Variability of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the honey bee Apis mellifera L. has been investigated by restriction and sequence analyses on a sample of 68 colonies from ten different subspecies. The 19 mtDNA types detected are clustered in three major phylogenetic lineages. These clades correspond well to three groups of populations with distinct geographical distributions: branch A for African subspecies (intermissa, monticola, scutellata, andansonii and capensis), branch C for North Mediterranean subspecies (caucasica, carnica and ligustica) and branch M for the West European populations (mellifera subspecies). These results partially confirm previous hypotheses based on morphometrical and allozymic studies, the main difference concerning North African populations, now assigned to branch A instead of branch M. The pattern of spatial structuring suggests the Middle East as the centre of dispersion of the species, in accordance with the geographic areas of the other species of the same genus. Based on a conservative 2% divergence rate per Myr, the separation of the three branches has been dated at about 1 Myr BP.