|Cape honey bee|
|Cape honey bees gorging on honey|
A. m. capensis
|Apis mellifera capensis|
|The natural ranges of the
Cape honey bee,
African honey bee, and the
contact zone where the two subspecies overlap and hybridize
The Cape honey bee or Cape bee (Apis mellifera capensis) is a southern South African subspecies of the western honey bee. They play a major role in South African agriculture and the economy of the Western Cape by pollinating crops and producing honey in the Western Cape region of South Africa.
The Cape honey bee is unique among honey bee subspecies because workers can lay diploid, female eggs, by means of thelytoky, while workers of other subspecies (and, in fact, unmated females of virtually all other eusocial insects) can only lay haploid, male eggs. Not all workers are capable of thelytoky - only those expressing the thelytoky phenotype, which is controlled by a recessive allele at a single locus (workers must be homozygous at this locus to be able to reproduce by thelytoky).
In 1990 beekeepers transported Cape honey bees into northern South Africa, where they don't occur naturally. This has created a problem for the region's A. m. scutellata populations. Reproducing diploid females without fertilization bypasses the eusocial insect hierarchy; an individual more related to her own offspring than to the offspring of the queen will trade in her inclusive fitness benefits for individual fitness benefits of reproducing her own young.
This opens up the possibility of social parasitism: if a female worker expressing the thelytokous phenotype from a Cape honey bee colony can enter a colony of A. m. scutellata, she can potentially take over that African bee colony. A behavioral consequence of the thelytoky phenotype is queen pheromonal mimicry, which means the parasitic workers can sneak their eggs in to be raised with those from the African bees, and their eggs aren't policed by the African bee workers because they're similar to the African bee queen's eggs. As a result the parasitic A. m. capensis workers increase in number within a host colony, while numbers of the A. m. scutellata workers that perform foraging duties (A. m. capensis workers are greatly under-represented in the foraging force of an infested colony) dwindle, owing to competition in egg laying between A. m. capensis workers and the queen, and to the eventual death of the queen. This causes the death of the colony upon which the capensis females depended, so they will then seek out a new host colony.
In December 2008 American foulbrood disease spread to the Cape honey bee population in the Western Cape infecting and wiping out an estimated forty percent of the region's honey bee population by 2015.
Over 300 hives were destroyed and more hives threatened with starvation in 2017 when large fires swept through the Knysna area of the Western Cape. Due to the impact of the fires on the bee's already threatened status resources were donated to setup additional hive stands and basil and borage after the fire to provide food to the bees. Additional fires, at the same time, in the Thornhill area (near Port Elizabeth) destroyed a further 700 hives.
The use of pesticides by the agricultural sector is suspected of being responsible for at least one large incident of large scale hive death with an estimated 100 hives killed off on Constantia wine farms.
Parthenogenesis is a natural form of reproduction in which growth and development of embryos occur without fertilisation. Thelytoky is a particular form of parthenogenesis in which the development of a female individual occurs from an unfertilized egg. Automixis is a form of thelytoky, but there are different kinds of automixis. The kind of automixis relevant here is one in which two haploid products from the same meiosis combine to form a diploid zygote.
Cape honeybee workers expressing the thelytoky phenotype can produce progeny by automictic thelytoky with central fusion (see diagram). Central fusion allows heterozygosity to be largely maintained. The oocytes that undergo automixis display a greater than 10-fold reduction in the rate of crossover recombination. The low recombination rate in automictic oocytes favors maintenance of heterozygosity and the avoidance of inbreeding depression.