The Cape Honeybee

The Cape honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis) is one of two species of honeybees found in South Africa, the other being the more aggressive African honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata).  The Cape honeybee’s natural habitat is the fynbos biome of the Western Cape and as far east as Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, while the African honeybee is found in the central and northern parts of South Africa.

As with all honeybees, the Cape honeybee forages on nectar and pollen of flowering plants.  Pollen is collected by an electrostatic charge on the bee’s hairs which attracts the pollen.  The pollen is then scraped by the bee’s leg brushes into its pollen basket, a flat and wide area on the rear pair of legs.  Nectar is collected by being sucked up using the bee’s proboscis which is an airtight, straw-like tube which resembles a long tongue.  Once collected, the bees return to the hive where they deposit the pollen and nectar.

The Cape honeybee plays an important role as a pollinator of flowering plants, including many fynbos species and pollination-dependent food crops such as apples, pears, blueberries and canola.  By foraging on the pollen and nectar of flowering plants, the bees perform the essential task of transferring pollen from one flower to another which facilitates the reproduction of flowering plants.

What makes the Cape Honeybee unique?

The Cape honeybee is one of 28 subspecies of the Western honeybee (also known as the European honeybee) and in many ways it follows the same life cycle and biology as its relatives, however when it comes to reproduction, the Cape honeybee is unique amongst all honeybee subspecies. 

The unique reproductive behaviour of the Cape honeybee causes significant problems if Cape honeybees are able to encounter other honeybee species, so it is important that Cape honeybees are not relocated to regions outside of the fynbos ecoregion, and similarly, other species such as the African honeybee should not be moved into the fynbos ecoregion.

For more reading about the Cape honeybee visit these resources:

SANBI

Bee Aware

University of Florida

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