Entomology is the study of insects, which includes bees. The branch of entomology that focuses exclusively on the study of bees is melittology, but it may also be called apiology. Having a branch focused on bees helps humans understand these essential pollinators and keep them healthy.
What Is Melittology?
Melittology is a branch of entomology that studies bees specifically. This scientific study focuses on over 20,0000 known species of bees. Melittologists study bee biology, ecology, and evolution.
What Are the Subdivisions of Melittology?
Apiology and melittology may be used interchangeably, though the two are slightly different. Apiology may also be considered a subdivision of melittology. Each type of study focuses on a different aspect of bees, and apiology is primarily focused on the systematic relationship the honey bee species has with its environment.
There are some other areas a researcher may choose to focus on:
- Apiculture: This is the study of keeping honeybees and rearing bees, which may include dividing the colony to increase the number of bees and colonies owned. The more bees an ecosystem has, the better it fares.
- Apiculturist: An apiculturist is a person who raises and keeps bees.
- Apiarist: An apiarist is a person who farms bees and maintains hives to produce honey for commercial or agricultural purposes.
Some of these may not be considered subdivisions by certain researchers, while others will claim that any research done on bees is a subdivision of melittology.
Are There Melittological Societies?
Because they are vital pollinators, in decline, and play a significant role in the ecosystem, there are some societies that focus on bees and melittology.
There is an abundance of entomology societies, but there are four famous ones focused on bees:
- International Bee Research Association
- National Bee Association of New Zealand
- British Beekeepers Association
- German Beekeepers Association
Bees are all over the world and there are thousands of different species. There are organizations focused on bees throughout the world, but these are some of the more notable organizations that have built esteemed reputations for studying bees.
What Is the Difference Between Melittology and Apiology?
While the terms are often used interchangeably, apiology is best classified as a subdivision or melittology. Melittology focuses on studying the species of bees found in the clade Anthophila in the Apoidea superfamily. The Apoidea superfamily is home to over 20,000 different known species of bees, which includes the honey bee, a vital pollinator and significant research focus.
Melittology investigates how bees play a key role in the ecosystem, which may include a bee’s biology, ecology, and evolution. Apiology is something slightly different but may overlap in certain areas.
Apiology investigates the relationship between honey bees and the ecosystem and environment. Due to their value to the ecosystem, honey bees may be the most researched organism.
Because the relationship between bee species can impact individual species, apiology may overlap into research areas involving other wild bee species.
What Are the People Who Study Honeybees Called?
When someone studies apiology, they are called an apiologist. Researchers believe humans started keeping bees or farming bees around 9,000 years ago but may have been studying them longer than that.
There are a few notable entomologists, melittologists, and apiologists:
|Michael S. Engel, (b. 1971)||Michael Engel studies the taxonomy of the honey bee and other aspects specific to the species. He is an American entomologist and paleontologist with notable contributions to insect evolutionary biology and taxonomy at the University of Kansas.|
|L. L. Langstroth, (1810 - 1895)||Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth is considered the "father of American beekeeping" and created the Langstroth hive. This modern hive method was new to North America, but had already been in use in Europe.|
|Robert Evans Snodgrass (1875 - 1962)||Robert Evans Snodgrass was an American entomologist who made significant contributions to insect morphology, anatomy, evolution, and metamorphosis. He authored a book with extensive research into the anatomy and physiology of the honey bee.|
|Stephen Taber III, (1924 - 2008)||Stephen Taber III is a notable American apiologist and an authority in the field of artificial insemination of queen bees for agricultural and commercial hives.|
|Amos Ives Root (1839 - 1923)||Amos Ives Root was an entrepreneur who created innovative methods for beekeeping in the 19th century. Parts of his beekeeping journal have been published as references for apiarists.|
The study of bees is diverse and may include apiologists, melittologists, entomologists with an interest in bees, or individuals outside of the field who made significant contributions.
Some of the other notable researchers include Jan Dzierzon, an apiologist who discovered parthenogenesis among bees and proposed the first sex-determining mechanism that can be used for any species and Karl von Frisch, an apiologist who famously identified the dance-like style of communication that bees use.
Another well-known researcher is Robert E. Page, Jr., who studied the complexities of bees’ social behaviour at Arizona State University.
What Is the Most Important Species of Bees?
All bees play a vital role in the ecosystem, but honey bees are of special interest as pollinators. This may be due in part to beekeeping, which has created a mutually beneficial relationship between honey bees and humans for over 13,000 years.
Honey bees are also prolific pollinators and visit more plants and flowers than any other type of bee. Because of this, they are considered by many to be one of the more important species of bee, especially to humans. The essential roles that honey bees play in the ecosystem and their contributions to humans make them important for ongoing research.
Though the honey bee isn’t extinct or endangered, many bee species are. Beekeeping is widespread, leading to a high population of honey bees, but some bee species are becoming endangered due to habitat loss, changes in the way humans use land, and disease. Climate change and the use of pesticides are contributing to the near-endangerment of some bee species.
Competition from other species of bees can drive vulnerable species closer to extinction; according to a 2021 study, the American bumblebee has completely disappeared from Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming. Bumblebees are important pollinators of wild flowering plants and agricultural crops and tolerate high elevation and cool temperatures better than other species.
Melittology Offers Valuable Insights Into the Lives of Bees
Melittology is a study focusing on bees and includes their biology, taxonomy, ecology, and evolution, among other areas. This research is important for understanding how to keep wild bees safe and healthy and promote healthy hives for commercial and agricultural purposes.
Though used interchangeably with melittology, apiology is a subdivision of the branch of study and focuses exclusively on honey bees, a prolific and valuable pollinator. Humans have a close relationship with honey bees for agricultural, commercial, and hobby purposes.