Genetic Past, Present, and Future of the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) in the United States of America

Thursday 11 March 2021

This week’s blog will start a short series exploring the history of the honey bee as an introduced livestock species into the USA and how beekeepers shape the genetic history, present, and future of the honey bee. This first part of the series will cover the history of importing honey bees into the United States, beginning in 1622, and will outline the original lineages from which the honey bees we know today are descendants of. Keep reading to learn more and make sure to check back next week for part two!

We are also excited to announce that Episode 2 of the ‘What’s the Buzz with ATTTA’ beekeeping podcast is now live and ready for your listening, leaning, and enjoyment! See below for more details on what topics are discussed in this second episode of our podcast.

Genetic Past, Present, and Future of the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) in the United States of America * 

Honey bees are not native to North America but were brought here by colonists hundreds of years ago. A recent study worked to track the history of honey bee importation, distribution, and breeding in the USA to provide a foundation for understanding how honey bee genetics have changed over time, largely due to human management.

There are five lineages that each of the 29 presently known subsets (or subspecies) of honey bees are descendants of. Identifying these provides a foundation from which connections can be drawn between subspecies of honey bees and their original native populations. The five native lineages are:

  • A lineage: Africa
  • M lineage: northern Europe and central Asia
  • C lineage: central and southern Europe
  • O lineage: Middle East and western Asia
  • Y lineage: Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopian Highlands

From 1622 to present day, at least nine subspecies from at least four of the native lineages of honey bees have been imported into the United States. A recent study developed a timeline of honey bee management activities in the United States of America based on an extensive exploration of historic records, as summarized:



1622 – 1850s

  • English “dark bees” imported into USA; M lineage introduced
  • Colonies spread in import regions by human management and swarming
  • Colonies distributed by beekeepers from East Coast states to Pacific Coast


  • Italian honey bees imported into USA; C lineage introduced
  • Thousands of Italian queens distributed throughout the US following establishment of Italian queen supply operations


  • Carolinian honey bees imported into USA; from C lineage
  • Carolinian bees became a popular choice in the queen supply industry

1880s – 1890s

  • Caucasian honey bees imported into USA; O lineage introduced
  • Other honey bees from A and O lineages also imported


  • USA-reared Caucasian queen breeding operations established and Caucasian queens distributed throughout the country

Early – Mid-1900s

  • Bee Act established 1922; later extended to prohibit spread of “Africanized” honey bees (AHBs)


  • Varroa identified as a serious issue; Varroa-resistant genetics integrated into breeding programs in the USA
  • Escapee AHBs established themselves in the USA

2004 – 2010

  • Honey bees imported from Australia and New Zealand
  • Australian importations ceased in 2010 due to Apis cerana concerns


  • Importation of live honey bees from New Zealand and Canada
  • Importation of honey bee genetic material from Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Bermuda, France, and Great Britain
  • Special permission importation of honey bee genetic material from Germany, Italy, Georgia, Slovenia, and Poland

After hundreds of years of importing honey bees and mixing genetics from various lineages and populations around the world, the USA honey bee population structure is now a uniquely diverse and mixed pool of genetics. Come back next week to learn more about the connection between these historic records of honey bee management and the genetics of honey bee populations in the USA!

* Carpenter, M. H. & Harpur, B. A. (2021). Genetic past, present, and future of the honey bee (Apis mellifera) in the United States of America, Apidologie, full text available online.

What’s the Buzz with ATTTA Beekeeping Podcast: Episode 2!

The second episode of our beekeeping podcast is now live and ready for you on a variety of listening platforms! Episode 2 features an interview with well-known and successful Nova Scotia Beekeepers, Sandra and Mario Swinkels. The Swinkels are based in Antigonish NS and are involved in beekeeping, pollination services and honey production. In addition, they have a successful range of honey bee-related value-added products which they retail directly to consumers and through local shops. We talk about establishing their beekeeping business and the challenges they face as they continue to expand. Mario and Sandra provide advice and tips for anyone interested in starting out or growing their beekeeping operation. Listen and enjoy this casual conversation, rich with valuable information for all beekeepers in our region. To access Episode 2 of the ATTTA podcast from a variety of listening platforms, visit the ‘What’s the Buzz with ATTTA’ beekeeping podcast website. Hope you enjoy!

Connecting with ATTTA Specialists

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