European honeybees (Apis mellifera)

  European honeybees (Apis mellifera) are not native to the Philippines and were introduced by beekeepers because potentially they can produce lots of honey. They have been introduced into many countries over the centuries and are the main commercial honey producing bee. (In the Philippines they may also be called ‘Ligwan’ since they look similar to the smaller native honeybee.)

In the USA and Europe it is notable that something called Colony Collapse Disorder is killing off many colonies. This problem is being investigated by scientists and beekeepers – there are several factors that appear to be responsible including indiscriminate use of pesticides, particularly Neonicotinoid pesticides. Other factors causing CCD appear to be the spread of viruses by the Varroa mite, plus some commercial beekeeping practices. Some researchers have also implicated the increasing use of Genetically Modified crops which is affecting the ecology and resulting in increased use of some pesticides and herbicides.

So far CCD does not appear to be affecting the European honeybee colonies in the Philippines. There are currently only about 6,000 colonies of European honeybees in the Philippines, and each colony produces on average about 22 kg of honey per year. Because of the tropical conditions this honeybee produces less honey than it might in cooler climates. Predators, Varroa and diseases also affect colonies, but as yet Neonicotinoid pesticides and GM crops are not being widely used in the Philippines.

The European honeybee in some respects is similar to the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana or Ligwan) but larger in size, and there are some important behavioural differences. The European honeybee lives in much larger colonies than the Asian honeybee.

Typically the design of beehive used is called a Langstroth hive and uses moveable frames on which the honeybee makes the comb. This system is quite costly and some training is needed before the beekeeper can expect to be successful in keeping and developing the bee colonies. There are a relatively small number of skilled and professional European honeybee beekeepers who are successful in the Philippines. The experience and knowledge of these beekeepers should be highly valued, since they may contribute greatly to the future prospects of millions of farmers and their rural communities.

Much work has been done by promoters of beekeeping in the Philippines, mainly focused on the European honeybee. However, this temperate species of bee requires a lot of inputs in terms of costs and knowledge, although the potential for honey and other products is great. Significant problematic issues include the Varroa mite, predators, diseases and the need for suitable ‘Queen’ production.

Due to predators and other problems in the tropics the temperate European honeybee is expensive and difficult to cultivate. Some beekeepers consider that the European honeybee is just not sustainable in the Philippines. The numbers of colonies (about 6,000) in the Philippines has been roughly the same for the last ten years.

Other Asian countries such as India, China and Vietnam have many millions of commercial European honeybee colonies which make a significant contribution to the pollination environment. In the Philippines there are relatively few colonies of European honeybees which currently make a very small impact on the pollination needs of the country as a whole. There are for example a great many significant islands in the Philippines that have no European honeybee colonies, and on large islands such as Negros there very few indeed. The current reality is that the native bees are pre-eminently important for pollinating crops across the many islands and regions of the Philippines.

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