Honey bee on a flower. Photo courtesy of Chris Hansen of Hansen Honey Inc.

Where does this organism live? Honey bees natural habitat encompasses the entire continent of Africa, Asia, Europe including southern Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean. (Winston 1987) In modern times honey bees have been introduced to almost every continent, and there now exists numerous races of Apis mellifera. (Note: Some of the names of the subspecies and discoverer are included.)

The European races include:
Apis mellifera ligustica (Spin.) – originated in Italy.
Apis mellifera mellifera L. – which are the German dark bees. They originated in northern Europe and west-central Russia.
Apis mellifera carnica
(Pollman)- which are the Carniolan Bees, who originated in the southern Alps.

The African races include:
Apis mellifera intermissa v. (Buttel-Reepen) which are the Tellian bees, who are found north of the Sahara, from Libya to Morocco.
Apis mellifera lamarckii (Cockwell) are the Egyptian bees.  They can be found around north east Africa, in Egypt, and along the Nile river.
Apis mellifera scutellata (Lepeletier) are found along the east coast of Africa.  They have now established in North and South America. Their common name is “Africanized bees” or “Killer bees.” Both names belong to this subspecies.
Apis mellifera adansonii (Latreille) are the west African bees.
Apis mellifera capensis
(Escholtz) are the Cape bees, only found at the tip of South Africa. (Winston 1987)

North and South American races:
Honey bees are not native to North or South America, but typically bee keepers in the United States use Apis mellifera ligustica (The Italian bees) because they have desirable characteristics for beekeeping.

What is its ecological niche?  The honey bees have a unique lifestyle for a couple of reasons. For one, they use nectar and honey; unlike their cousins the wasps, who feed on other invertebrates. (Gould, 1988) Honey bees are also colonial, and it is this adaption that allows them to survive through the winter, also unlike their cousins the wasps and bumblebees.  When spring comes, the honey bees come back in full force and are able to easily outcompete other pollinators for a few crucial weeks.  It is these weeks when the hive will get a head start on preparing for the following winter.  Other organisms, specifically flowering plants rely on honey bees to spread their pollen. Though a lot of it is brought back to the hive, flowering plants produce excess in hopes that some will pollinate other flowers of the same species.  “Without honey bees to pollinate them, most flowering species would perish.” (Gould, 1988)