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Called Morphology in some parts of the world

The Racial types and strains of honey bees have distinctive body characteristics that can help to distinguish both type of bee and purity of breed. Of these two aspects the one of greatest importance is purity of strain or more precisely the degree of hybridisation (the lower the better). These methods are all of secondary importance to 'colony assessment' characteristics and should be used to refine partly selected strains. There is no point in propagating 'bad' traits regardless of how 'pure' the strain is.

What characters we measure and why

General Appearance... a simple and obvious characteristic that most would agree on, but it is subjective.

body colour... is only important if describing a bee with a high degree of "purity of strain" {PAGE in preparation on colour, rings & spots}.

Rings and Spots... may help give additional information on the degree of hybridisation. (sub page will follow)

Drone body colour... is used as some strains exhibit differences between male and female colouration.

Queen Characteristics... (not listed in the table below, but may be included later or produced as a sub page) Things like leg colour and body colouration can be different from standard worker characteristics.

Worker Cellsize... Not normally included in previous lists of characteristics, but included here in the light of intended testing involving different cell sizings. (It is thought that there is a correlation between the size of the 3rd tergite and the size of cell the bee was bred in. (This needs further research and investigation and may or may not vary between races and strains.))
(Further information... 'Cellsize' 'Cellsize Regression' 'Cell Size Test'. )
The following information concerning thorax size is from Dee Lusby following the question
"So what is the size of the thorax of a bee raised in a 4.9 mm cell?"
The range observed for 4.9 mm foundation was:-
min 3.6 mm - Medium 3.7 mm - large 3.8 mm for the thorax, with the majority around 3.7 mm.
The range seen when 5.0 mm - 5.1 mm foundation was used:-
small 3.7 mm - Medium 3.8 mm - large 3.9 mm for the thorax, with most close to 3.8 mm.

Cubital Index... By measuring the ratio of two of the wing vein segments we obtain measurements that are consistent for given races of bee. (see... Wing Measurement.)

Fore wing Length... Measuring the length of the wing gives further information. (see... Wing Measurement.)

Discoidal Shift... Is a measure of shape within the cells of the wing venation. (see... Wing Measurement.)

5th Tergite Overhairs... is dealt with on a separate page along with tomentum width.

Tomentum Width (4th tergite)... the page Overhair Length & Tomentum Width deals with these items.

Worker hair colour... This character has more consistency as hybridisation decreases

Drone hair colour... This character also has more consistency as hybridisation decreases

Proboscis... I am not completely sure why this measurement is taken (I have not tried it yet myself).

Tongue... whilst this may be useful information I feel that too much emphasis is placed on it.

Tongue Reach... Of all measurements to do with the tongue this is the only one that is significant with regard to nectar gathering, yet it rarely is recorded. (See Glossimeter (LINK))

Table of morphological characteristics (Mellifera races)

General Appearancelarge, broad, short limbsmedium size, slim, long limbsmedium size, slim, long limbs
Worker body colourBlackBlackBlackblack @ high altitude
Rings1,2 or 3-yellow
Scutellum may be yellow
maybe one leather coloured ring
Spotsnone or small (2nd tergite)may have small spots
Drone body colourDarkamber/yellowdark?
Rings or Spotsyellow ringssmall spots?
Worker Cellsize (mm)[5.25][5.50]4.7 - 4.9 (Crane)4.86 (Crane)5.0 (Crane)
Cubital Index (worker) ave1.
Cubital Index (worker) min1.32.0 [2.2]2.41.7
Cubital Index (worker) max2.12.7 [2.8]3.02.3
Cubital Index (drone) ave1.31.82.0
Cubital Index (drone) min1.01.61.8
Cubital Index (drone) max1.52.02.3
Fore wing Length ave (mm)Spread is 8 mm to 9.7 mm over all mellifera races
Fore wing Length min (mm)
Fore wing Length max (mm)
Discoidal Shift, workerNegativePositivePositiveZero
Discoidal Shift, droneNegativePositivePositive?
5th Tergite Overhairs (mm)0.4-0.60.2-0.30.25-0.35{0.25-0.4 (0.3 ave)}
Tomentum Width (4th tergite)narrow, less than 1/2 of tergitebroad, more than 1/2 of tergitebroad, much hairVery broad, much hair
Worker hair colourfew dark hairsyellowishgrey[lead grey]
Drone hair colourbrown/blackyellowishgrey or grey/browndark grey [black]
Proboscisshortlonglongvery long
Tongue, ave (mm)
Tongue, min (mm)
Tongue, max (mm)

Table of morphological characteristics (Other Species)

General Appearancesmallvery smallvery large but slender
Worker body colourdark grey to reddish yellowblackyellow
Rings1 & 2 red, tergites 3, 4, 5 & 6 have white tomentareddish brown
Worker Cellsize (mm)2.9
Drone body colour
Cubital Index (worker)ave3.98*2.82*7.25*
Cubital Index (worker)min
Cubital Index (worker)max
Cubital Index (drone)ave
Cubital Index (drone)min
Cubital Index (drone)max
Fore wing Length min (mm)7.46.0 [6.3]12.6
Fore wing Length max (mm)9.06.9 [7.0]14.6
Tongue, ave (mm)?3.44[6.7]
Tongue, min (mm)4.8
Tongue, max (mm)5.6

Sample Size...
Fifty bees per colony are recommended for wing venation studies unless you are already some way down your selection route. (As BIBBA is generally dealing with stock that has a 'history' they use thirty bees per colony.) The characteristics other than wing vein measurements only require a sample of ten. It is a basic trade off the larger the sample the greater the accuracy... But more work is entailed in gathering the information.

Tools for the tests...
Are available on the Morphometry Tools page. The types represented include:-
Glossimeter, tomenta hair eyeglass, Herold fan, discoidal card.

The Scattergram...
Is a useful tool for aggregating data as it gives an easily seen graphical representation of both the race of bee and the degree of hybridisation, it deserves a page to itself, but other items are included here simply because BIBBA have grouped them all together in the past. The page is rendered suitable for printing on an A4 page at a resolution of 800 x 600. The description of how to use it and interpretation of results is dealt with under the heading below (Statistical analysis).

Presentation of Morphometric Data This page gives some details of different ways of representing the data to give a graphic presentation that can readily be absorbed and remembered.

Statistical analysis...
This page also includes Jacob Kahn's ideas on what to do with odd 'fly away' points.

Ruttner's Multivariate analysis...
(future sub page) with extra info from DNA studies.


Ruttner (1986) values in [] type brackets
Gilles Fert (ISBN 2 905851 1-2 1997) After J. Fresnaye 1980, values in { } type brackets
BIBBA (various publications & leaflets)
Own conference & lecture notes (mainly BIBBA sources)
Eva Crane (Bees & Beekeeping) (various sections)
Breeding Better Bees, John Dews & Eric Milner
Olda Vancata via Email to BIBBA-L marked with "*"

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Written... Summer 2000, Revised... 18 June 2001
Revised... 24 May 2002