Biological Diversity 2001

This image courtesy of NOVA

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Uniramia
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Family: Apidae
Subfamily: Apinae
Genus: Apis
Species: Apis mellifera
Apis mellifera mellifera


This image courtesy of Camazine


Conservation Organizations

Though Apis mellifera is currently not listed under any endangered species lists, it is important to note that their native species numbers are declining. This is ironic, as human activity is the reason for their decline, yet human intervention ensures their absence from these lists. The majority of honeybees are currently managed by humans for commercial reasons such as the production of honey and their role as pollinators.


Apis mellifera:
The Common Honeybee

courtesy of Giger

There are many, many kinds (subspecies) of honeybees that inhabit the world from Italy, to Britain, to Ireland, to the United States. Every animal is taxonomically placed within a slot that helps scientists identify one species of animal from another, as seen on the left of your screen. This specific website is dedicated to the honeybee Apis mellifera.

Physical Characteristics
Apis mellifera have compound eyes for seeing flowers. Bees are insensitive to the color red, but detect ultraviolet colors(Giger, 1995). Their antennae are used for detecting the fragrance of the flower. Their legs, used for gathering pollen, have a crop for transporting nectar, and a stinger for defense of the hive.

Bee communication
Bees communicate by means of movement. For example, when bees return to an area where there were many flowers, they will perform a dance on the honeycomb. Movements and vibration frequencies show the bees the direction and distance of the floral area.

A colony of honeybees is made of a caste system consisting of a queen (fertile female), a few hundred drones (fertile males), and thousands of workers (sterile females). The workers depend on the queen for reproductive purposes and maintenance of the colony, while the queen depends on the workers for food.

Image courtesy of Koning

A drone bee detects the smell of a virgin queen's mandibular gland secretions. With the sperm from the drone bee, she is able to produce eggs. The male drone is killed during copulation.

Honeybees live in hives, where food is stored and eggs are laid. These hives often hang from tree branches. However, their most common habitat is within man-made hives, which is the key to their conservation.
Biomes: Temperate Forest, Rainforest, Desert, Tropical, Deciduous, and Scrub Forest (Eckroad, 1996)

Food and Feeding
Foods for Apis mellifera are honey and pollen. The bees collect the nectar from flowers in their crop, which is connected to the gut. The bees' legs are designed to comb pollen from the body. The workers use the collected pollen and add honey to create a mixture called "bee bread", which is the food for bees. Stored in the cells of the honeycomb, pollen supplies vitamins and proteins for the hive. Pollen is composed of 6 to 28% protein by weight, and contains 10 essential amino acids for the bees. Nectar, which is kept in the honeycomb cells, has 0.2% protein and is composed of 5 to 80% sugar supplying carbohydrates for the hive( Koning, 1994).

Economic importance for humans
Honey bees are important in maintaining natural vegetation since they are a means of transferring pollen between flowers. Another importance is for the utilization of products humans may use, such as honey, beeswax, royal jelly.

Conservation Issues
Pollinator decline has been reported on every continent except Antarctica, and while it is argued that the introduction of the Apis mellifera has disrupted native pollination systems through competition, the honeybee, as a pollinator, has not gone unaffected (Ecological Society of America, date unknown). The wild populations, and even some managed populations, of Apis mellifera are on the decline due to the same issues that native insect pollinators face (Ecological Society of America, date unknown). These issues include: habitat loss, the presence and use of pesticides, and the introduction of exotic parasites- all either the direct or indirect result of human activity (Ginsberg, date unknown).

Habitat loss
The destruction of natural habitats greatly affects bee communities, leading to a decline in wild Apis mellifera populations. Bees require "large, continuously connected areas of suitable habitat," however, human cultivation and urbanization often fragment these habitats into small islands (Delaplane, date unknown)(Ginsberg, date unknown). The relative small area enclosed within these islands, in comparison to the increased area of exposure to the surrounding environment, increases the chance of inbreeding and the invasion by competitors, parasites, and predators (Delaplane, date unknown)(Ginsberg, date unknown). At the same time small habitats decrease Apis mellifera’s dispersal ability and the number of nesting areas and food resources available (Delaplane, date unknown) (Ecological Society of America, date unknown).

Use of Pesticides and Chemicals in environment

Many native honeybee populations are declining due to insecticide and herbicide use (Ginsberg, date unknown). Apis millifera are directly affected by the poison of pesticides and indirectly affected by the use of herbicides, which kill off wildflowers and other flowering plants, which are used in foraging (Ecological Society of America, date unknown). Exposure to pesticides is great in managed and native honey
bees due to their ability to pick up chemical residues and their use, and, or presence in agricultural areas (Ecological Society of America, date unknown) (Bromenshenk, January 1999). Honeybees are so sensitive to environmental factors that they are used by the US Army, in Maryland, to monitor environmental conditions. From a human health perspective, toxic chemicals, such as arsenic, that are readily available to bees may also pose a hazard to humans. These chemicals can reduce flight activity and induce "behavioral abnormalities" (Bromenshenk, January 1999).

Introduction of new species
Since the introduction of the tracheal mite and the varroa mite, two exotic parasites to North America in the 1980’s, wild honeybee populations have declined drastically (Ginsberg, date unknown) (Delaplane, date unknown). The varroa mite is particularly harmful since as it feeds off the blood of developing and adult bees and can transmit a handful of viruses to its host including the Kashmir bee virus (Wood August 1999). While these exotic parasites pose a problem for all populations of honeybees they are a much bigger problem for wild honeybees since their hives are not routinely checked and treated with miticides (Delaplane, date unknown).

Why conservation is important
The conservation of honeybees, both wild and managed, is in everyone’s best interest. This includes many plant conservationalists and the US agricultural economy, in which bees are essential to crop production (Delaplane, date unknown). Rare and endangered plants, as well as plants that are dependent on pollination by honeybees alone, are "particularly vulnerable when their pollination requirements cannot be met," making honeybees significantly important in plant conservation (Ecological Society of America, date unknown)(Ginsberg, date unknown). Both wild and managed honeybees combined are also responsible for adding two to nine billion dollars worth of added value to America's annual crop production (Delaplane, date unknown). A decline of pollination can be seen even now as many farmers require managed honeybees to pollinate their fields. As a result, this leads to higher food prices, making bee populations economically significant.


Literature Cited

Bromershenk, Jerry. "date unknown." The buzz on enviromental monitoring. Accessed 2001 October 26

Delaplan, keiths "date unknown." Bee conservation in the southeast. Accessed 2001 October 25.

Ecological Society of America. "date unknown." Pollinators in decline- causes Accessed 2001 October 26.

Eckroad, Dana. 1995. Apis mellifera$narrative.html Accessed 2001 October 25.

Eckroad, Daniel."date unkown." Apis mellifera.$narrative.html Accessed 2001 October 26.

Ginsberg, Howard S. "date unknown." Species, habitat alterations affect bee pollinators U.S. Northeast. Accessed 2001 October 26.

Koning, Ross E. 1994. The biology of the honeybee, Apis millifera. Accessed 2001 November 11.

Nicholas, M.S.O. "date unknown." Honeybees the genus apis. Accessed 2001 October 26.

Wood, Marcia. 1999. August. Varroa-tolerant bees keep hives buzzing. Agricultural Research Magazine. Accessed 2001 Oct 26.

Images Sited

Camazine, Scott. "date unknown." Honeybee lab. Accessed 2001 November 11.

Camazine, Scott. 2001. Honeybee Parasites, Pests, Predators, and Diseases.
Accessed 2001 November 13.

Camazine, Scott. "date unknown." Tracheal mites. Accessed 2001 November 11.

Dolan, Maureen. 1998. Tales from the hive. Accessed 2001 October 26.

Giger, Andrew. 1995. B-eye. Accessed 2001 October 26.

Koning, Ross. 1994. The biology of the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Accessed 2001 October 26.

Meyer, John R. 2001. Hymenoptera.
Accessed 2001 November 13.

Fun Stuff

Camazine, Scott. "date unknown." Honeybee lab.
Accessed 2001 November 13.

Dolan, Maureen. 1998. Tales from the hive. Accessed 2001 November 13.

Dolan, Maureen. 1998. Tales from the hive: Dances with bees.
Accessed 2001 November 13.

Author: Corliss Harris, Hannah Lehmann, Batya Madison
Creation/revision date: November 28, 2001

Fun Stuff!!!!

Join a bee in it's search for nectar

Watch bees swarm

See through bee's eyes




This image courtesy of Meyer


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This website is part of a Biology 26 class project on the conservation of global biodiversity.

Earlham · Biology Department · Biology 26 : Biological Diversity

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