Macedonian native honeybee

Breeds - Macedonia

The Macedonian native honeybee (Apis mellifera macedonica), which is also found in northern Greece, eastern Albania and Bulgaria, was determined to be a separate subspecies of honeybee in 1988, although it is visually very similar to its neighbor, the Carniolan honeybee. Macedonian native honeybees are better adapted to the local climate and vegetation than introduced species. Their main advantage is that the colonies are well synchronized with the growth cycles of the area's vegetation. Another adaptation is the way Macedonian honeybees reduce their colony and brood populations during excessive summer conditions, when there is a dearth of nectar. Recent studies also show that the native honeybee survives significantly longer than introduced species in the area without treatment against pathogens like the Varroa mite.

Beekeeping has a long tradition in Macedonia, with historical evidence indicating honey production dating back to ancient times, originally using holes in rocks called brtvi to house colonies. Today, some of these traditional brtvi are still in use by a few beekeepers in the Kratovo region in Macedonia. Another traditional style of management of Macedonian honeybees made use of skeps (upside down baskets used to house colonies) called trmki. Over time, the bees became well adapted to this system. The use of traditional skeps results in an overall reduction in honey production, but an improved quality, thanks to a reduced need for treatments against pathogens. Despite this, the amount of bees being raised in this way has dropped from being used by 60% of beekeepers in the 1960s to being used by less than 2% in the 2000s. With no younger generations learning this beekeeping technique, it is also at risk of being lost.

Honey has been an important product in Macedonia since ancient times, reaching peak market values during the Ottoman Empire. This lead to the original diffusion of skeps and new beekeeping practices to increase production. Today, live Macedonian queen bees and swarms are sold to local beekeepers, and the resulting honey and other related products (pollen, propolis, wax and royal jelley) are both used by the beekeepers' families themselves and sold for nutritional, cosmetic and other purposes, particularly in nearby Greece.

Currently, the honey bee population in Macedonia is estimated at 90,000 colonies, of which 1300 belong to the southernmost population considered to be the most "genetically uncontaminated." As a result of globalization and propagation of queens from all over the world, the Macedonian honeybee is facing threats of hybridization, which would ultimately lead to a loss of this species' valuable traits. Illegally introduced queens from other bee species in the area have already led to some colonies with inferior viability and excessive defensive behavior.