for a number of years.





The future ?

Countless plant and animal species die out every day, often as a result of misguided human actions. In the majority of cases it is very difficult to stop the decline of a species - and so its extinction. In such a case, the efforts of ordinary people are unfortunately only a drop in the ocean. Very occasionally, however, ordinary people can really play a significant role, such as the rescue of the black bee: if someone wants to offer a beekeeper a place for hives in his garden, he can consciously choose a beekeeper with black bees for our to offer a native bee a chance. Similarly, farmers who are dependent on pollination by honey bees could consciously opt for black bees.



zwarte bij heide

The black bee wil be grateful..






© Jean - Louis


                                                                             Le Moigne