Apis Mellifera: Characteristics, Habitat, Reproduction, Feeding

Apis mellifera

or European honey bee is a species of insect belonging to the Hymenoptera order and the Apidae family. This bee is characterized by building nests with parallel combs in natural areas, such as tree holes or in hollow spaces.

It is the species of bee with the greatest global distribution, being native to Europe and Africa, northwest Asia, and expanding to America and Australia due to anthropic actions. There are many subspecies of this bee, especially in Europe.

Apis mellifera. Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak & Beemaster Hubert Seibring, Munich which gave me advice and a protection suite ???? My dog ​​caught 6 bee-stings on the nose, i caught 4. [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org /licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

In addition, there are hybrids of this species such as the African bee, which is a hybrid of

Apis mellifera


Apis mellifera scutellata

(African bee). This hybrid is distributed throughout South America and part of North America. 

From a biological point of view,

A. mellifera

It is an insect with a social way of life, with a high percentage of specialization and organization. This includes coordinated foraging and communal care of the young, which has led to greater reproductive success as an evolutionary consequence. 

The communal structure of bees is made up of groups of bees with different functions, called castes. In the social groups of

Apis mellifera

There are three castes of bees: the queen bee, the worker bee, and the drones.

The queen bee and the workers are the females of each social group, they are the product of fertilized eggs and are diploid individuals (2n). While the drones are the males and are products of unfertilized eggs (parthenocarpy), so they are haploid (n). 

During the larval stage, the larvae destined to be queens and the queen bee feed on royal jelly, while the workers feed on pollen. 

Currently, there are many remedies that involve

Apis mellifera

in the treatment of various ailments. The bite of this insect, for example, is used in therapies for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Article index

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    Habitat and distribution

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Generally, European bees are red or brown with black bands and yellow rings on the abdomen. In addition, they have hair on the thorax and lack hair on the abdomen. 

Apis mellifera

It has a basket for pollen on its hind legs, which are dark brown or black, like the rest of the legs. 

Apis mellifera. Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak & Beemaster Hubert Seibring, Munich which gave me advice and a protection suite ???? My dog ​​cashed 6 bee-sticks on the nose, i cashed 4. [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org /licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

As mentioned above, there are two types of female castes: the sterile and small workers (adults 1 to 1.5 cm long), and the fertile and large queens (1.8 to 2 cm long). 

The males or drones are 1.5 to 1.7 cm long in the adult stage. Despite being smaller, workers have longer wings than drones. While male bees have larger eyes than the other two breeds, probably to locate flying queen bees during mating flights. 

On average:

  • The length of the head is 4.5 mm, the antenna is 5.4 mm, the proboscis is 6.4 mm, the abdomen is 4.7 mm, and the thorax is 5.8 mm.
  • The front wing is 9.5mm long, the rear wing 7.9mm long, the front legs 8mm, the middle legs 8.3mm, and the rear legs 12mm.

However, these morphometric characteristics depend on the region and seasonality. 

Habitat and distribution

Apis mellifera

prefers environments that can provide enough flowers, such as lawns, open wooded areas, and gardens. In addition, it can inhabit grasslands, deserts, and wetlands if there is enough water, food, and shelter. Meanwhile, European bees need cavities, for example holes in trees, to form the hive. 

They can be distributed in environments with temperate, tropical and subtropical climates. It is frequently found in desert biomes or dunes, in savannas, grasslands, chaparral, and forests. Nevertheless,

A. mellifera

it frequents urban, suburban and agricultural spaces. 

In the geographical area,

Apis mellifera

it is native to Europe, western Asia, and Africa. However, by anthropic actions the European bee has reached other continents since the 17th century and is now found throughout the world, including East Asia, Australia, North and South America. 

Distribution map. © Sémhur / Wikimedia Commons

From an ecological point of view,

Apis mellifera

It is very important as a pollinator, thus being the main pollinator of plants on earth. The importance of this group of bees is so important that without them the plants would considerably decrease their fertility. 

As social insects, European bees are hosts to a wide variety of parasites, commensal organisms, and pathogenic microorganisms. At least eighteen types of viruses can affect

A. mellifera

, this being a serious problem for beekeepers. 


Most worker bees in a hive of

A. mellifera

they are sterile. Only the queen’s mates can lay eggs; in a hive there is only one reproductive queen. 

During periods of favorable times, spring and summer, the drones leave the hive and gather as an army near the hive. For their part, the virgin queens fly through these areas attracting the males with the secreted pheromones.

At this point, the males chase and attempt to mate with the queen in flight. In some cases drone circles form around the queen to try to catch her. 

Each male that mates with the queen falls and dies within hours or days. Meanwhile, unmated males continue to prowl the flight area until they mate. The queen can mate with up to ten males in a single flight. 

Similarly, queens can mate with males from other hives and is the queen of hives from

Apis mellifera

the only playable member. The other members of the nest focus their activities on the reproductive care of the queen. 

The queen bee can control whether an egg is fertilized or not. The unfertilized eggs will give rise to males, while the fertilized eggs produce worker bees and new queens.

The ratio of female and male eggs can be modified by the action of the queen bee and this depends on whether it is sick or if there is a problem in the hive. 


Apis mellifera

It feeds on pollen and nectar collected from open flowers. It can also feed on honey (concentrated nectar) and secretions from other members of the colony. 

Thus, the workers leave the comb in search of food (pollen and nectar) for the entire colony; They do this by using their tongues to suck up the nectar and store it in a sac located in an anterior section of the digestive tract. Meanwhile, pollen is collected in the baskets on the hind legs. 

The European bee visiting a flower. Louise Docker from sydney, Australia [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Once the nectar seekers return to the hive, they transfer the collected nectar to the young worker bees. While young workers feed on nectar and pollen, they secrete edible materials from the glands on their heads, which can be royal jelly or worker’s jelly.

This secreted material feeds the young larvae and the amount or type of jelly ingested will determine whether the larvae will be workers or queens.  


European bees are social insects, living in colonies containing a reproductive female (the queen). The sterile females, progeny of the queen, do all the work of the colony, therefore it is the most numerous caste of a hive. Males and queens invest all their efforts in reproduction. 

Obreras de Apis mellifera. Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak & Beemaster Hubert Seibring, Munich which gave me advice and a protection suite ???? My dog ​​cashed 6 bee-sticks on the nose, i cashed 4. [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https: //creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

The workers of

Apis mellifera

They change their behavior as they age, as the new workers clean the cells, preparing them for new eggs or to store food.

After several days, they take on other hive maintenance jobs, removing waste and debris, processing the nectar brought in by the seekers, and feeding the queen and larvae from the glands on their heads.

After the second week of adult life, the workers begin to repair the hive and after 12 to 25 days they begin to be guardians of the hive. After the atrophy of their glands, the workers begin to work as seekers of nectar and pollen.


Some studies have shown the anti-inflammatory capacity of the toxin from

Apis mellifera.

In addition, the venom of the European bee is effective in treating osteoarthritis, cellulite arthritis, varicose veins, asthma, and tendonitis. 

The application of

A. mellifera

in homeopathy it is used to solve inflammatory problems in acute states. Thus, the bite of this insect is used as an alternative therapy in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, producing positive results for some patients. 

According to beekeeping, a bee sting would produce a local inflammation that would stimulate the body’s immune system to proceed with total de-inflammation. However, all these data have not been corroborated by scientists and doctors, so the medical community is skeptical of “the miraculous effects of beekeeping.” 


  1. Hammond, G., Blankenship, M. 2009.

    Apis mellifera

    . Taken from: animaldiversity.org

  2. Mufutau, A. 2014. Morphological characteristics of

    Apis mellifera

    L. (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in Kwara State, Nigeria. International Journal of Agricultural Science, 4 (4): 171-175.

  3. Al-Sarhan, R., Adgaba, N., Tadesse, Y., Alattal, Y., Al-Abbadi, A., Single, A., Al-Ghamdi, A. 2019. Reproductive biology and morphology of

    Apis mellifera jemenitica

    (Apidae) queens and drones. Saudi Journal of Biological Science.

  4. Núñez-Torres, O, P., Almeida.Secaira, RI, Rosero-Peñaherrera, MA, Lozada-Salcedo, EE 2017. Strengthening the yield of bees (

    Apis mellifera

    ) fed with protein sources. Journal of the Selva Andina Animal Science, 95-103.

  5. Vicente-Rubiano, M. 2015. Virological and epidemiological analysis of hive depopulation syndrome in Spain. Study of causes and consequences. PhD thesis, Complutense University of Madrid. 
  6. Padilla-Álvarez, Hernández-Fernández, R., Reyes-López, J. 2001. Biometric study of the honey bee (

    Apis mellifera

    , Linneo 1785) (Hymenoptera, Apidae) from the island of La Palma of the Canary Archipelago. II. Angles and lengths of the wings. Zool. baetica, 12: 23-35. 

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