What do you call a person who is an expert on bees?
The short answer is:
Terms commonly seen are ‘mellitologist’ and ‘apiologist’, both are slightly different and are branches within entomology (the study of insects).
There are a couple of names that are used to describe a person who has a specialist knowledge of bees, and it depends whether the person is studying honey bees specifically, or is studying other wild bee species.
A person who studies bees generally, is a mellitologist.
According to the Journal of Melittology, the subject of mellitology is about “bee biology, ecology, evolution, & systematics”.
A person with a specialist understanding of honey bees is an
apiologist, a word formed from ‘Apis’ – the genus to which honey bees belong.
There are various related words:
Apiology: The scientific or systematic study of honey bees.
Apiculture: Concerned with the study and practice of rearing and keeping of honey bees.
Apiculturist: A person who engages in the study and practice of the rearing and keeping of honey bees.
Apiarist: A ‘bee farmer’ – a person who keeps an apiary for the purpose of harvesting products like honey, usually along commercial lines.
Honey bees are possibly the most widely studied and researched living organism on the planet, after humans. Some years ago, I did once read that most scientific studies published in the world, related to humans, and after that, the second largest volume of scientific works relates to honey bees specifically (as opposed to other bee species, about which there are comparatively fewer published research papers).
Both mellitology and apiology are a branch of entomology. Entomology is the scientific study of all insects and their relationship with the environment, plants, humans and other animals.
So, in a sense, it might be said that apiology is a subdivision of melittology, and that both are branches of entomology. As an aside, the study of pollen in honey is called 'melissopalynology'.
What sort of work do apiologists and melittologists do?
A range of occupations can be undertaken by apiologists and melittologists.
Perhaps most work is undertaken within the realm of academic institutions. The research can vary from basic science such as genetics, bee physiology and biochemistry, bee diseases and parasites to research on ways to protect bees and their environments, conservation and bee pollination.
Apiologists may find other work related to the commercial beekeeping sector.
Government bodies may also employ specialists, often supporting the work of the agricultural, horticultural and environment sectors due to the important role bees play in pollination and food production (both from the perspective of plant pollination and honey for human consumption). Other government agencies concern themselves with the regulation of insecticides and other agrochemicals, where testing on insect species (including bees) is a key component, as well as bee diseases.
The agrochemical industry and consultancies supporting them, may engage workers with specialist backgrounds in entomology, apiology and/or mellitology during the development and testing of their agrochemicals.
For entomologists there is a wider choice of career opportunities.
For example, the Liverpool School Of Tropical Medicine employs entomologists within their Vector Biology department to support the study of insect spread diseases, prevention and treatment2. Likewise, the pharmaceutical industry and various public health bodies may employ entomologists to support the development of treatments and vaccinations.
Forensic entomology is the study of insects and arthropods in criminal investigation, for example, as a means to understand a time and cause of death3.
1. Michener, C: The Social Behavior of the Bees
3. The use of insects in forensic investigations: An overview on the scope of forensic entomology
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