Encyclopedia of Social Insects

Living Edition
| Editors: Christopher K. Starr

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-90306-4_181-1


Hive bee

The bee’s life is like a magic well: the more you draw from it, the more it fills with water. (Karl von Frisch)


Honey bees (genus Apis) are a distinct group of 9–12 species of highly social bees. One of these, A. mellifera, has been of intense interest to humans since antiquity and has long been the most thoroughly studied of all invertebrate animals. In fact, until two centuries ago, the study of social insects could be characterized as the study of this one species with comments on our sparse knowledge of social wasps, ants, (later) termites, and other bees noted for comparison. In contrast to other honey bee species, which are almost entirely confined to South and East Asia, the native range of A. mellifera can be summarized as most of Africa and Western and Central Europe.


Our relationship with honey bees dates back to prehistoric times and likely began with the search for honey. A cave painting in Spain (circa 10,000–8,000 BC) shows hunter...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyProvidence CollegeProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA