Why the British Black Bee?

     Since 1859 many thousands of queen bees of foreign race have been imported into this country with the apparent intention of producing better bees than those already here, but it can be shown that this has had the opposite effect.

(Ref. Breeding better bees, BIBBA)


          Much work and study has been carried out by BIBBA to show that the best bee for the British climate is Apis melifera melifera. This is a bee of distinct race that has adapted over thousands of years to our unique climate and is able to survive our winters. The physiological reasons for the survival of the dark bee in severe winters are given by Ruttner (1988):

a)     The dark bee has the largest body of the whole species with greater metabolic heat production by individual bees when required.

b)    The dark bee has the longest abdominal over hairs of the European races. The colony forms a winter cluster when the air temperature falls to 2°c. The bees that form the outer layer tuck their heads inwards and the abdominal over hairs interlock from bee to bee, insulating the cluster like the fur of a mammal.

c)     In late summer, perhaps because of the diminution of brood rearing, the amount of biopterin in the larval food is greatly increased and the “winter bees” are formed in which protein and fat accumulate in the “fat bodies” in the sub-dermal layers of the abdomen. These bees are still physiologically “young” in spring and so can act efficiently as nurse bees. It is therefore not necessary to produce brood in the depth of winter, as is the case with Italian bees.

d)    There is an increase in the amount of another enzyme, catalase, which enables the rectum to retain greater quantities or faeces during winter. Such bees, confined for long periods in winter without the possibility of a cleansing flight are less liable to develop dysentery.

e)     The dark bee has a longer period without brood in winter and consequently consumes less food, with a reduction in the accumulation of waste products. The more efficient thermoregulation also reduces the intake of food, which is needed to maintain temperature within the cluster.

f)      The dark bee has greater resistance to nosema.

    Once you have been convinced of the idea that the dark bee is the one for these Isles then the next step is to breed for it, something which can be done with relatively straightforward, if laborious, morphometric techniques. Over time the required characteristics can be assimilated and the unwanted negated.

     A major advantage of working with any pure strain of bee is the fact that they are much more docile than a hybrid, something of major importance in this overcrowded and litigation conscious country.