European honey bee Apis mellifera Abeille domestique - France
European honey bee Apis mellifera Abeille domestique.
Hybrid, Buckfast honey bee – Apis hybrid
It’s doubtful that there are many pure colonies of Apis mellifera mellifera in France although on L'Ile de Ouessant, Brittany there is the Association pour la Conservation, la sélection et le développement de l'Abeille Noire (écotype breton). Abeille noire Breton which is far enough from the mainland to maintain genetic purity.
The other sub species, Italian, Carniolan and Buckfast are not originally native and are selectively bred for Bee keeping purposes in France. Although some pure first generations may be found "unmanaged" most feral honey bees are hybrids of varying genetic makeup. The Spanish honey bee is probably absent.
Honey bees are “social bees” which is to say they live as a colony containing a Queen, workers, (sterile females), and for part of the year drones, (males). They are the only bees in Europe to maintain a continuous colony that survives from one year to the next and requires a complex biology as the colony population requirements must be regulated throughout the year according to seasonal and other needs. They require an enclosed space in which to construct their wax combs which are used for storing honey, pollen and raising new brood.
They have a complete metamorphosis with four life stages.
A fertile queen is able to lay fertilised or unfertilized eggs.
For the first two days, all larvae are fed a diet of royal jelly. Beginning the third day, worker larvae are fed honey, pollen and water, while the larvae destined to become queens continue to receive royal jelly throughout their larval lives.
Workers have various duties depending on age and time of year but broadly basic work is divided into foraging, housework, nursery work and guarding.
Drones only function is to try and mate with Virgin Queens, otherwise they are freeloaders simply moving from colony to colony taking their free food.
Original source information Stone, David M. Overview of Bee Biology University of Illinois Laboratory High school. http://www.uni.illinois.edu//~stone2/bee_overview.html
A new Queen will be required either to replace an old or unsatisfactory Queen, a Queen that has been killed or when the colony is preparing to swarm.
A year in the life of a Bee colony.
Much depends on where in France the colony is and what the weather conditions are but generally as winter starts to end the Queen will start to increase egg/brood production. She will have stopped completely during very cold periods when the colony will have clustered together. Brood production will increase rapidly as spring arrives with warmer days and the first flowering plants and trees. Generally sometime around the middle of April – end of May the colony population should be at full strength – what this is in numbers will depend on the specific genetics of the colony and how much space they have but could be 70,000 bees or even more.
Photo above . Bee swarm hanging in bramble in France
Photo above. Bee collecting pollen on wild asparagus in France.
There are a number of natural hazards that can be identified which could result in colony failure and theoretically these would result in a stable number of colonies over time in an unmanaged or feral situation.
Principle natural causes for colony failure.
On average an unmanaged or feral colony will last between 6 and 7 years BUT due to the scent of the residual pheromones, wax and propolis it will likely attract another swarm in the future.
Photo. Bee colony constructed on a branch in France.
Pests, parasites and diseases can play a role in the life of a colony although only a few are significant or likely to be terminal.
Nosema apis is a unicellular parasite of the class Microsporidia, which are now classified as fungi or fungi-related. It has a resistant spore that withstands temperature extremes and dehydration and can cause winter colony failure. It is usually associated with long, cold wet periods in the flying seasons or very damp conditions inside the colony during winter. Nosema can cause queen supersedure, winter colony loss or weak, dwindling populations that struggle to grow numerically.
Dysentery is a condition resulting from a combination of long periods of inability to make cleansing flights (generally due to cold wet weather) and food stores which contain a high proportion of indigestible matter. Once faecal matter starts to be spread inside the colony it can rapidly bring about the end of the colony.
American foulbrood is caused by the spore- forming Paenibacillus larvae ssp. larvae (formerly classified as Bacillus larvae), is the most widespread and destructive of the bee brood diseases. This disease only affects the bee larvae but is highly infectious and deadly to bee brood. Infected larvae darken and die and the spores become spread throughout the colony. When the colony becomes weakened from the infection, robber bees may enter and take contaminated honey back to their hives thereby spreading the disease, although it is mainly a disease that presents in managed colonies where it is spread from hive to hive by bee keepers using contaminated hive parts or hive tools.
The Asian Hornet still has the jury out on whether it is a major threat and there is currently a lack of reliable data. Asian Hornet in France
Other fairly common or very common issues are Acarine (Tracheal) mites, Wax moths, European foulbrood, Chalkbrood, Stonebrood, Deformed Wing Virus and Varroa mites, with Varroa mites now endemic in France since their presence in the country was first observed in 1982. None of these present a serious threat to Honey bees in France.
Pesticides may be a local issue but they don’t currently appear to be having an effect overall on the unmanaged colonies.
The natural place for a honey bee colony is in a cavity in an old tree, rock face and for the last 1000 years or so in France cavities in the walls of stone buildings. Initially those would have been churches, castles and other fortified structures and although colonies are still found in these places they are increasingly to be found in house walls, chimneys and roofs, especially old stone houses that have had the grenier, (loft), converted to living space creating restricted spaces between roof and ceiling. People are often alarmed to find a bee colony in their roof but providing the entrance to the colony is somewhat above head height it shouldn’t present any problems and won’t harm the structure of the building.
Photo. Honey bee colony constructed between shutters and window in France.
Removing Honey bee colonies from buildings, walls or trees can only be achieved with full access to the entire comb structure.
There is no level of protection for Honey Bees in France apart from this law passed in 1942.
Loi n° 993, du 9 novembre 1942, relative à l'interdiction de la destruction des colonies d'abeilles par étouffage.
Overall the situation for honey bees in France would appear to be stable in the regions where they would normally live without human intervention and it is likely that the feral colonies will continue to be augmented by swarms from apiaries.