A bee conservationist made an unexpected discovery in the ancient woodlands surrounding Blenheim Palace in England.
Filipe Salbany found hundreds of thousands of rare honeybees that appear to be the last wild descendants of Britain’s native honeybee population, The Guardian reports. These bees are smaller, furrier, and darker than their counterparts that live in managed beehives, and they “live in nests in very small cavities, as bees have for millions of years,” Salbany said.
In the early 1990s, the varroa mite arrived in Britain and was thought to have wiped out the wild honeybee population, but Salbany said he believes the bees he came across have evolved to survive such threats. DNA samples have been extracted from the bees for testing, and Salbany said it’s clear their wings are smaller and their veins are “very distinct,” distinguishing them from imported bees.
The woodlands are not open to the public and there is no gardening or planting activity, so there is “very little human interaction,” Salbany told The Guardian. The bees are so relaxed that he’s able to touch them safely, and they make “incredibly pure” honey. Salbany said he thinks it’s likely there are other spots with hidden wild bee populations, and that’s why “we need to protect our ancient woodlands. Because that’s where we are likely to find these bees.”
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