Thorough morphological and genetic evidence confirm the existence of the endemic honey bee of the Maltese Islands Apis mellifera ruttneri: recommendations for conservation

The status of Apis mellifera ruttneri, an endemic honey bee of the Maltese islands, was uncertain after a series of devastating Varroa mite infestations followed by ill-conceived replacement programs. Morphometric analysis, which was the method originally used to identify this honey bee subspecies, was carried out using 33 different parameters. Thirty-two colonies exhibiting morphometric data that corresponded to those in the original description of A. m. ruttneri were identified (p > 0.99). In addition, the mitochondrial DNA region spanning the tRNAleu-Cox2 region from colonies bearing the morphometric data associated with A. m. ruttneri was amplified (77% showed the P0QQ structure). The data presented confirm morphometric similarity with A. m. siciliana and A. m. intermissa. We report the presence of A4, A8 and A9 haplotypes in A. m. ruttneri (83%; frequency 0.189, 0.081 and 0.486 respectively). European haplotypes belonging to the C1, C2 and M7 haplotypes were also recorded (17%; 0.135, 0.081, 0027). Recommendations for the conservation of this honey bee are proposed.