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Apis mellifera versus Apis cerana In the north of Thailand

H Pechhacker and N Juntawong

Improvements in beekeeping must always consider local bee species, races and ecotypes.

Observations in the north of Thailand show what happens when an exotic bee is introduced.


The area around Chiang Mai is used for intensive agriculture Besides rice and vegetables the large orchards growing litchi, longan and mango provide the important crops in this area. Litchi and longan orchards particularly need insect pollination and longan is very important plant for honey production in this region. A lot of longan honey is exported to Taiwan and Japan.

It was to this region that the first successful imports of Apis mellifera were made. Since 1985 we have observed the relationship between the local bee Apis cerana and the introduced Apis mellifera. 

The table shows the numbers of Apis cerana colonies present in the same apiaries in 1985, 1988 and 1992. The dramatic reduction in the number of Apis cerana colonies can be seen. Dr Ritter has informed us that he also found big reduction of Apis cerana colonies in the north of Thailand between 1985 and 1988. At the same time the number of Apis mellifera colonies has multiplied several times. There is now a highly developed Apis mellifera bee industry in the area, producing royal jelly and pollen.


One possible reason is direct competition between Apis mellifera and Apis cerana. For example in mating and for bee fodder Another reason is the importation of diseases (brood diseases, tracheal mites and viral diseases) by the introduced bee.

These two paints may play an important role in this region - for example chalkbrood and sacbrood diseases can be found throughout the area.

Is there economic competition? No, because the local beekeepers are still providing nesting sites for Apis cerana by offering empty traditional hives as they did 1000 years ago. Traditional hives are now never occupied by Apis cerana. beekeeper of this region said “No swarms come anymore - and if a swarm comes, it will abscond again very soon”.


Because of the decline of Apis cerana colonies in many regions of Asia, Apis cerana is an endangered species. The smaller the native population of Apis cerana in any area, the higher the danger for this bee because of its mating behaviour.

Traditional beekeeping as part of the farming systems will be lost in areas with a high density of Apis mellifera beekeeping. As Professor Verma says, “Apis mellifera is a bee only for the rich men”, because Apis mellifera beekeeping in Asia involves continuous treatment against the tropical bee mites and needs very high technical standards None of this is possible for poor farmers.

This means that beekeeping for home use in many regions of Asia will be lost According to Professor Verma, “Apis cerana is the bee for the poor man in Asia”, and this poor man will be much poorer than before.

When the Apis cerana population is destroyed a native and well-adapted pollinator for both native and agricultural plants will be lost The results for native plant biodiversity and the pollination of agricultural crops cannot be estimated. Is Apis mellifera able to pollinate as effectively as Apis cerana?


All possible efforts must be made to improve the economical value of the native bee Apis cerana - better management of this bee, selection, and better marketing. Protection law alone is not enough.

All interested and committed organisations, institutions or private beekeepers should operate towards optimal success. Therefore the different ecotypes of Apis cerana of all Asia operate towards optimal success. Therefore all should be compared for their economical value for beekeeping under different conditions.

One special aspect connected with Apis mellifera which has to be mentioned is the introduction of better beekeeping technology to Asia. The technical level of Apis cerana beekeeping remains the same as it has always been, and it could be compared to the level of Apis mellifera beekeeping more than 100 years ago.

It is still hard, but not quite hopeless task and this work must be done In Asia Apis mellifera cannot be the only future beekeeping. 

Number of Apis cerana colonies 

Number of Apis cerana colonies between 1985 and 1992 in the north of Thailand. The traditional hives were continuously available in the same place for bees 

Year: 1985 - Apiary: 1 (30)   2 (25)   3 (10) 

Year: 1988 - Apiary: 1 (10)   2 (?)   3 (?)

Year: 1992 - Apiary: 1 (0)   2 (0)   3 (0)