Honey bees fall under the genus, Apis – which is the latin word for bee. All bees in this genus are able to produce and store honey, as well as build comb from wax. From there, bees in the genus Apis are split into different species based on their features and characteristics. So, how many species of honey bees are there?
How Many Species of Honey Bees Are There?
There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world. Honey bees make up just a small percentage of them. However, if we are talking about strictly how many honey bee species there are, the answer is 8.
There are 8 honey bee species.
Apis florea and Apis andreniformis are the 2 small honey bee species, Apis dorsata and Apis laboriosa are the 2 large honey bee species, and the remaining 4 middle sized species are Apis mellifera, Apis cerana, Apis koschevnicovi, Apis nigrocincta.
All of these species, with the exception of Apis mellifera, originate from South and Southeast Asia. Apis mellifera, also called the Western Honey Bee, is the most common species of honey bee and can be found on all continents except Antarctica.
Apis florea is also known as the red dwarf honey bee because it is small and a reddish brown color. They live in small colonies in open air, single comb nests. Due to their small numbers and exposed nest, this species of honey bee is susceptible to predators.
Thes small bees like to live in areas with lots of foliage, as they tend to build their nests on shrubs and tree branches. Apis florea is the only honey bee species that have been observed to save and reuse the wax from their old nest when building a new one.
Another small species of honey bee is Apis andreniformis. This species is called black dwarf honey bees because of their black color and small bodies. Apis adreniformis is the smallest species of honey bee.
They are also much more rare than Apis florea, living tropical regions of Southeast Asia. Apis adreniformis will build small, single comb nests on twigs in quiet areas, like forests. To protect their nest from other insects, they line it with plant resin.
Apis dorsata is commonly known and the giant honey bee. This bee species looks similar to Apis melifera, but they are much larger.
They live in South and Southeast Asia, where they are responsible for the pollination of many crops such as coconut, mango, and cotton. Apis dorsta build large open nests from tree branches.
Their nests are quite large and consist of a single comb with the adult bees forming a curtain around the entire structure. This provides protection for the brood.
Apis dorsata is able to make and store a lot of honey. In just a few short weeks, one colony can store up to 13 pounds of honey.
The largest honey bee in the world is Apis laboriosa. They are quite rare and are also known as the rock honey bee. These bees can only be found in the Himalayas.
Apis laboriosa build their nests on vertical cliffs at altitudes of 8,000 to over 9,000 feet. Then, they will forage at altitudes of up to 13,000 feet.
Because of the area they nest, Apis laboriosa seldom have contact with humans, with the exception of brave honey hunters in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region. For them, harvesting honey from the giant bees are an ancient tradition.
The honey produced by Apis laboriosa is known as “mad honey.” This red honey is said to have an intoxicating and relaxing effect, as well as medicinal value. They honey gets these qualities from the nectar of the white rhododendron plant, which the bees forage from.
Apis mellifera is the Western honey bee, the bee that everyone is most familiar with. This medium sized bee is the most common of the honey bee species.
Being one of the first domesticated insects, Apis mellifera is the primary species kept by beekeepers for both honey and pollination. It is thought that Apis mellifera originated in Africa or Asia and was brought to all other continents, except Antarctica, by humans.
The Western honey bee lives in perennial colonies, meaning that they stay in the same colony year after year. In fact, because of this and their sociality, an Apis mellifera colony is considered a superorganism. This highlights the importance of the colony to reproduce through a process called swarming.
Beekeepers have bred Apis mellifera into different races, subraces, and hybrids in order to promote certain characteristics. Some factors taken into account when breeding are temperament, honey production, disease resistance, and suitability to the local environment.
Apis cerana is also called the cavity nesting Asian honey bee, or also the Eastern honey bee. These medium sized bees live in colonies much smaller than Apis mellifera. Apis cerana’s colonies consist of 5,000 – 7,000 bees, while Apis mellifera’s colonies could house up to 80,000 bees.
Unlike other bee species that build single comb nests, Apis cerana nests consist of multiple combs built in cavities such as logs, tree holes, or other crevices. Apis cerana have adapted to be able to survive conditions that would be lethal to Apis mellifera such as long periods of rain and very low temperatures.
Apis Koschevnicovi is a rare, medium sized bee that is also called “the red bee of Sabah” due to it’s reddish coloring. They can be found in Sabah State and Borneo, in Malaysia, as well as the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra.
They live in small colonies, building nests in tree cavities located in tropical rain forests. Apis koschevnicovi’s diet consists mostly of nectar, which they forage from flowering canopy trees. Unfortunately, Apis koschevnicovi’s population seems to be diminishing due to habitat changes and deforestation.
Apis nigrocincta is also called the Philippine honey bee because it lives on the Philippine island of Mindanao, but it can also be found on the Indonesian islands, Sangihe and Sulawesi. It is a medium sized bee with rust colored legs and reddish hair covering it’s body.
Due to it’s rarity, not much is known about Apis nigrocincta, but they have been observed living in forested areas near streams. They build multiple combed nests in cavities such as hollows of trees, caves, and even under roofs.
An interesting thing about Apis nigrocicta is their queens. While other honey bee species have only 1 queen per colony, Apis nigrocincta has 7-15 queens per colony.
There are 8 different honey bee species. They all fall under the genus Apis, and are characterized by their ability to make honey and build comb. The 8 honey bee species are Apis florea, Apis andreniformis, Apis dorsata, Apis laboriosa, Apis mellifera, Apis cerana, Apis koschevnicovi, and Apis nigrocincta.