Brief history of Philippine bees

Bees have been on the earth a great deal longer than human beings.  Researchers at Oregon State University in the USA (1) discovered the oldest bee ever known, a 100 million year old specimen preserved in almost lifelike form in amber, and an important link to help explain the rapid expansion of flowering plants during that distant period.

Scientists and agriculturalists have realised for quite some time that there is a strong connection between flowering plants and bees, since they are mutually dependant on each other.  The bees get their food from plants and flowering plants gain by being pollinated efficiently to produce healthy seeds etc.

Genetic studies of Apis cerana bees in the Philippines (2) gives some indication of separate island populations dating back through geological history on the island of Palawan and the islands of Luzon, Mindanao and the Visayan Islands. Palawan appears to have been joined to the mainland during the Pleistocene about 2.5 million years ago and so the bees on Palawan are from the same stock as those on the mainland of Asia.  Mindanao, the Visayan Islands and Luzon may never have been connected to the mainland.  It is thought that at some time the other Philippine islands got their bees perhaps on driftwood, or blown across by the wind.  At some point most (if not all) the islands had populations of Apis cerana (and some other bees) before humans arrived about 67,000 years ago (3).

If the bees can be ‘transported’ across the seas how likely is it that islands such as Siquijor quite a few kilometres from other islands could have bees arriving from Negros for example? Some other genetic research on Apis cerana island populations (4) indicate that this may only happen extremely rarely, probably by ‘accident’.  (Unless humans deliberately took colonies between islands?)  This study notes that island populations usually exhibit lower genetic diversity than their equivalent mainland populations.

These studies would indicate that the bees on islands like Siquijor are effectively separate populations, and also that they could be more vulnerable to predation for example by honey hunters.  It is estimated that the sex determining gene in honeybees has about 16 to 17 alleles, and if ‘in-breeding’ takes place between queen and drones of the same colony about 25% of offspring are likely to die (5).  If the bee colony population is sufficiently thinned out this would increase the likelihood of in-breeding and a rapid collapse of a small island population.  This could be more significant on an island with limited mountainous and forest areas, where honey hunting would have a bigger impact.  The ‘tipping point’ in the decline of a population could be some way before the collapse becomes obvious.

The author had noticed the increasing disappearance of honeybees even higher up into the mountainous areas, and having visited many islands, rural areas and cities from Baguio to Davao the story appears to be similar. This website is a summary of findings resulting from many months of internet and email research since 2012, including visits and discussions with beekeepers, university researchers, and many rural people.

Earlier versions of the study now called Pollination in the Philippines was reviewed by about 30 knowledgeable people from a range of backgrounds, who provided different feedback viewpoints to the author.  Many were Philippine citizens and included university staff, farmers, beekeepers and researchers in other countries.  There was a general concensus that there was a significant problem, but it was evident that it was generally unrecognised in the Philippines. (Copies of the study were also repeatedly sent to the The Department of Agriculture and other government departments but very little response has been received to date.)

This website was created because there was increasing evidence of bee populations declining in many areas of the Philippines.  This situation was damaging crop yields and rural incomes. These and other associated issues could be improved if there was greater awareness of the basic biological process of pollination, and the essential role that bees have in a productive agricultural environment.

Apis cerana distribution

Ligwan (Apis cerana) geographical distribution


Putyokan (Apis dorsata) geographical distribution (6)

Currently there is insufficient up-to-date population data of the bees in many areas and islands in the Philippines.  It would be important and very helpful if the users of this website could send in comments about the relative abundance or scarcity of the bees in their locality and island.  Please join the Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "honeybee-survey".

 References …

1) Research Discovers Oldest Bee, Evolutionary Link

2) A genetic study of Apis cerana populations from the Philippines

3) List of countries and islands by first human settlement

4) Genetic differentiation between Apis cerana cerana populations from Damen Island and adjacent mainland in China

5) Beekeeping for Honey Production in Sri Lanka: management of Asiatic hive honeybee Apis cerana in its natural tropical monsoonal environment
Punchihewa RWK (1994) Sri Lanka Dept of Agriculture, Peradeniya Sri Lanka & Canadian International Development Agency, Quebec, Canada. 232 pages

6) Wikimedia information

About Julian Wright

Julian Wright is a British agricultural scientist married to a Philippine teacher, who has a house and some land planted to coconuts and other crops near Dumaguete in the Philippines.
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2 Responses to Brief history of Philippine bees

  1. marinela ibabao says:

    Hi! I just bought a bottle of green-colored honey. The seller says it comes from an underground honeybee nest from the mountains of Baler/Aurora province. It’s color is dark-green and tastes like eucalyptus. I can’t find any info in the internet about underground honey in the Philippines. I hope I bought an “original”, if not pure, undeground bee honey

    • Nars says:

      Hello maam that kind of honey is fake because no honey collor green.according to dr cleofas during her laboratory is no pollen in that honey.

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