Is There a Wild Beehive Near You? Then Scientists Need to Know

Is There a Wild Beehive Near You? Then Scientists Need to Know


Scientists at NUI Galway have put a call out to people from every county in Ireland to keep an eye out for native Irish bees this summer. Beekeepers and bee-enthusiasts in particular are being asked to report any feral or unmanaged hives in their area.

The team of scientists, with help from watchful members of the public, have already found more than twenty feral Irish Honey Bee hives, including one in the statue of a lion on the estate of Mote Park, Roscommon. Reports have also been received from reliable sources pointing to long-term presence of ‘wild’ hives in seven additional counties.

A feral indigenous Irish Honey Bee hive has recently been found in the statue of a lion on the estate of Mote Park, Roscommon. Photo Daniel Connell.

A feral indigenous Irish Honey Bee hive has recently been found in the statue of a lion on the estate of Mote Park, Roscommon. Photo Daniel Connell.

Of particular interest at this stage are old abandoned houses and castles, outbuildings, residential houses, and woodlands.

The overall aim of the project is to settle the debate as to whether there truly remain any indigenous Irish Honey Bees – Apis Mellifera Mellifera – persisting in the wild. If they do exist, then their gene pool may well prove important in the fight against the varroa mite which is destroying hives all over the world. This mite seriously affects honey bee health to such an extent that most beekeepers have to chemically treat bees multiple times per year.

Professor Grace McCormack, of NUI Galway’s Zoology Department, is leading the project which has been funded by The Eva Crane Trust: “When disease wiped out swathes of native Irish Honey Bee colonies in the past, foreign subspecies of honeybees were knowingly imported as a proposed solution to bolster numbers. Due to generations of interaction with escapees of domesticated colonies, fears are that the Irish Honey Bee populations currently found in the wild are introgressed (mixed) with non-native subspecies and hybrid strains of French, Dutch, Italian and Russian extraction.”


Wild hives: not fun to fall into.

By locating and monitoring active colonies in isolated and unmanaged hives, the scientists hope to test two assumptions held by many. Firstly, that honeybees cannot persist in the wild, so those that are supposedly found are new colonies that have swarmed from nearby beekeepers each year. Secondly, that colonies found in the wild are hybrids and not native bees.

“To test these assumptions, ideally we would like to identify hives that people know have been continually active for periods of more than two to three years”, added Professor McCormack.

When wild hives are found, the morphology, genotype, and health of the bees are recorded. The genotype will be used to identify if bees are native Irish honeybees and if the same genotype persists over multiple years. Of particular interest are pure Apis mellifera mellifera with unique Irish genotypes that remain healthy despite no chemical intervention.

Members of the public who think they know of a ‘wild’ hive can email,  call 091 494490, or visit the Bee Genes Facebook page.

Honey bees are important pollinators of crops and flowers. They live in colonies consisting of a queen, female workers and some male drones. A single hive can contain up to 80,000 Honey bees. It is believed that only around 3% of the 20,000 bee species worldwide are social, colony-forming bees.

Due to climate change and habitat destruction, it is not only Apis mellifera mellifera under threat. At one time, Ireland had around 101 bee species. But at least three bee species have become extinct in Ireland within the last 80 years and the overall population is in decline, with reports of around one third of our 98 extant bee species having become endangered.

In September 2015, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 was launched, with Ireland joining more than 68 governmental and non-governmental organisations across Europe also attempting to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services.

Ireland has one native honey bee species Apis mellifera mellifera and nineteen species of bumble bees. Most of the other remaining bee species in Ireland are solitary. Unlike the honey bee, solitary bees and bumble bees produce little to no honey at all.

There are currently estimated to be at least 3000 beekeepers in the Republic of Ireland and around 700 in Northern Ireland.

The Eva Crane Trust aims to advance the understanding of bees and beekeeping by the collection, collation and dissemination of science and research worldwide as well as to record and propagate a further understanding of beekeeping practices through historical and contemporary discoveries.



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