Students discover world of Maltese honey bee at Argotti

Species is under threat by foreign queen bees
The Maltese honey bee. Photo: Shutterstock.com

On Monday, first-year biology students from Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary School gathered at the Argotti Botanic Gardens to learn more about the Maltese honey bee and its potential declaration as a national species. Each student received a postcard promoting this initiative from the Foundation for the Conservation of the Maltese Honey Bee.

The Maltese honey bee, scientifically named Apis mellifera ruttneri, evolved over centuries in isolation on the Maltese islands. It has developed distinctive characteristics such as a smaller size, darker colouration, and a broader abdomen adorned with long hair.

However, since the accidental introduction of the Varroa mite in 1992 and subsequent importation of foreign queen bees, its genetic purity has been compromised. This hybridisation now poses a significant threat to its survival, underscoring the urgent need for conservation efforts to protect this locally adapted subspecies from extinction.

Designating the Maltese honey bee as a national species would elevate its conservation status, promoting targeted efforts for environmental preservation, the foundation says. This recognition would enhance its profile alongside other iconic species, fostering public appreciation and support.

The foundation argues that by prioritising the Maltese honey bee, stakeholders would endorse stricter protection measures, reducing dependence on imported bees and guarding against disease risks. Enhanced resilience under local conditions would prolong colony lifespans, reduce upkeep costs and enhance the market appeal of locally sourced honey.

Malta’s leadership in conserving this endemic subspecies would also set a benchmark for global conservation endeavours, ensuring its sustainable future.

The Argotti Botanic Gardens are dedicated to conserving endangered or rare plant species. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Argotti: A haven for plants and bees

Situated in Floriana, near Valletta, the Argotti Botanic Gardens harbours a diverse array of plants, shrubs and trees native to the Mediterranean’s bi-seasonal climate. The gardens are dedicated to conserving endangered or rare plant species. This is done by gathering, preserving and then cataloguing specimens. Various plant collections are housed in distinct areas based on their species, with some kept in dedicated greenhouses.

The botanic gardens have also recently been accredited by the Botanic Gardens Conservation International – a prestigious certification reserved for 83 worldwide botanic gardens.

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