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Grossmann’s Bees: What is a “German Bee”?
17 April 2014
THE SHORT ANSWER
No bee has more names than the German bee including the “Black Bee” and the “European Dark Bee.” All honey bees of are one species, apis mellifera. The differences are often in the subspecies. The German subspecies has the distinction of being named after the species itself. So all honey bees are of the species apis mellifera, but the German subspecies is also called mellifera. This produces a sort of echo when you say the name. The German bee is formally called, apis mellifera mellifera (or “A. m. mellifera” for short).
Honey bees are not only divided into subspecies, but some subspecies are divided into breeds, like dogs. All varieties, or breeds, of the German bee are quite dark ranging in color from almost black to dark brown. From a distance they all tend to look black.
Oddly, the “German” bee originated in Great Britain and Northern Europe and was only later introduced to Germany. This bee is a good pollinator and honey producer, but particularly short tempered often stinging people and animals for no good reason.
But what it lacks in temperament, it makes up for in good health. This bee remains healthy in places with extremely cold winters. So. it was “a natural” for Northern Europe with beekeepers so happy with the healthy, productive hives, that they were willing to put up with the stings.
Why was this ill-tempered honey bee the first introduced to North America in the 1600’s? Again, this bee was healthy enough to survive the ocean trip to the New World and, then, thrive in the cold winters of what is now the Northeastern United States. Because honey bees weren’t native to North America, once introduced, the German bee had the whole continent to itself and quickly spread far and wide.
Later, the German bee fell victim to disease in both Great Britain and the United States. After the successful introduction of the Italian bee to Northern Europe and North America in the 1850’s, the German subspecies became quite rare, but still survives in small numbers on both continents.
Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri