The Western of European Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera) It is the most common of all honey bees world-wide. They are social insects that vary in colour, usually from being a yellow-brown to dark brown almost black, again depending on which type.

They are an excellent reliable type for honey production and are easy to manage. The European honey be can adapt to variable climatic conditions though is more susceptible to disease. They are the most preferred by all beekeepers’ today.

Apis Mellifera


(Apis Mellifera Ligustica) is a sub-species of the Western Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera). The Italian Honey Bee is the most widely distributed of all honey bees. The Italian Honey Bee, originates from the Ligurian Alps, a mountainous range in northwest Italy. They were imported into Australia in 1880 from Italy, and in 1884 introduced to Kangaroo Island. Kangaroo Island was declared a bee sanctuary in 1885, and today, it is marketed that Kangaroo Island has the last remaining pure stock of this bee found anywhere in the world. They are proven to be the most reliable and adapt well to most climates except the more humid tropical regions. They are gentle bees, reproducing quickly in spring and through the summer months and are able to keep a large colony well over the winter months, provided there is plenty of both pollen and nectar available for them to survive.


These gentle bees are a popular choice among beekeepers. They are very resistant to insect pests and can adapt their population to what food sources are available, meaning the less food there is the fewer bees there will be in the hive. They are able to do well in areas with long cold winters, but are less tolerant of hot summers. They are about the same size as the Italian Honey Bee, but greyer in colour and are native to Slovenia, Southern Austria and parts of Croation, Bosnia and Serbia.  The Carniolan Honey Bee was introduced to Australia by the European settlers over 150 years ago.


Originates from the Primorsky Krai regions of Russia.  They are Caucasian with some Italian and Carniolan lineage.  They are a dark bee with black abdomen and grey hair.  Experimental research suggests that have a strong resistance to  varroa and tracheal mites, and survive well in harsh winter conditions. They too, are gentle bees, and are excellent at collecting nectar volumes. They are however more likely to swarm than other species.


A strain of honey bee, that has been man made by being crossed with many strains of bees. It was first developed in the 1919 by Karl Kehrle or better known as “Brother Adam” These bees are still being bred today. They hold excellent qualities namely having prolific queens with very low swarming instincts. They possess gentleness and have a high resistance to diseases. They are great honey producers, building up rapidly in the spring and maintaining a strong colony during the entire summer. They also have the ability to winter well. Being one of the most gentle bees of all races, they allow beekeepers to work with minimal smoke and little need for protective clothing.


(Apis Mellifera Mellifera)  Originating in the northern parts of Europe. The European Dark Bee can be distinguished from other subspecies by its stocky body, abundant thoracal and sparse abdominal hair which is brown. They are an excitable bee and beekeepers consider them difficult to work. Because if this, they are no longer considered a viable commercial enterprise. There are just a handful of colonies present in Germany, though larger numbers have survived in Norway, the Alps, Poland and Belgium.


(Apis Mellifera Caucasia)  The Caucasian Honey Bee originates from the eastern end of the Black Sea coast. These bees are noted for the length of their tongue (proboscis), being the longest of all the Millifera species. They are a lead-grey colour with a very gentle nature. They are EXTREMELY adaptable to harsh weather conditions, hence, the great production of propolis within the hive. This is considered a nuisance to the beekeeper making hive management more difficult where frames and boxes are glued together. They are a gentle, calm bee that raise strong colonies and are strong honey producers. They have a reputation for drifting and robbing weak colonies.


(Apis Mellifera Scutella) sometimes know as the killer bees. They are well known for their aggressive and defensive nature making them the most aggressive of all other honey bees. These “killer bees” are a hybrid of the Western Honey Bee species (Apis Mellifera), originally produced by cross-breeding the African Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera Scutellata) with various European Honey Bees such as the Italian Bee and the Ilberian Bee , a Spanish bee (Apis Mellifera Iberiensis). The Africanised honey bee occurs naturally throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They were first introduced to Brazil in the 1950’s in an effort to increase honey production, but in 1957, 26 swarms accidentally escaped quarantine. Since then the species has spread throughout South America and arrived in North America in 1985. Their aggressive nature make them react to disturbances faster than any other bees and they can chase a person 400metres. They have killed some 1,000 humans and also have been known to kill horses and other animals. The Africanised Honey Bee are great honey producers and have proven to be very resistant to diseases. It is unfortunate that they also have a very high swarming rate.

Native Bees

There are about 2000 species of native bees in Australia, with at least 200 of these in South Australia. The species we have in SA are solitary and none store nectar, which means they don’t produce honey for harvesting by people.

Native bees are vitally important to many species in Australia. Even though they don’t store nectar, similarly to European bees they do transfer pollen between plants aiding to the fertilisation. Many of the plants native bees love can’t be pollinated by introduced bees.

Native bees tend to live alone in wood, gaps between rocks, the stems of plants and some dig holes in the ground. You can help provide habitat for native bees by building a bee hotel. You can also help by planting to assist bees. There is an excellent  Bee Friendly planting guide produced by AgriFutures Australia.

This is an excellent article on the importance of Australian native bees on the SA Department for Environment and Water website if you’d like to read more.

If you’d like help identifying different native bees in your backyard, Susanne Short has a site dedicated to South Australian native bees that may be helpful.

Australian Native Male Thyreus Caeruleopunctatus by Laurence Sanders

Fun Bee Facts

  • A hive may have 80,000 bees in it.

  • In most hives there is one queen, a few hundred drones (male bees), and the rest are workers (female bees)

  • The workers do all the work in the hive.

  • All the bees in the hive are the offspring of the queen. They are all brothers and sisters.

  • The queen lays all the eggs. She can lay more than her own weight in eggs in one day.

  • The queen bee comes from a fertilised egg, the same as the workers but she is fed an abundance of royal jelly.

  • Drones come from unfertilised eggs so they inherit everything from the queen.

  • The queen leaves the hive on mating flights during the first 10-12 days of her life.

  • She can mate with more than one drone. The drones die after mating.

  • After mating the queen does not go out except with a swarm.

  • Queen will not normally tolerate another queen in the hive. They will fight and destroy queen cells until only one queen survives.

  • Sometimes they will avoid a fight by going out with a swarm.

  • Drones have no sting and cannot fight, They cannot gather food for themselves or for the hive. They cannot make wax. They are usually killed by the workers every autumn.

  • Young bees are house bees, they graduate to field bees as they get older. House bees clean cells, feed the young, store food, make wax, guard the entrance, air condition the hive, tend the queen, learn to fly and find their way about.

  • Field bees do all the foraging for nectar, pollen, water and propolis.

  • To make honey the bees evaporate the water reducing the water content of the nectar down to a little under 20%. The honey is then ripe and viscous as we know it.

  • Honey provides the bees with energy – heat to keep the baby larvae at an even temperature of about 34 deg C, and energy to fly gathering food for the colony.

  • Pollen provides the protein which allows the bees to grow. Pollen is also required to stimulate the glands which produce the royal jelly for the queen and the young larva.

  • The honey bee is an excellent pollinating agent for non-native plants because the foraging bee keeps to the same flower species on any one trip.

  • There are four main varieties of introduced bees in Australia. The amateur is encouraged to keep quiet strains that are easier to handle, produce less swarms and will not be a nuisance to people.

Beekeepers’ Society of South Australia Inc.
P.O. Box 283, Fullarton SA 5063
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