A honeybee that was believed to have been wiped out by invasive species and diseases in the 1990s has been found thriving in England. In fact, thousands of them were discovered in the woodlands of the 400-acre grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
The newly rediscovered bees are believed to be the last wild descendants of the native honeybees from Britain. They are, however, smaller, darker, have tinier wings, more fur, and additional distinct veins. The results of the DNA tests conducted on the bees need to be processed in order to know for sure if they are the descendants of the native honeybees, although the experts are very confident that they are.
Bee conservationist Filipe Salbany who discovered 50 colonies of the honeybees, described the species in further detail, “These bees are quite unique in that they live in nests in very small cavities, as bees have for millions of years, and they have the ability to live with disease. They have had no treatment for the varroa mite – yet they’re not dying off.” Varroa mites, which came to Britain in 1992, attack and feed on honeybees.
Additional facts about these bees are that they can forage for honeydew in temperatures as cold as 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit) – the majority of bees stop flying when the temperature drops to 12 degrees Celsius (53.6 degrees Fahrenheit); their nests are located between 15 and 20 meters (49 to 66 feet) off the ground in trees; their colonies are between 8 and 10 times smaller than managed beehives; their colonies contain numerous queens (as many as nine queens); and they can live close to other honeybee colonies and wasps without any difficulties.
Interestingly, one of the nests dates back at least 200 years and there may possibly be other colonies that have yet to be found which is why “we need to protect our ancient woodlands. Because that’s where we are likely to find these bees,” Salbany stated.
Another incredible fact is that the bees are so relaxed that Salbany doesn’t even need to wear any protective clothing while interacting with them. “I can put my hand in the nest. They are very calm,” he said.
Approximately 800,000 honeybees have been found so far which is absolutely incredible for a species that was thought to have been wiped out since the 1990s. Pictures of the bees can be seen here.