Honeybees in Kenya

Honeybees in Kenya

There are many different bee species in the world. Most of them live alone and a few bee species are kept for pollination and honey production. In Kenya, the most important species is called the honeybee or Apis mellifera. This is the bee species that is familiar to everyone. Within this species there are a number of races of bees in Kenya which have their own particular characteristics.

Apis Mellifera Yemenitica (formally A. M. Nubica)

This is the smallest bee race in Africa, mostly found in the northern parts of Kenya. Of all African bees, it has the most slender abdomen and the largest yellow abdominal colour band. It commonly withstands and survives drought conditions by frequent migration.

Apis Mellifera Scutellata

Bees from the savannahs of central and equatorial East Africa, and infamously known as the “killer bee” since its introduction to South America. This is a small bee with a short tongue, highly aggressive, swarms frequently, and is able to nest in a broad range of sites; from cavities to open places. You can find it in plains. Their high reproductive rate is because of massive flowering, which occurs in the plains just after the rains.

Apis Mellifera Littorea

This bee inhabits the low lands of the Kenya Coast. It does not migrate as much as scutellata. It has a tendency to rear brood throughout the year due to availability of forage along the coast.

Apis Mellifers Monticola

This is the mountain bee. Its found at high altitudes in Tanzania and Kenya (1,500 – 3,100 meters), like Meru and Mt. Elgon. The bee inhabits places where the sun is frequently obscured by clouds and mist, and ground frosts can occur at night. It is the largest bee in Africa and is less productive, and less vicious. At the first sign of forage decline, it will reduce brood rearing and may not migrate. (Source National Beekeeping Station, Nairobi).

Honeybees from other African Countries

Apis Mellifera Intermissa

This is a North African race of honeybee. Its found north of the Sahara from Libya to Morocco. The bee is reputedly very aggressive and swarms frequently. Over 80% of colonies may die during droughts. Due to intensive swarming, colony numbers increase when conditions improve.

Apis Mellifera Lamarckii

Egyptian bees found in North East Africa primarily and Sudan along the Nile Valley. Like intermissa, they rear numerous queens. One colony can rear 368 queen cells and produce one small swarm with 30 queens.

Apis Mellifera Adansonii

These bees can be found in West Africa and are yellow in color. They appear to be very similar to scutellata in many of their behaviors.

Apis Mellifera Capensis

This bee species is in South Africa and is unique among Apis mellifera. This is because they have a common occurrence of female-producing laying workers.

If the nest is disturbed, some of these races become highly aggressive. However, if there is no brood or honey in store to protect, they are calm. The African bees are also more likely to abscond (abandon) their hives on slight disturbances. In some areas the colonies migrate seasonally.


  1. Beekeeping Technical Handbook 2013 by the National Beekeeping Institute
  2. British Beekeepers Association

By Isaac Adala

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