Mellita bees


Honey bees are not the only bee species that are significant for human wellbeing. Mellita bees are a group of native bee species that do not produce honey but are likely to be important pollinators of crops and wild plants. Mellita bees are not aggressive but can sting for defence. They have a mild sting that is much less painful than that of a honey bee. They are medium-sized (8 – 15 mm in length) hairy bees. Individuals nest in the ground in burrows and live independently of others (i.e. they are solitary). This fact sheet provides information about these bees to encourage farmers to understand and protect them to help ensure that their crops are effectively pollinated.

From a conservation and agricultural standpoint it is not necessary to recognise all the different bee genera. However, it is important to know that there is a large bee biodiversity. Different bee genera pollinate different plant species, although there is some overlap that acts as a buffer as bee populations wax and wane. For healthy ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems both diversity and abundance in the bee fauna is important.

Common Name (Language)

Melitta bees (English)

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Melittidae

Subfamily: Melittinae

Genus: Melitta Kirby, 1802

Species in the Genus

Melitta is a small genus of bees with about 40 known species, most of which have been recorded fromAfrica and northern temperate areas. Most of the African species have been recorded in South Africa.

Species in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

There is little knowledge of these bees in Africa outsideSouth Africa. One species (Melitta katherinae) has been recorded from East Africa (Eardley and Urban 2010). This species is only known from a few specimens.


Melitta bees are not well known by local people (including farmers) inEast Africa. These insects are not usually recognised as bees by local people in East Africa , where the name bee is generally thought only to apply to honey bees. These bees are usually medium sized (8 – 15 mm in length) and prefer floral resources from specific plants or group of plants (i.e. are oligolectic).

Possible Causes of Confusion

Melitta bees are similar in appearance to other melittid bees. Non-experts may be unable to differentiate these bees.

Distribution in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda

There is little information on their distribution in the region but this may be due to a lack of studies and not necessarily because of their absence from particular areas. Farmers can assist in reporting the presence of these bees in their neighbourhood. This would improve our knowledge of their distribution in the region.


Melitta bees can be found in relatively undisturbed environments. The influence of altitude and climatic conditions on their distribution in East Africa is unknown. It is recommended that more efforts be carried out to map distribution of these bees in the region.


Melitta bees are solitary species that nest in soil in burrows which they create.

Crops Visited

There is no substantial information on crops visited by Melitta bees East Africa. However, this does not mean that they are not pollinators or pollinators of economic importance. Instead, this highlights the need for research to determine how these bees contribute to crop production and how best they can be managed to optimise this contribution.

Other Plants Visited

There is no substantial information about the pollination ecology of these bees and hence the need to carry out research to acquire such information.

Economic / Ecological Importance

Little information exists on the usefulness of these bees to the lives of the people in East Africa. However, they are likely to be pollinators and thus contribute to increased agricultural productivity and the conservation of the natural biological diversity of the region.


InEast Africa, Mellita bees and other bee taxa are threatened by factors such as habitat degradation, agricultural intensification (e.g. replacing hedges with barbed wire fences, and increased use of herbicides which can affect wild flower numbers) and the misuse of insecticides. Farming practices that involve over-digging of soils are likely to threaten populations of these bees since they nest in underground burrows. Mellita bee populations in East Africa are likely to be affected by pests and diseases but information on this subject is lacking. The lack of knowledge of about these bees and their economic importance by people (de facto custodians of nature) is significant as their conservation and management practices implemented at the farm level will depend to a large extent upon the value that people attach to them.

Conservation and Management Practices

There are now concerted research efforts in the region to develop best practices for conservation and management of bees to enhance crop production. Theoretically, bee conservation and management is inexpensive and adopted activities can also improve the aesthetic value of the landscape. Such practices involve setting land aside (e.g. a 1-metre strip) in the farmland to host all year round food resources for the bees, as well as safer sites for nesting, mating, resting and refuge from natural enemies. During flowering, farmers should manage pesticide usage carefully to avoid poisoning flower-visiting bees. Farmers should also minimise pesticide drift from the field to adjacent areas. Laws governing registration and use of plant protection products also indirectly play a major role in the protection of pollinators. Trampling by people and livestock and tilling should be managed to conserve the nesting sites of these species that nest in burrows. KARI (the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) is developing protocols for mass rearing of different species of solitary bees. Any successful results from this research will be freely communicated to the public. In addition, KARI is collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure in situ conservation and management of bees for pollination purposes. Much of the work of conserving native bees will be underpinned by raising public awareness of the importance of these species.

Legislation (National and International)

There is not yet any legislation in East Africa that explicitly addresses pollinators. However, there is scattered legislation for the protection of biodiversity particularly that covering environmental protection, protection of wildlife and heritage sites, protection of forests and natural resources such as water catchments. In addition, laws governing registration and use of plant protection products also indirectly play a major role in the protection of pollinators Such legislation, together with market-based mechanisms such as the Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) codes and practices may help to protect bees albeit incidentally. At the international level, the Conservation on Biological Diversity (CBD) is spearheading strategies to enforce bee management for pollination purposes within the member countries, which include Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Farmers should lobby their governments to develop Integrated Pest Management policies that would protect bees and other insects of importance in agriculture.


1. Eardley C and Kuhlmann M (2006) Southern and East African Melitta Kirby (Apoidea: Melittidae). African Entomology 14(2): 293–305

2. Eardley CD, Kuhlmann M and Pauly A. (2010) The Bee Genera and Subgenera of sub-Saharan Africa. ABC Taxa vol 7: i-vi, 138 pp.

3. Eardley C, M Kuhlmann and Pauly A (2010) The Bee Genera and Subgenera of sub-Saharan Africa. ABC taxa. Vol 7.

4. Eardley CD and Urban R (2010) Catalogue of Afrotropical bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Apiformes). Zootaxa, 2455: 1–548.

5. Michener, CD (1974) The Social Behavior of the Bees, Harvard University Press, pp. 307–309.

6. Michener CD (2007) The Bees of the world, the John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, pp 913.


Théodore Munyuli, Busitema University - Uganda; Muo Kasina, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) - Kenya; Juma Lossini, Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) – Tanzania; John Mauremootoo, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL Secretariat – UK; Connal Eardley, Plant Protection Research Institute (PPRI) – South Africa.


We recognise the support from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Tropical Pesticide Research Institute (TPRI)Tanzania and Busitema University (Faculty of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences) - Eastern Uganda. This activity was undertaken as part of the BioNET-EAFRINET UVIMA Project (Taxonomy for Development in East Africa).


BioNET-EAFRINET regional coordinator: [email protected]