The problem of honey bee taxonomy in Ukraine

Рік написання: 2019

Ukraine, perhaps, is the largest beekeeping country in Europe.

Here are some statistics:  There are 3 - 4 million bee colonies and 300 - 400 thousand beekeepers in Ukraine. Ukraine produces 80 - 100 thousand tons of honey annually and exports about 50 thousand tons. Average honey crop is 25 - 30 kg / colony/year. All our statistics are approximate or estimated statistics. We do not have any exact statistics.     

Beekeeping in Ukraine has not only great achievements but also big problems.

One of those big problems is the taxonomy of bees in Ukraine.

According to the published data, four races of honey bees are distributed on the territory of Ukraine: Ukrainian bee, Carpathian bee, Crimean bee, European bee.


Table 1.  Names of bee races in Ukraine

Ukrainian namesInternational (Latin) namesProposed names
1Ukrainian bees-Apis mellifera ukrainica Pr.
2Carpathian bees--
3Crimean beesApis mellifera taurica Al.-
4European beesApis mellifera melifera L.-


Areas of races distribute through the territory of Ukraine in accordance with map 1.

Map 1. Area of distribution of bee races (subspecies) in Ukraine.

Map 1 shows the distribution of bee races in Ukraine rather from a historical perspective than it is nowadays. Currently, we have lost the Crimean bee. It was a very original bee race. In the whole world, there was not exist any other race similar to it. We have almost completely lost the European bee when relict forests of the Polissya region have been destroyed. European bees cannot live outside relict forests. Confirmation of the fact we can meet in every country in Europe - where European bees had lived in the past, but now they are not. Therefore, on map 1 now we have got two native bee races. There are Ukrainian and Carpathian bees. They are the two main bee races of Ukraine at present. This is worse than it would be, but not too bad.

However, for a long time, Ukrainian beekeeping was developing in isolation from the European and world beekeeping. This is especially true with respect to science, including the taxonomy of bees. Beekeeping experts of the Soviet Union, and therefore Ukraine did not use approaches that were generally accepted in the world, even the term ‘race’ was not used. It was for some reason.

As a result, in Europe, some different views on the spread of bee races in Ukraine are dominated.

The distribution of bee races in terms of European science is shown on map 2.

Map 2. Map of the historical distribution of honey bee subspecies in Europe (9 races of native bees in Europe in total). Design: Roy Mathew Francis (Source - Magazine: Bee World, England, volume 93, page 51).

Map 2 shows that the territory of Ukraine is covered by bee areas that belong to the following subspecies: A. m. carnica, A. m. mellifera and A. m. macedonica. Ukrainian and Carpathian bees (main bee races of Ukraine) are absent here, on this map.

An interesting situation emerges. Ukraine is one of the five main honey producers in the world, we have 3 – 4 million bee colonies, but the situation is catastrophic with bee taxonomy. We do not have any bee race, more or less correctly described in the framework of international taxonomy norms. Moreover - we do not have the original bee races, and it is nothing to discuss! It is a difficult inheritance or a consequence of the so-called Soviet science, the starting point from which we should start taxonomy for Ukrainian Bees!

Of course, the situation in nature with bee races dispersion in the world is uniform. Two views on this situation are only on maps. The point is only in our understanding of the problem. The task for us and European beekeepers is to look at this situation in the same way as it is actually in nature.

Carpathian bees (from Ukraine) are well-known in Europe and in the whole world, so we will analyze the situation only with respect to the race of Ukrainian bees. The race of Ukrainian bees had three attempts to get the Latin name and a place in the global taxonomy of bees in the past. Let us name them. It is:

  • Apis mellifera acervorum Scorikov 1929;
  • Apis mellifera macedonica Ruttner 1988;
  • Apis mellifera sossimai Engel 1999.

However, none of these names did become universal and did not lead to the admission of Ukrainian bees in the world as a single large bee race. Our offer is to make changes to the Latin name of Ukrainian bees in such a way that it must include the word "Ukrainian" and take into account its current settlement in the world.

Race of Ukrainian bees does not have the Latin name, it is not included in any international classification of bees, in particular, it is absent in the most authoritative Ruttner taxonomy. The first step towards the legalization of Ukrainian bees must be to give to Ukrainian bee its conventional international name. We offer the following Latin name for Ukrainian bees - Apis mellifera ukrainica Prokopovich. It is my proposal.

We insist that the Ukrainian Bee is a separate bee race. In our opinion, the Ukrainian bee cannot be the same race as the Macedonian bee as it is now in European taxonomy. Areas (areal, nature habitat) of Ukrainian and Macedonian bees have distinctly different geographic zones, different weather and climate. Ukraine has cold and long winter and dry and hot summer, Macedonia does not have winter in general. Macedonia is a small mountain state, Ukraine occupies the steppe zone.

Ukrainian bees spread to the east.

The natural habitat of Ukrainian bees was the Ukrainian steppe. But it happened historically that Ukrainian bee has spread over the whole world and the general direction was a movement to the East. The race of Ukrainian bees has settled in a large number of Eurasian regions during the last 230 years. These areas are many times greater than the territory of ​​Ukraine.

Ukrainian bees spread naturally to the river Volga and the Caspian Sea. In East Kazakhstan (Altai) they were brought with horse traction, on sleds during the winter of 1785 - 86 years. The way from Kyiv to Ust-Kamenogorsk (west Altai) in 5000 km has overcome during 4 winter months in conditions of cold northern winter. 12 bee colonies (from 24) have arrived at Altai alive! Ukrainian bee has survived in new conditions and so began beekeeping in Asia. It was a big achievement in the history of Ukrainian and world beekeeping.

We had 3-4 attempts to introduce bees in Altai from Bashkortostan in the past before the 1785 year. Bashkortostan (Ural) is close enough to the Altai, much closer than Ukraine. But all these attempts were failed. There were dark forest bees. But a dark forest bee (A. m. mellifera) cannot survive in open space in the Altai steppe. Instead, the first attempt to establish Ukrainian bees in the Altai was successful. This is because living conditions for bees in the Altai are similar to those that had Ukrainian bees in Ukraine, in the steppe zone.

From Altai, Ukrainian bees spread naturally throughout Western Siberia, East Siberia, Central Asia - Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Ukrainian bees were brought to region Primorye on the Far East of Russia by seaway. Bees spread from Primorye to the South-Ussuri region and to north China and Korea. 

When we speak about Ukrainian bees we say often the word “first”. Ukrainian bee was the first western bee that has arrived in Asia and has survived this. Ukrainian bees were the first European bee race that has arrived in China and Korea. Ukrainian bees were the first European bee that has met Varroa destruktor in the Far East. 

The most distant area of Ukrainian bees was a movement to the east in the USA where they were brought by airplane. The bees from Primorye were brought to the USA because they have increased natural resistance to varroa mites and tracheal mites. Ukrainian bees have known in the USA as “Russian bees”. Why not Ukrainian? The main explanation of this situation is the problem of Ukrainian bee taxonomy.

Resettlement of Ukrainian bees in the world can be compared to the resettlement of African bees in America because they have the same size of the area of spread, the same time of settlement and the same size of populations.

Carpathian bees repeat the eastern resettlement of Ukrainian bees during the last 50 years. The distribution of Ukrainian bees in the world can see in Table 2 and Map 3.

Ukrainian bee is an unknown bee for world beekeeping. It’s a pity. I think, I hope for some time Ukrainian bee will occupy a proper place in world beekeeping and bee taxonomy, as it has in nature.


Table 2. Distribution of Ukrainian bees in the world.

Region importationYearAuthor
1Kazakhstan (Altai)1786Arshenevsky
2Western Siberia1802 
4Eastern Siberia1869 
5Central Asia1872 
6China (Manchuria)1890? 
8South Ussuri region1890 


Map 3. Distribution of Ukrainian bees in the word.



  1. Baryshnikov S. Tchernyh S. 1970. From history of Altai beekeeping. Journal - Pchelovodstvo. №7. St. 34-35.
  2. Alpatov V. V. 1948. Races of honey bee. Moskow.
  3. Bal-Are – site. Union of Kazakhstan Beekeepers.
  4. Guzman L. I., Rinderer T. E., Delatte G. T., Stelzer J. T., Beaman L., Kuznetsov V. 2002. Resistance to acarapis woodi by honey bees from far-eastern Russia. Apidology 33.
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