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Sicilian bee

Sicilian bees

Black Sicilian bees have been fairly well studied to this time. They belong to the western Mediterranean bee group and are similarly under threat of extinction.

On the verge of disappearing

Not only in its native Sicily, but also abroad, efforts have been made for decades to preserve and promote the Sicilian bee. The threat of extinction was caused by the mass import of the highly productive  Apis mellifera ligustica from Italy.

The first conservation work on the Sicilian bee breed was started in the 1950s and 1960s by the Italian beekeeper Mariano Alber. He was a pivotal figure and laid the foundation for the breeding of the Sicilian bee – Apis mellifera siciliana at that time. One of his closest friends was the beekeeper Fritz Baumgarten from Kiel, who received breeding material from Albert from Sicily in the 1970s and for many years kept an apiary in Kiel of Sicilian bees. Today the breeding of the Sicilian bee is carried out in Sicily. The Beekeeping Institute in Bremen also supports the conservation of the Sicilian bee.

Relatives of the Sicilian bee

Interestingly, Italian bee – Apis mellifera ligustica does not breed in Sicily. It is only distributed as far as Calabria. Calabria and Sicily are separated by the 3 km wide Strait of Messina. Despite their geographical proximity, Sicilian bees are not related to Ligustica, they are much closer to the geographically distant, separated by the Mediterranean Sea, Apis mellifera intermissa, which inhabit the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Morocco, as well as Algeria and Tunisia.

Characteristics of the Sicilian Bee

The Sicilian bee is peaceful, very productive in the Mediterranean climate, quick to gain strength, resistant to diseases, (more resistant to varotosis than other European bees) not prone to robbery and protects its nest very well. Even small colonies quickly gain strength. Resistant to temperature differences – able to work even in gorges where the night temperature is 0C, and during the day up to +40C.

Apis mellifera siciliana has a dark coloured abdomen. Because of this it is also called the “Sicilian black bee”. It has a yellow down and short wings.

Sicily has a typical Mediterranean climate with mild, humid winters. There is a short flowering period in spring. Summers are hot and dry, often without rainfall. And only in autumn, the second wave of flowering of plants. As a consequence, the Sicilian bee, as well as Apis mellifera intermissa, has two peaks of development: one in spring and one in autumn. Sicilian bees lay many queen cell, often two queens in a colony are observed at the same time. Unlike African Sicilian bees, Sicilian bees can form a winter club, as confirmed by experiments in northern Germany.

Conclusion

Apis mellifera siciliana certainly has its advantages and is important for biodiversity. Of course, the closeness to Italy creates difficulties for the development of this breed. Nevertheless, the infrastructure is now in place to preserve this species.

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