We found this early bee emerged, despite 2 feet of snow remaining on the ground. The only place where snow is gone is on the road. There are no flowering Feltleaf Willows (Salix alaxensis) in a 1/4 mile radius. The feltleaf willow catkins are starting to open in some places in town (we saw open for the first time along Noyes Slough and on the UAF campus yesterday).
"[This is] the western honeybee (Apis mellifera). The question is whether this is an overwintered bee, or one that was brought up from California earlier in the month (as many bees are brought into the state each year). The earliest bees that I am aware of came up on April 10th this year. My guess is that this is a recently immigrated bee. You generally won't see Honey Bees flying when temperatures below 50 to 55 degrees F, but there are always exceptions. Because Bees were bought on April 10, this one's probably a very recent immigrant, unless there is refutable data. As for available pollen resources; my bees in Anchorage started bringing in stores on April 15th."
Comments from LEO editors
Katie Spellman, also received identification support from iNaturalist that corroborates Dr. Williams identification as a Western Honey bee. iNaturalist is a website where you can send observations, share with fellow naturalists and discuss findings with experts. If you see any observations like Katie's, they are a great place to sign up and get information from a community of naturalists.
As Ian touched on, this bee species is not native to Alaska. Bee-keepers of Alaska import bees from the Lower 48. In the USDA's report on Insect pollinators of Alaska, it states:
"More than nine million European Honey Bees are imported into Alaska each year for honey production. These bees play a significant role in pollinating Alaska’s crops and wild lands. Most European Honey Bees cannot survive through Alaska’s cold winters, but some industrious Alaska beekeepers are attempting to over-winter bees by providing a climate controlled hive areas and food sources through the winter."
This observation occurred in College AK, which is very close (a 14 minute drive) to the Alaska Honey Collective, a collection of 6 honey businesses. Honey-making season begins in the spring, so its possible this bee was imported recently, or that his colony was kept alive over the winter. Worker bees leave the hive if conditions within the hive get too crowded. Or, this little guy was just scouting for flowers and sitting to rest. Chyna Williams
The observation and the Honey Collective are a 14 minute drive apart