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European Honeybees

European honeybee is the name that many people use for Apis mellifera (L.). It is widespread throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Scientists believe it was introduced into North America. There are reports of these honeybees being brought into the colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts in the 1620’s.

The European honeybee is found throughout the United States. By their activities, the bees pollinate more than 100 crops. They increase the value of the crops by an estimated $15 billion each year.

As their name suggests, European honeybees produce honey. A single colony can produce about 70 pounds of honey in a year. That’s usually more than the bees can use, so beekeepers collect the excess honey and sell it. In 2008, the honey crop was valued at more than $225 million. In 2009, beekeepers collected more than 150 million pounds of honey.

A colony of European honeybees can have as many as 80,000 bees. There is one queen. When the colony gets too large, a new queen develops. The new queen takes over and the old queen leaves with some of the workers. This group starts a new nest.

These migrations happen once or twice per year. The flights can be startling, especially if the swarm of bees stops to rest in an area that is open for people to see. The bees are not usually aggressive during their migrations, but if they are provoked, they will sting. People should keep a safe distance from swarms of honeybees.

Since the 1990’s, the European honeybees have been interbreeding with an African honeybee across the southern United States. The African honeybees and the hybrids have been moving northward from Brazil since the 1950’s. The African bees and the hybrids look very similar to the European honeybee. Scientists often have to do a DNA test to identify specimens.

The Africanized honeybees are more aggressive than the European bee, so they were given the nickname “Killer Bees”. They usually have fewer bees in a colony and they relocate several times per year. The two types of honeybees do have a few things in common. Like the European honeybee, the Africanized bees are crop pollinators and honey producers.

Because of their economic importance, honeybees should not normally be killed. If they make a nest inside the wall or attic of a home, they should be removed. In many areas, a beekeeper will come and take bees out of a home. If that is not possible, insecticide may be necessary.