10 April 2014


It should come as no surprise that the Maltese honey bee (formally, apis mellifera ruttneri) is a honeybee native to the islands of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. A cousin of the popular and numerous western honey bee, the Maltese subspecies evolved after the Maltese islands geologically separated from the European mainland.


With a blacker color than most other honeybees, this hearty subspecies is particularly adapted to high temperatures and dry summers. Quite productive, these bees have the single drawback of being quite “defensive.” When a bee is described as “defensive,” . . . well, . . . that translates into behavior that most of us would call quite aggressive. And, because bees can sting, it is wise to respect their . . . defensiveness.


In the early 1990’s, the arch villain in the history of bee disease was introduced to the island of Malta: the varroa mite. This parasite substantially reduced the numbers of the Maltese bees.

In response, the much less aggressive, but quite productive, Italian bee, was introduced to the islands to make up for the lost populations of Maltese bees. The Italian honey bee has a good resistance to the varroa mite. The two subspecies, Italian and Maltese, have interbred to form a hybrid which is much more resistant to disease and much less aggressive than the original Maltese bee.

Of course, this endangers the Maltese subspecies, which is being displaced by the new hybrid. However, if you’re a beekeeper, used to the “defensive” behavior of the Maltese bee, this new hybrid, with its good disposition and robust good health, may come as a welcome change.


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