As a Homesteader, Beekeeping is one of the best homesteading skills to develop. So learning about different species of bees is a big part of that. In this post, we talk about the rare species of bee called albino honey bees.
To most people, albino honey bees are a myth, not real. This is because they are so rare that almost no one has seen them. Even those claiming to have spotted this rare type of bee probably confused it with a different kind of insect. There are also no scientifically verifiable cases of albino bees, so when people question their existence, we don’t blame them. However, they do exist in nature as a rare anomaly. However, in this post, we’ll learn that Albino Honey Bees are real and do exist in the wild, just like how other species can be albino.
How Is Albinism Inherited?
Albinism is a genetic trait that occurs in all animals alike that interferes with the amount of pigmentation found in the affected organisms’ eyes, skin, and hair. This genetic trait is due to a mutation in the genes responsible for melanin production and is inheritable from parent to offspring. Humans and bees inherit albinism differently. For humans, both parents need to carry the mutated gene for the child to be born with albinism. Otherwise, if only one parent has the genetic disorder, then their children have a 50% chance of being a genetic carrier instead.
On the other hand, honey bees have a different genetic structure that guides the types of traits that can be inherited. Female bees are a result of fertilized eggs that occur when the queen bee mates with a drone. On the other hand, male bees are created from the queen’s unfertilized eggs. This makes them haploid – having only one type of chromosome. Because of this, when a rare genetic anomaly that affects the amount of melanin expressed occurs, drones are the most susceptible.
The Misinformation Surrounding Albino Bees
The topic of the existence of albino honey bees is quite controversial. It has managed to spark heated debates among the public, the beekeepers, and apiarists. The fact that albino honey bees are not scientifically verifiable also makes it difficult to know what they are supposed to look like. The general public also has a tendency to classify anything pale or white colored as an ‘albino’, which brings a lot of confusion.
The common misconception is that bees can only be black and yellow. This is, however, not true as they can exist in various colors such as white, blue, orange, red, black, green, and purple. Within the same hive, some bees could have a darker or lighter expression of color. This doesn’t mean that they have albinism. Instead, it indicates that the drones mating with the queen bee present diversity in their genetic pool.
Bees will also appear white or lighter in color when young. A misinformed beekeeper might label this as albinism. Their lighter color is usually a result of an exoskeleton that is yet to harden rather than a genetic abnormality. Sometimes, honey bees may appear white, especially after a busy day of collecting nectar.
The pollen grains from some types of nectar-producing flowers may be white. One of the many reasons bees are an essential part of our ecosystem is their role in facilitating pollination. Therefore, it would be easy to misclassify the pollen-covered bee as an albino honey bee unless its fur was inspected under a microscope.
How to Identify Them in a Population
Now that we have discussed what an albino honey bee isn’t, let us talk about what it is. Because of their genetic predisposition, albino honey bees have a faded appearance that deviates from the standard color in their species. The inborn error could also affect the pigmentation of only one of their colors which causes a minor difference. It also causes the bees to have whitish or yellowish eyes instead of the typical black-colored eyes.
The yellow-colored eyes could also indicate that the bee is a gynandromorph. This type of color mutation occurs when the gene for male and female traits are dominantly expressed in the offspring. Zgurzynski is a master beekeeper that spotted this bee from one of his hives. The odd bee expressed features known as mosaic gynandromorphism, whose occurrence cannot be easily explained. Nevertheless, this bee does not qualify to be characterized as an albino because its existence is due to equal expression of sexes and not a genetic mutation.
Even the most experienced beekeeper or scientist can fail to identify an albino honey bee based on physical appearance alone. There are over 20,000 species, all having different color combinations worldwide. The only way to accurately differentiate between an albino honey bee and a unique species that resemble it is to look for genetic markers that show the presence of the mutation in its DNA.
Let’s Call a Spade a Spade and Not a Big Spoon
Just because it looks like a bee, sips nectar like a bee, and buzzes like a bee, does not make it a bee. Many species of insects accurately resemble the looks of an albino honey bee. There are even more species that accurately resemble regular bees. Insects such as hornets, wasps, and bees tend to look alike. The sand wasp, for instance, though majorly carnivorous, drinks nectar from flowers the same way a bee would.
Bees are generally docile and will rarely sting you unless you tried to trap them in your hand or you attacked its hive. If you got stung by an insect without provoking it, it was probably a wasp. Honey bees have a barbed stinger attached to their digestive system and abdomen. It leaves the stinger behind and attached to your skin when it attacks you. The bee will literally rip out its guts in doing so and therefore die. This is the reason bees don’t go around stinging people without confrontation.
Some of the insect species that accurately resemble albino bees include:
- Leafcutter bees
- Sand wasps
- Ashy mining bees
- Blueberry bees
- Carpenter bees
- White banded bees
- White digger bees
- White haired bees
Genetic variations can cause a lack of or minimal pigmentation in bees. Just because it is lightly colored or appears to be white does not make it an albino honey bee.