The unique characteristic of the laying workers of the Cape honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis) to produce females from unfertilized eggs was first described in 1912. Initially this characteristic known as thelytokous parthenogenesis was regarded as peculiar and scientifically interesting but not of any real importance. This changed between 1977 to 1979 when some experimental colonies taken from the Cape peninsula were placed in an African honeybee, (Apis mellifera scutellata) apiary in the summer rainfall region.
This resulted in many African honeybee colonies being taken-over by laying workers of the Cape honeybee which soon died out. A catastrophe was averted when all the infested colonies in that apiary and in a radius of 3.5 km were killed to prevent the problem from spreading to other beekeepers.
Beekeepers, through subsequent warnings, for many years thereafter refrained from mixing the two sub-species. However, in 1991 capensis laying workers were identified in honeybee colonies of commercial beekeepers in the summer rainfall region.
As the problem escalated, thousands of colonies died out. In an effort to prevent the total destruction of all hived colonies in the region, the South African government issued a proclamation that all infested colonies should be killed. Compensation was paid to those commercial beekeepers who could prove that they had complied with the law. Despite these strict measures the problem persisted, and it is still the most serious one plaguing beekeeping outside the geographical distribution area of the Cape honeybee.
For general information on Apis mellifera capensis Contact:
Mr. Mike Allsopp
Center: Vredenburg, Stellenbosh
[This message has been edited by Rob Mountain (edited April 12, 2004).]