You may have noticed I’ve been blogging rather lightly in recent weeks. That’s because I start teaching an introductory course on beekeeping next Monday. It’ll be a great class, I hope. But the preparation has cut into blogging time something fierce and will continue to do so through August.
In any case, while making lecture slides yesterday I ran into trouble locating a figure depicting the native range of Apis mellifera. You’d think someone would have posted one, somewhere. The western honey bee is the world’s most economically important insect, introduced nearly everywhere where humans live, yet I couldn’t find a map on the internet showing where it came from. Odd, considering there are several textbooks with such range maps.
So I made one up. Here it is:
Two things to note. First, Apis mellifera is not native to the Americas. This is to say, fear-mongering about imminent ecological collapse owing to declines in the honey bee population are rather over-wrought. It’s a serious agricultural problem, mind you, but our native ecosystems are not so dependent on the imported honey bee.
Second, the western honey bee is not native to east Asia either. Another species, the closely related Apis cerana, fills that particular niche. When beekeepers brought A. mellifera to the region the two species mingled, exchanging pests and diseases. What the world picked up from the exchange was the single most destructive pest of the bee industry- the Varroa mite. It’s a case study in the unintended consequences of mixing up the world’s biota.
Anyway. Back to the bees.