Scottish Native Black Bees

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The native black bees of Scotland (Apis mellifera mellifera) migrated into west and north Europe after the last ice age, so they are the traditional honeybees of Scotland.
The bees of this sub-specie are typically small and stocky bees varying in colour from jet back to dark brown. No yellow should exist on native Apis mellifera mellifera bees but as much hybridization has occurred through the importation of bees from outside the UK and from England since the 19th century, crossbreeding with other sub-species (mostly Italian, Carniolan and Caucasian) bees has led to a great scarcity in purebred native Scottish black bees stock. Neither the pure Scottish black bees nor most other purebred sub-species are considered to be aggressive however the hybrids of any two sub-species are often aggressive by nature causing beekeepers to spend much time and effort in developing non-aggressive gene pools.

The Scottish black bees are dark, the ‘stripes’ on their abdomens look creamy or grey and they are especially black. The queen has a fine long abdomen and longer legs than the worker bees. The bees have longer hairs on their bodies than other honey bees (all the better for keeping warm in our cold weather). Less easy to see without a microscope is the highly distinction wing vein pattern of these bees. This pattern is sufficiently unusual to enable to check the genetic purity of the bees by studying their wing (using wing morphometry techniques).
Apis mellifera mellifera bees are frugal in their consumption of stores so better able to survive tough Winters. They fly at lower temperatures than other bees so can forage for nectar and pollen when other bees would be huddled inside keeping warm. Because of the above two characteristics, these bees are better able to create honey stores for their colony, even in poor summers.

The bees seal the honey cells with wax that look so pale it is almost white. The reason it looks so pale is partly that, uniquely, the bees create a shallow air pocket beneath the cap on the honey, which gives the cappings its pale appearance.
Native Dark Bees are rare and threatened so they need protection. Hybridization has reduced pure stocks to tiny pockets being imported.
The possibility of breeding fairly pure stocks of native dark bees requires remote location, distanced from other known honeybee colonies. In most parts of the UK, honeybee populations (mostly hybrids) are much greater and more densely spread than in Lochaber. Finally, locally acclimatized bees are best. This has been confirmed recently by research carried out throughout the whole of Europe … so beekeepers believe it’s best to keep the type of bees most likely to thrive in local conditions.

The honey — taste and colour — will depend on the flowers from which the bees take the nectar so will vary by district and season. There are few apiaries with pure Apis Mellifera Mellifera bees in the UK but the largest is on the Isle of Colonsay, So honey from these bees is scarce but available from Colonsay and a few other places. Native Dark Bees are thus kept on the isles of Colonsay and Oronsay, now granted reserve status by the Scottish Government to protect those bees from hybridization.
The bees build up slowly in the Spring and do especially well compared with other subspecies on the ling heather which flowers from early August in so many areas of Scotland.

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Territory

StateUnited Kingdom
Region

Scotland - Hebrides

Other info

Categories

Honey

Insects

Nominated by:Lisa Bertrand
Arca del GustoThe traditional products, local breeds, and know-how collected by the Ark of Taste belong to the communities that have preserved them over time. They have been shared and described here thanks to the efforts of the network that Slow Food has developed around the world, with the objective of preserving them and raising awareness. The text from these descriptions may be used, without modifications and citing the source, for non-commercial purposes in line with the Slow Food philosophy.