By Tammy Horn (NY Times) May 29, 2012

Long known as the angels of agriculture, honey bees have received global attention due to losses attributed to a combination of factors: Colony Collapse Disorder, mites, deforestation and industrial agriculture. Honey bees provide pollination for crops, orchards and flowers; honey and wax for cosmetics, food and medicinal-religious objects; and inspiration to artists, architects and scientists.

While there are thousands of insects in the Hymenoptera order (for example, wasps, flies and ants), honey bees are the only living members of the tribe Apini, within the family Apidae. The one genus of honey bee Apis can be divided into three branches based on how honey bees nest: the giant open-nesting honey bees Apis dorsataand Apis laboriosa; the dwarf, single-combed honey bees Apis floraeand Apis andreniformis; and the cavity-nesting honey bees Apis ceranaApis koschevnikoviApis nuluensisApis nigrocincta, and Apis mellifera. These nine species thrive in environmental extremes like deserts, rain forests and tundra, but most people only know Apis mellifera, the agricultural darling.

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Photo: Ann Johanssen (NY Times)