European Dark Bee: What to Know About the Western Honey Bee Breed

If you watched that movie about cartoon bees that was popular in the early 2000s, then you probably know how important bees are to the overall ecosystem. If cartoon bees aren’t your thing, then all you need to know is that bees are essential for life as we know it, including the European dark bee.

Bees are having a rough go of it currently, with extinction always lingering around, which is not a good thing for anyone. While there are many types of bees, some are more in trouble than others. The European dark bee is one in particular that has had some difficulties.

European Dark Bee Background

The European dark bee is a type of western honey bee. It’s known as the Apis mellifera mellifera, and people may also call it the Black German bee, German dark bee, or abejas negras.

They may also take on names of other locations in which you can find them, such as the Native Irish honey bee or the Nordic brown bee.

This species was originally in an area running from west-central Russia to Norther Europe and down to the Iberian Peninsula. Europeans domesticated the bee and took it to North America around the early 1600s. At this time, they gained the name English fly.


The bee does very well in European climates with special adaption for cold winter periods. It is resistant to disease with a hearty disposition that allows workers to continue gathering pollen much longer than other bee species. Plus, it can fly in wet weather, which is pretty much mandatory in England.

Experts found the European dark bee in the U.S. as feral populations in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Experts suspect they are leftovers from the domesticated populations brought to the country in the 1600s.

The International Association for the Protection of the European Dark Bee notes that most populations in Europe are in Britain, France, Norway, and Ireland. They are also found in various areas north of the Carpathians and Alps along towards the Urals.

European Dark Bee Appearance and Qualities

Jürg Vollmer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to Pollinis, the European dark bee has been around for at least one million years, but it isn’t your typical black bee with yellow stripes. A bee of this species is a little bigger in size than other bees.

It has a short trunk and hair covering the body. The bee also has a short tongue.

It also has a brown-black coloring that is darker than other species. Its name comes from the dark coloring. It isn’t really known as a traditional yellow and black bee, but it may have some light-yellow spots along its body as well to give you some traditional bee yellow coloring.

Pollination habits

The size and traits of its body make it an excellent pollen collector. You can thank this bee for pollinating wild plants and agricultural products, but they don’t contribute much to the pollination of trees or bushes.

They don’t work so well with smaller flowers because they can’t fit their large bodies into them. Since the bee has a short tongue, it compounds its issues trying to collect pollen.

Not only does it make reaching into a small flower hard, but it also can make collecting from larger flowers tough. They have to work hard to collect pollen in most cases, which may be the reason for smaller pollen yields.

The species does tend to build pollen stores at a much slower pace than other species. However, it also uses far less pollen because it is a naturally conservative species. The bees will not use up pollen quickly so as to save as much as possible for when they go dormant in the winter.

What this means for honey collectors is that the dark bee won’t necessarily provide a lot of honey fast, but if you are willing to wait for it, you will get a decent yield from the hive at the end of the season.


When it comes to this bee’s personality, it isn’t the friendliest. In fact, many classify it as an aggressive bee species.

You will also find these bees are likely to swarm. These characteristics are part of the reason why they are not a favorite of beekeepers, and this contributes to the population issues of the species.


A large reason for population issues with the European dark bee is how susceptible it is to diseases and issues. It is a good victim for the acarine mites because of its large trachea. It also is prone to varroa mites because it doesn’t have the best hygiene practices.

There is another enemy of the European dark bee: invasive brood diseases. These include anything that infects the eggs, larvae, and pupae. The diseases are in the combs and will prevent the birth of new bees and keep overall numbers low. It can even lead to the loss of a whole hive.

The European dark bee is also a danger to itself. The species is likely to experience queen balling. This happens when introducing a new queen.

The workers decide they don’t want this queen, so they form a tight ball around her, causing severe injury and often death. Even if she lives, she will have damage from the treatment.

European Dark Bee Conservation

Photo: Christian Ferrer / Wikimedia Commons

Experts once thought the European dark bee was extinct, and in recent years, there is concern over the dwindling numbers.

Many beekeepers are experiencing bee colony collapse disorder where bees are dying, leaving and never returning, or becoming unable to produce honey. Mortality rates in Europe are about double the natural death rate for these bees.

Issues that may be bringing on bee colony collapse disorder include parasites, viruses, fungi, industrial agriculture, and pesticides, but these are things impacting the population of all bee species.

For the European dark bee, the specific threats in Europe are the importation of non-native bees and the bad reputation of the European dark bee that pushed beekeepers to choose other species.

Education about dark bees

Correcting these issues is largely dependent on education. Beekeepers need to understand that many bees said to be European dark bees are actually crossbreeds. It is these bees that have an aggressive nature that makes them tough to raise.

In addition, dark bees tend to have smaller honey yields, but they are also very conservative bees. They will use very little honey to ensure they have remaining stores for the winter hibernation.

So, in the long term, they really don’t have a much smaller yield than other bee species. European dark bee honey simply takes longer to get.

Hopefully, by educating beekeepers in Europe, it will extend to them, giving the European dark bee a chance. This will naturally lower the number of imported bees. There are no laws against importing, so it will be up to each beekeeper to work towards stopping them.

Additional conservation efforts

There have been efforts to set up conservation areas for the European dark bee. They also seek to preserve the populations already in various areas. Here is a look at some of these conservation efforts.

  • Isle of Man: Has a law making importing bees illegal, conducts regular hive inspections, require bee registration
  • Islands of Colonsay and Oronsay: Made all other species of bees illegal
  • Isle of Læsø: Has a law that makes importing bees illegal

Importance of conservation

It’s important to keep the European dark bee population from going extinct for various reasons. They have a lot of value economically, ecologically, and genetically.

Economic value

These bees require far fewer resources to care for and maintain than other bee species. To get a regular honey production, this species will require far less from a beekeeper. Plus, they work all year round.

Ecological value

The species is highly adaptable. It provides regular pollination for various plants. They can be a consistent source of pollination, unlike other species.

In addition, an ecosystem needs various bee species to ensure there is good all year pollination. Losing the European dark bee would leave a void in pollination needs.

Genetic value

The European dark bee is an incredibly old species. It’s important to preserve the genetics and keep them going in future generations.

Final Words

One of the biggest issues facing the European dark bee population is misunderstandings about what this bee is. People mistakenly think it is an aggressive, difficult, low producing bee, but that is not the case.

As more people educate themselves on this species, they will find that many of the things they believe are nothing more than misunderstandings.

It will help if areas can pass laws to help prevent non-native bees from taking the attention away from European dark bees. It will also help for beekeepers to give them a chance. The more hives that can go up, the better chances this species has to avoid extinction.

In addition, it makes it much easier for other countries and areas where the bee thrives to start to grow their own populations.

Do you have any experience keeping European dark bees? If so, share them in the comments below.

Featured Image: SJ Richards, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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