Quest for the British Bee

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Queen Bee
Nov 7, 2008
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There was a charming and erudite man, at the Honey Show with a stall. I was left completely confused by his quest. He is very keen for all British beeks to help promote British dark bees. He has produced a specification that records things like the relative size and angle of different parts of the wing. There were a great number of measurements and angles to be taken.

He suggested I could try with my hives, using selection, to create bees increasingly close to the old British bee. I can't see my nasty Italian mongrels ever being that close, but more importantly even if I could breed bees that look like British black, why would I want to? There would be no reason that these black bees would be hygienic, nosema resistant or give good honey yields or have any other trait i might want as I would have selected for appearance.

Am I missing the point?
Am I missing the point?

Hmm. English bees died almost all 100 years ago to 'Isle of Wight Disease' New bee stocks have been intoduced since to England.

Old English dark bee (German Black) have introduced into oversea continents first. It is any more in beekeeping there. America, NZ, Australia etc.

Norway use much German Black to collect heather honey- I suppose.

Instrumental insemination have been done about 60 years. It have changed bee stocks greatly.

If we turn back to some where, so where to? Just back but why?

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We had lots of bee's to uk from belgium,after acarine disease.
Called Morphology in some parts of the world
However, morphometry is the precise study of anatomical characters by measurement and morphology is merely the study of form and structure.

The Racial types and strains of honey bees have distinctive body characteristics that can help to distinguish both type of bee and purity of breed. Of these two aspects the one of greatest importance is purity of strain or more precisely the degree of hybridisation (the lower the better). These methods are all of secondary importance to 'colony assessment' characteristics and should be used to refine partly selected strains rather than as a direct descriptor of race. There is no point in propagating 'bad' or undesirable behavioural traits regardless of how 'pure' the strain is.

Genotype and Phenotype are the two elements involved in this definition...

Phenotype... Is the observable physical description of the organism or parts of the organism at multiple levels... The whole creature, it's external appearance and internal organs, the cells and tissues of those organs along with form and structure of these organs, the actions and metabolism of the organism as well as the behaviors exhibited. This is the data we record to ascertain race or strain, but we rely on behaviour first and use morphometric measurements as confimation of our recordings as well as for degree of purity of type and refining fine differences.

Genotype... This is the inheritable information, the genetic blueprint that the living organism was assembled into using information coded in genes. Genes are found within almost all cells in the form of DNA they are copied during cell division and thus passed down the generations (sometimes with mutations). DNA can be used to verify or check various features found during morphometric and behavoural analysis and can be used to track variations in a population over time or variations by region.

What characters we measure and why
General Appearance... a simple and obvious characteristic that most would agree on, but it is subjective in nature and you should be wary of 'seeing what you desire to see'.

Body colour... is only important if describing a bee with a high degree of "purity of strain" {PAGE in preparation on colour, rings & spots}. Colour in itself is not a positive indicator, but can be used to rule out certain hybrids.

Rings and Spots... may help give additional information on the degree of hybridisation.

Drone body colour... is used as some strains exhibit differences between male and female colouration.

Queen Characteristics... (not listed in the table below, but may be included later or produced as a sub page). Things like leg colour and body colouration can be different from standard worker characteristics.

Worker Cellsize... Not normally included in previous lists of characteristics, but included here in the light of intended testing involving different cell sizings. (It is thought that there is a correlation between the size of the 3rd tergite and the size of cell the bee was bred in. (This needs further research and investigation and may or may not vary between races and strains.))

(Further information... 'Cellsize' 'Cellsize Regression' 'Cell Size Test'. )

The following information concerning thorax size is from Dee Lusby in answer to the question
"So what is the size of the thorax of a bee raised in a 4.9 mm cell?"
The range observed for 4.9 mm foundation was:-
min 3.6 mm - Medium 3.7 mm - large 3.8 mm for the thorax, with the majority around 3.7 mm.
The range seen when 5.0 mm - 5.1 mm foundation was used:-
small 3.7 mm - Medium 3.8 mm - large 3.9 mm for the thorax, with most close to 3.8 mm.

Cubital Index... By measuring the ratio of two of the wing vein segments we obtain measurements that are consistent for given races of bee. (see... Wing Measurement.)

Fore wing Length... Measuring the length of the wing gives further information. (see... Wing Measurement.)

Discoidal Shift... Is a measure of shape within the cells of the wing venation. (see... Wing Measurement.)

5th Tergite Overhairs... is dealt with on a separate page along with tomentum width.

Tomentum Width (4th tergite)... the page Overhair Length & Tomentum Width deals with these items.

Worker hair colour... This character has more consistency as hybridisation decreases.

Drone hair colour... This character also has more consistency as hybridisation decreases.

Proboscis... I am not completely sure why this measurement is taken (I have not tried it yet myself).

Tongue... whilst this may be useful information I feel that too much emphasis is placed on the length of it and it can be a 'red herring', however there may be subtle changes due to village by village regions and changing forage.

Tongue Reach... Of all measurements to do with the tongue this is the only one that is significant with regard to nectar gathering, yet it rarely is recorded. (See Glossameter)

Table of morphological characteristics (Mellifera races)

Character Apis
Mellifera Apis
Ligustica Apis
Carnica Apis
Caucasica Apis
Scutellata Apis
Capensis Apis
General Appearance large, broad, short limbs medium size, slim, long limbs medium size, slim, long limbs
Worker body colour Black Black Black black @ high altitude
Rings 1,2 or 3-yellow
Scutellum may be yellow maybe one leather coloured ring
Spots none or small (2nd tergite) may have small spots
Drone body colour Dark amber/yellow dark ?
Rings or Spots yellow rings small spots ?
Worker Cellsize (mm) [5.25] [5.50] 4.7 - 4.9 (Crane) 4.86 (Crane) 5.0 (Crane)
Cubital Index (worker) ave 1.7 2.3 2.7 2.0
Cubital Index (worker) min 1.3 2.0 [2.2] 2.4 1.7
Cubital Index (worker) max 2.1 2.7 [2.8] 3.0 2.3
Cubital Index (drone) ave 1.3 1.8 2.0
Cubital Index (drone) min 1.0 1.6 1.8
Cubital Index (drone) max 1.5 2.0 2.3
Fore wing Length ave (mm) Spread is 8 mm to 9.7 mm over all mellifera races
Fore wing Length min (mm)
Fore wing Length max (mm)
Discoidal Shift, worker Negative Positive Positive Zero
Discoidal Shift, drone Negative Positive Positive ?
5th Tergite Overhairs (mm) 0.4-0.6 0.2-0.3 0.25-0.35 {0.25-0.4 (0.3 ave)}
Tomentum Width (4th tergite) narrow, less than 1/2 of tergite broad, more than 1/2 of tergite broad, much hair Very broad, much hair
Worker hair colour few dark hairs yellowish grey [lead grey]
Drone hair colour brown/black yellowish grey or grey/brown dark grey [black]
Proboscis short long long very long
Tongue, ave (mm) 6.0 6.5 6.6 7.0
Tongue, min (mm) 5.8 6.3 6.4 6.7
Tongue, max (mm) 6.2 6.6 6.8 7.2

Table of morphological characteristics (Other Species)

Character Apis
Cerana Apis
Florea Apis
General Appearance small very small very large but slender
Worker body colour dark grey to reddish yellow black yellow
Rings 1 & 2 red, tergites 3, 4, 5 & 6 have white tomenta reddish brown
Worker Cellsize (mm) 2.9
Drone body colour
Cubital Index (worker)ave 3.98* 2.82* 7.25*
Cubital Index (worker)min
Cubital Index (worker)max
Cubital Index (drone)ave
Cubital Index (drone)min
Cubital Index (drone)max
Fore wing Length min (mm) 7.4 6.0 [6.3] 12.6
Fore wing Length max (mm) 9.0 6.9 [7.0] 14.6
Tongue, ave (mm) ? 3.44 [6.7]
Tongue, min (mm) 4.8
Tongue, max (mm) 5.6

Peter Edwards has provided the following data for Apis Cerana...

On a visit to Kerala in January 2007, the Associate Professor of Beekeeping at Kerala Agricultural University, Trivandrum, Dr Stephen Devanesan was working on the morphometry of Cerana and asked if we could measure some wings for him. The results we obtained with CooRecorder and CBeeWing were:
47 wings:
Mean discoidal shift angle 4.0 Std deviation 1.8
Mean cubital index 2.92 Std deviation 0.46
These were lowland Cerana - more yellow - we have not tested the darker hill strains.

Other criteria can be used and indeed are used for particular fine detail within closely matched strains, including many wing vein points and various lengths of limb segments.

Sample Size...
Fifty bees per colony are recommended for wing venation studies unless you are already some way down your selection route. (As BIBBA is generally dealing with stock that has a 'history' they use thirty bees per colony.) The characteristics other than wing vein measurements only require a sample of ten. It is a basic trade off the larger the sample the greater the accuracy... But more work is entailed in gathering the information.

Tools for the tests...
Are available on the Morphometry Tools page. The types represented include:-
Glossimeter, tomenta hair eyeglass, Herold fan, discoidal card.

The Scattergram...
Is a useful tool for aggregating data as it gives an easily seen graphical representation of both the race of bee and the degree of hybridisation, it deserves a page to itself, but other items are included here simply because BIBBA have grouped them all together in the past. The page is rendered suitable for printing on an A4 page at a resolution of 800 x 600. The description of how to use it and interpretation of results is dealt with under the heading below (Statistical analysis).

Presentation of Morphometric Data This page gives some details of different ways of representing the data to give a graphic presentation that can readily be absorbed and remembered.

Statistical analysis...
This page also includes Jacob Kahn's ideas on what to do with odd 'fly away' points.

Ruttner's Multivariate analysis...
(future sub page) with extra info from DNA studies.


Modern DNA analysis has revieled very new and strange information about bee stocks. I cannot be measured from wings.
The whole bee evolution history went upside down.

We have so much different Italian stocks. What to do with them.
How to differentiate them? And what then? Every year they import queens from Italy and from Slovakia. New blood.

German Black died off from Finland by varroa. It is best what I have met during my beekeeping era.

Folks are so sure what are good bees. Every stock turns bad if you are not aware. Drone pressure from surroundings comes in.

I cannot trust what is native bee. I see when I keep the queen 2 whole year. Swarming tendency may bee hidden in young queens.

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I agree there are to many varients, athough all this measuring is interesting,it is to much for ordinary beekeeper, with much more to do.Drones from bad stocks in an area and feral bee's can soon ruin any breeding plans.This is why you have to buy in new queens every so often,or have ways to get them mated with drones from good strains.
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Well we might want to start measuring angles and distances on the bodies of our bees if there was a strong positive correlation between certain morphological features and positive traits... but since there isn't... and beekeeping is a bit of an anorak pursuit anyway... life is too short.
Anorak yourself poly,i never wear one,or a bobble hat,and don't carry a notepad.
No one thinks beekeeping is cool... well apart from us and some eco warriors and perhaps some food freaks... put your anorak back on. It's cold.
Its the food freaks that interest me,i love them all. They make me feel cool.
Looking at the very top start of this thread, what is a BIRTISH bee.
I thought a British Bee didn't exist , but certainly a Birtish one doesn't.:rolleyes:
Drones from bad stocks in an area and feral bee's can soon ruin any breeding plans.This is why you have to buy in new queens every so often,or have ways to get them mated with drones from good strains.

Good sales patter; bringing in disease resistant genes is actually a fine aim for any beekeeper wishing to escape the dreary round of eternal medication. There is nothing wrong in wanting self-sufficient stock, and wild bees are the only place you'll find it.

Dear Polyanwood.

If the native AMM died out as Dear Brother Adam asserted. And as a 16 year old novice effectively grounded at Buckfast as novices are, he really was in a position to know hmm? So if they died out totally, all across the UK totally and completely, how likely actually is this?

I certainly had AMM which were true to the descriptions of native AMM that I read about in the old books. Possibly they had other nationalities in them as French packages were imported in to Scotland in the 50's and possibly not.

On saying that they preformed, measured up to (as in BIBBA/Rutner standards), and behaved as native AMM.

So do they exist still. Yes. At least in Scotland that is, and I am taking UK here to mean UK not Engerland.

On saying that they preformed, measured up to (as in BIBBA/Rutner standards), and behaved as native AMM

You can't tell from measuring.

So do they exist still. Yes. At least in Scotland that is, and I am taking UK here to mean UK not Engerland.

Scotland and Tasmania are the only sources of relatively pure British AMM I know of.
Scotland and Tasmania are the only sources of relatively pure British AMM I know of.

Any suppliers out there?

Why cant we just accept that any bee born and bred in Britain is a British Bee, accept what we have got and work with it, rather than search for an elusive mythical beast that may or may not exist and if it does may or may not be better than what we have now.

That should stir things up a little

Totally right David. Any bee born in the UK is a British bee.

However... aye you knew it was a coming, it ain't AMM.

And the native British Bee is. Note please the present tense.

There are lots of pockets of AMM left and thankfully I am assured that BIBBA is finally getting around to organising better communications so that these pockets can be linked up.

I am actively looking to get back to AMM myself as it is in my not so humble opinion the better bee for what I want to achieve.

You are mad with your own bees and surely you will breed your own morfometry too. but it is not original any more.
You are mad with your own bees and surely you will breed your own morfometry too. but it is not original any more.

I know of one group in the British Isles which appears to be near 98% pure (from looking at genetic markers). With my conservation hat on, it'd be a shame if those genes were lost.

I do hope however the people involved with these bees aren't the same people that breed AMM based on some measurements or colour, or even those colonies could be lost.
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