MáLAGA – To counteract the disappearance of the native bee breed in Spain, a repopulation project has been set up. The goal is to repopulate the peninsula with 47 million Iberian bees. That is one bee for every resident!
The Smart Green Bees project works with specimens of Apis mellifera iberiensis. These Iberian bees are very necessary for ecosystem conservation. The project is promoted by the technology company LG in collaboration with the association El Rincón de la Abeja, the technical partner of the initiative. Traditional beekeepers from different regions of Spain also participate in this.
The native bee
The Iberian or Spanish bee is the only species native to the peninsula. However, the population is declining at an accelerated rate due to factors such as drought and diseases affecting the species. In addition, the profitability of beekeepers is not great. Moreover, the breed is not more efficient for honey production than other bee species.
One bee for every resident
The initiative aims to expand Apis mellifera iberiensis throughout Spain with up to 47 million new bees within two years. It is about one bee for every inhabitant, explains Paola Vecino, president of the association El Rincón de la Abeja, to EFE Verde.
Beekeeper Mieles Joseíllo participates in the project
In Malaga, artisanal beekeeper José Sebastián Sánchez is involved in the project. He founded Mieles Joseíllo ten years ago. This is a local company with a long tradition and sustainable production. It has “exactly the number of hives that corresponds to the flower load present in this area,” says Vecino.
In this mountainous area, a 20-minute drive from the city of Málaga, the diversity of plants is great. For example, bees find the flowers of sage, gorse, rock roses and cantahuesos there to pollinate for most of the year. On this farm, where goats, dogs and chickens also live, 14 beehives have been placed so far. However, soon that number will increase to 45. “That means a tripling of the number of bees in a short time, in year and medium,” says Vecino.
A newly created hive can house between 5,000 and 6,000 bees in its initial phase, although this number can grow to 60,000 after a few months. This expansion usually takes place between spring and summer.
Number of swarms ‘overcalculated’
But since beekeeping is not mathematical and there are “a thousand factors” that can hinder the development of a hive, the promoters of the Smart Green Bees project have “overcalculated” the number of swarms they need to set up. In doing so, they take into account that there may be diseases and other losses due to natural and uncontrollable reasons that prevent a honeycomb from thriving.
“For example, in this area, it is quite common for wild boars to attack the hives, so we try to choose different enclaves and overestimate the number of swarms that will be needed to reach the 47 million bees that will ensure the success of the project,” adds Paola Vecino.
Biometric monitoring systems
The hives installed in Malaga contain biometric monitoring systems that “do not affect the development of the swarms”. This allows the population growth of the bees in each apiary to be evaluated simply. This technology also provides relevant information such as weight, internal humidity, temperature or the sound of the bees. This allows the beekeepers to monitor the health status of the hives in real-time.
Privileged climate for bees in Málaga
According to the technology company LG, the 15 hives installed in Malaga already contain about 15,000 bees. Thanks to the abundance of flowers in the area and the “privileged climate” in the province, this number can grow considerably in the coming months. The 300 sunny days a year enable efficient and low-invasive care.
The Iberian bee is a subspecies of the Western honey bee and has several morphological features that distinguish it from other varieties of Apis mellifera: they are dark in colour, smaller than European bees and with a longer tongue, with slightly faded stripes and somewhat nervous and aggressive behaviour. Their wings are also darker in colour than those of other honeybees, which helps them better withstand the harsh sun and heat of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Iberian bee also has an interesting behaviour pattern. They are less prone to swarming than other honeybees and are better able to find their food sources in dry areas. In addition, they have a specific dance that they use to inform their littermates about the location of nectar sources.