There are several various species of honey-producing bees that are all referred to as ‘honey bees.’ These bees produce honey for food, and many of them are used to cultivate honey for human consumption. While much is known about bees, there are still many mysteries surrounding these insects.
Some beekeepers have reportedly found black honey bees in their colonies and wonder if these are honey bees or intruders? Can honey bees be black?
Are There Black Honey Bees?
The European Dark Bee is the only honey-producing bee species to be naturally completely black. Other honey bee species may be black due to genetic mutation, or they may appear black if their external hair is rubbed off by other bees. Bees may be found black after dying from certain viruses.
This is a perfectly reasonable question as some bees are naturally black, and genetic mutations are possible in insects such as bees that can change the color of individual specimens, but it can be a shock to find a black bee among a colony and to find black bees in the wild can lead to many questions. Let’s explore all-black honey bees to clear up some of the mysteries surrounding them.
The term ‘honey bees’ is used to describe any bees that produce honey. This is not the most accurate way to classify these types of bees because there are many different bee species internationally that produce honey, and they are all very different from one another.
The truth is that there is a species of honey-producing bee that can be completely black in color. The European Dark Bee, sometimes called the German Dark Bee, has been seen to be completely black. This species is typically mostly black, with some other colors present as well, but it is not uncommon to find individuals of this species that are entirely black.
This species of bee is typically only found in the northern regions of Britain and in Wales, but they have been found in some other Northern European countries as well, such as Germany.
European Dark Bees were almost completely eliminated by a plague of parasitic mites in the early 1900s, and they were considered to be extinct in many regions. However, since 2012, researchers have discovered a rise in the population of these bees, which is very good news for the local ecosystems.
The BIBBA (Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association) in the UK think that black bees could help fight the decline of honey bees. Black bees are known to be more resilient and need less food to survive.
Many beekeepers and bee farmers in Northern and Western Europe have begun cultivating European Dark Bees, as this species is more well-suited to the harsh and cold climate in these areas.
When the fewer bees nearly died out in the early 1900s, beekeepers brought in Southern European bees as a substitute, but these bees are more well suited for warmer climates. Feeding European Dark Bees has proven to be a very good decision and has improved the population of these bees and overall honey production in colder European countries.
European Dark Bees are the only bee species that can be completely black without any outside influences, but these bees are only found in one small region of the world. Beekeepers in other parts of the world have encountered black bees in their colonies, leading them to wonder if more common species of honey bees can be black?
If you closely inspect more commonly found species of honey bee, you will find that the exoskeleton of these insects is completely black. Honey bees typically have other color variants due to the color of the fur-like fuzz present in their bodies.
This fuzz has different colors and can vary depending on the species of bee, but underneath this layer, most honey bee species are black all over.
However, most honey bees are not typically considered to be black, as seeing a completely black specimen is very rare. With that being said, it is not unheard of for genetic mutations to occur within bees which may result in the birth of a completely black honey bee of any species, but this is a true anomaly and exceedingly rare.
These black honey bees are healthy and productive along with the other bees in the colony. They are still the same species of bee, but genetic mutation has caused a completely black corporation. Apart from genetic anomalies, it is not likely that honey bees will be naturally completely black.
Why Would A Honey Bee Turn Black?
Some beekeepers have reported individual honey bees turning black, some even being black and ‘greasy’ in appearance. This report has been seen by many apiaries over the years, and many are yet to be provided with any explanations as to why this occurs.
Well, the truth is that when a honey bee appears to be black and greasy or shiny, the simple reason for this occurrence is that the hair has been rubbed off of this bee by other bees in the colony.
This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen, and when the hair is rubbed off from a honey bee, the exoskeleton is exposed, which is completely black and made from hard chitin. The exoskeleton is smooth and rigid, which gives it a shiny appearance that some describe as looking greasy.
These bees are not greasy at all, but they are only shiny-looking due to the smooth black exoskeleton of the insect. It is not fully understood why the hair is rubbed off from some bees, but when this happens, the bee turns completely black and tends to remain at the hive.
Viruses That Turn Honey Bees Black
The last occurrence of black honey bees is when regular honey bees are found dead in a hive, often many at a time and in abandoned hives, completely black and lacking any type of natural color; even though they still have their hair, the exoskeleton is not exposed. What may cause this to happen?
These instances of dead black bees are caused by viruses that have infected bees, and as the bees were killed by the virus, the infection turns the bees black in color.
This is typically why black bees are found dead in abandoned hives. If a virus of this type breaks out in a hive, it is likely to kill the entire colony very quickly or likely to force the bees to move out to protect themselves from the spread of the virus.
The Black Queen Cell Virus and the Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus are both viruses that may cause a bee to turn black before or after death and are the two most commonly found causes of black honey bees in deserted hives.
Black honey bees are not common, and the European Dark Bee is the only species of honey bee that is likely to be naturally completely black. Genetic mutation may cause a rare handful of bees to turn black, but this is very uncommon.
If you find a black bee in your colony, check to see if it has not been rubbed bare by other bees, and be sure that there is no virus working its way through the colony. If these instances occur, your bees may be in trouble, but the odd black bee in one generation due to genetic mutation is harmless and nothing to worry about.