NUI Galway Launch Nationwide Wild Honey Bee Online Citizen Survey

Wild Irish honey bee colony under house eaves.
May 24 2019 Posted: 08:49 IST

Survey aims to capture data on where free-living honeybee colonies currently exist, where they like living and ultimately how long they survive unaided in Ireland

As the summer season begins, researchers from Zoology at NUI Galway have launched an online nationwide Citizen Survey, the first in Europe, in collaboration with the National Biodiversity Data Centre, The Native Irish Honey Bee Society and The Federation of Irish Beekeeping Associations. They are inviting people throughout Ireland to participate in the survey by recording their sightings online of wild honey bee colonies.

The researchers based in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway are studying the wild honey bees in Ireland to discover the number and distribution of their colonies and devise strategies for their conservation. Of the 99 species of bee in Ireland there is only one native wild honey bee, a sub-species called Apis mellifera mellifera or the Northern black bee, which is considered extinct in the wild across much of its European range.

The public are asked to get in touch through the online website with reported sightings of wild honey bees (also referred to as free-living or unmanaged bees) living anywhere other than a beehive.

The researchers are seeking the following data from the public:

  • A photo/description of the colony entrance, its location, and how long it has been there.
  • Additional useful information sought includes: how high off the ground it is; what direction the entrance is facing; are the honey bees behaving aggressively; and has a beekeeper taken a swarm from the colony.

Professor Grace McCormack from Zoology at NUI Galway who is leading the study, says: “The public are absolutely critical for data collection on this scale and indeed for conservation efforts. We gathered some promising preliminary data from a previous pilot project in 2016 and we are now working with the National Biodiversity Data Centre seeking help from citizen scientists to extend the study to this online survey and discover what wealth of wild honey bees remain in the Irish landscape.”

Over 200 reports of honey bee colonies in buildings, trees, walls and a mixture of other types of cavities were received from the pilot project. Colonies were reported from Dublin to Galway and Kerry to Fermanagh, and the researchers have been able to monitor the survival of some of these. The Varroa destructor parasite usually kills a colony within one to two years unless chemically treated. However, some of the wild free-living colonies appear to survive for over three years without human intervention, which is heartening for not only wild honey bees but also the beekeeping industry. Importantly the 2016 project also showed that a high proportion of the free-living population are Apis mellifera mellifera, the sub-species native to Ireland.

John Little, Chair of The Native Irish Honey Bee Society (NIHBS), says: “Ireland’s native black honey bee, Apis mellifera mellifera, forms the bedrock of our country’s long heritage of beekeeping culture and is also an important component of our natural pollinators. Regrettably, the twin threats of the introduced Varroa destructor parasite and the continued importation of other honey bees has placed both managed and native wild honey bees at risk, in addition to all bees and pollinators struggling to find enough food and shelter due to continued habitat loss. Wild colonies surviving without human intervention, whether in a tree or a house roof, are an important genetic resource for the conservation of honey bees and a possible solution to Varroa. Our collaboration with the NUI Galway wild honey bee study, which aims to enlighten us all about our wild honey bee population, is an important milestone in The Native Irish Honey Bee Society’s fight to conserve and protect our bees.”

Keith Browne, a researcher from Zoology in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, added: “We are hoping people all over Ireland will take part in this conservation project and allow us to build on our current data which, whilst promising, needs to be more extensive. We’re aiming to capture data on where free-living honeybee colonies currently exist, where they like living and ultimately how long they survive unaided. Managed honey bees originally came from wild colonies and both populations are important for their mutual survival.”

Honey bees typically like nesting in elevated cavities like hollows in trees, walls and roofs of buildings, old houses and castles, and can be particularly noticeable when workers are seen frequently flying to and from the nest entrance on warm sunny days.

The newly launched online Citizen Survey is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in collaboration with The Native Irish Honey Bee Society, The Federation of Irish Beekeepers, the National Biodiversity Data Centre, The Eva Crane Trust and NUI Galway.

To participate in the survey and record sightings, visit:


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