Image above: Grounds at Blenheim Palace where the wild bees live.
Bee purity is hard to find on planet Earth these days, so the discovery of wild bees by Filipe Salbany is cause for hope and delight. Salbany is a bee conservationist. He made the astonishing discovery in ancient woodlands on the vast grounds of Blenheim Palace in England.
Hundreds of thousands of rare tree-nesting forest honeybees appear to be the most recent wild descendants of Britain’s indigenous wild native honeybee population that was thought to be extinct.
The bees are unlike modern honeybees found in managed beehives. They are furrier, smaller, and darker with very little banding, and shorter wings with distinct veins. This sets them apart from imported honeybees. These self-sustaining wild bees live in tree nests in small cavities in the manner in which bees have lived for millions of years, said Salbany.
They live in harmony with their environment which includes wasps and bumblebees. Despite several ecological surveys over the years, nobody knew these bees existed. Their preferred diet is such flowers as dandelions, sunflowers, and blackthorn, which makes their honey smell and taste incredible.
This 0:22-second video shows the magnificent grounds of Blenheim Palace in Britain, where these wild bees live:
Once a wild bee adapts to the environment, it is called an ecotype. The Blenheim wild bee could be a very precious ecotype for various reasons. It is the first wild bee to adapt to living in the oak forest. It swarms with multiple queens, even up to nine, to ensure the survival of the colony, and the strongest queen rules. It has been recorded foraging for honeydew on treetops in such low temperatures as 4C, whereas most bees stop flying at 12C.
They build their nests in tree cavities that are only a quarter the size of a normal beehive, and around 15-20 meters off the ground, with the hive entrance less than 5cm in diameter. Their colonies are much smaller than managed beehives.
The parasite Varroa mite arrived in Britain around 1992, and was thought to have wiped out the wild honeybee population. Salbany believes the bees he discovered evolved to survive such threats, and samples of their DNA were extracted for testing. Around 800,000 bees have been found so far, and he hopes the species may become stock for British beekeepers.
Salbany told The Guardian that these bees make amazing honey, and are incredibly relaxed so he could touch them. The woodlands where they live have very little human interaction, as the grounds are not open to the public and there is no gardening or planting activity. He thinks there may be more hidden wild bee populations in other ancient forests, and this is why it is so important that we protect ancient woodlands. In such places we are likely to find such bees.
Salbany believes these bees have lived on the estate for at least a few centuries, as one of the nests he found was around two centuries old. There are no managed beehives on the estate, which he believes has helped these wild bees to survive over time. Managed bees in the surrounding area would not enter this territory of humid, damp valleys that form barriers.
We are excited to find out what the DNA tests reveal about these mysterious wild bees, and will blog about the results.