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Dark bee - Apis mellifera - female

Dark bee - Apis mellifera - Female
Williamson County, Texas, USA
March 23, 2007
Among the many honeybees working the _Ungnadia speciosa_ (Mexican buckeye) flowers on this cloudy, wet, windy day were a few dark bees just about the same size. I had not seen any of these on the redbud (now just going out of flower) or the wild wondering if this is a bee specializing in this particular plant. To my inexperienced eye, it looks something like a _Diadasia_ species, but I'm not sure. Because the day was so dark, I did slightly lighten this image in the computer to bring it closer to what I thought I saw...a dark gray, not a true black, bee.

Moved from Black Honeybee.

Dark Honeybee (Apis mellifera)
Wing venation and hairy compound eyes leave no doubt. It should be added that this old-timer is likely to be a "winter" bee, i.e. it overwintered in its hive as an adult. Youger, it must have been more hairy, with a distinclly browner tinge.
But the mere fact you found such a dark worker among a population of yellow honeybees (either pure Italian or partly africanized) is rather intriguing. Its features match at best with true mellifera mellifera. There's a possibility that a minority of "wild" mellifera colonies, originating from bees brought by the first spanish settlers, survive somewhere in your region.

I've seen wild colonies in central Texas (mostly at Pedernales State Park, SW of here) where we followed the bees of one colony back to their hollow tree. (At that time I had a hive of nice placid Italian bees in San Antonio, so was familiar enough with the way returning bees fly to track them "home.") That colony was mostly yellow bees. Certainly there are reports of wild honeybee colonies going way back in colonial literature, and the oldtimers were we now live told of finding wild colonies. So I've no doubt that descendants of a "dark" strain of honeybees could survive...just hadn't known there were any to start with.

A few further questions for anyone knowledgeable: Were Spanish bees darker to start with--would bees brought over by them be darker--or did they become melanistic in response to environmental conditions here? Has anyone done research on wild colonies containing dark honeybees (are they rare, common, placid, aggressive, etc.?) Would a colony, if found, be all dark, or would the dark bees represent only a portion of the colony? Do dark bees crop up in apiaries stocked with "normal" yellow honeybees?

And finally...what should I be looking for in the wing veination so that I can recognize the honeybee and not think it's something else just because it looks different?

Thanks again for the ID.

to guide page.

Apis mellifera mellifera is a regional subspecies/race which is inherently dark in color. It's not particularly Spanish in origin, but was the first honeybee introduced in most of the US- by English colonists. Apis mellifera iberica is the true Spanish honeybee, and genetic analyses of wild honeybees in former Spanish territories in the US have shown that race to be present (which is not to say that the Spanish only had iberica bees).

There's more information on the Info pages.

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