Apis mellifera mellifera (dark bee)
Bees are closely and sensitively linked to the environment and climate. Adapted to the Swiss habitat, the dark bee has developed its very own genetic potential. The task of preserving this potential for the future lies in the protected areas. In these areas, the dark bee should be able to reproduce without significant breeding intervention. The greater the genetic diversity, the greater the chance that the bees will succeed in adapting to a changing environment.
Some bee traits simplify beekeeping. Gentleness, sitting quietly on the combs, low swarming tendency, balanced honey yield, winter resistance as well as good hygienic behaviour are the most important. Active breeders work together in the Zucht- und Prüfgemeinschaft Dunkle Biene Schweiz (Dark Bee Breeding and Testing Association Switzerland) to select and propagate the good.
Modern tools such as DNA analysis for breed purity and a breeding value estimation system are used. The work of the breeders is public and can be viewed at www.beebreed.eu.
After the last ice age, the dark bee colonised the whole area north of the Alps from the Pyrenees to the Urals. During a long history of colonisation, it has adapted to very different climatic and breeding areas. In the course of time, local strains developed, such as the heath bee (A. m. m. lehzeni) in northern Germany and the forest bee (A. m. m. silvarum) from Poland to the Urals. In Switzerland, the alpine bee, (A. m. m. nigra) emerged. Emigrants took dark bees to all temperate zones of the New World. Thus the dark bee reached its widest distribution around 1850.
For 150 years, the native dark honey bee A. m. mellifera has been increasingly displaced by A. m. carnica and A. m. ligustica from Austria, Slovenia and Italy. Its range is now greatly reduced and fragmented, so that it is considered endangered.
Important populations in Switzerland
The dark bees in German-speaking Switzerland are of great importance for the European mellifera population. Nearly 60,000 colonies are of dark bee origin. This population is of great ecological, economic and cultural importance. In the foothills of the Alps and the Alps, there are large coherent populations, especially in the canton of Glarus, which has been a cantonal protected area for the dark bee for 30 years.
It is characterised by a genetic peculiarity compared to the other western breeds.
By their appearance (morphological): Characterised by their dark carapace colouration and narrow felt pads.
By their nature:
It takes a distinct breeding break in winter
It is hardy, long-lived and docile.
It builds up reserves and uses them sparingly.
It is very adaptable
It has a strong, varied pollen gathering instinct
It flies at low temperatures
On average over many years, its yield is comparable to that of other bee breeds. In low-yielding honey years, its yield is higher thanks to its low self-consumption.
Text source: Swiss Mellifera Bee Friends Association, www.mellifera.ch