Beekeeping/Honey Bee Races

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Bee on Blossom

There are several races of the honeybee. Each of these races has different advantages and disadvantages linked to their original regional background. Each region likely has a differing climate, topography, resources and predators. Because of difference in background, each race of honey bees have evolved slightly in a different manner than their cousins allowing them to better take advantage of their specific situation. Today the Italian Honey Bee is the most commonly kept honey bee in the United States, conversely the Africanized Honey Bee is the most feared and illegal to keep in many regions. Fitting somewhere between these two extremes include many of the other races and the Feral Honey Bee, though technically not a race in its own, it may be acclimated to the area in which it has been found. The following is a partial listing of the races of honeybee that may be available to a prospective beekeeper, along side is a brief amount of information regarding each race and some common advantages and disadvantages with each.

Africanized Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera scutellata
The Africanized honey bee, also known as the killer bee. Because of the media attention received, Africanized bees have been given a bad name. This is not to say that they can’t be more dangerous than standard honeybees, their representation has simply been blown out of proportion. There have been several more recent breeding programs that have produced a more gentle form of this race. This gentler form of bee has even become one of the more sought after honeybee races in regions of Brazil.

Pros and Cons of the Africanized honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Excellent honey producer
  • Strongly protects hives against predators
  • Resistance to Varroa mites
  • Well suited to tropical climates
  • Overly defensive, occasionally dangerous
  • Readily swarms or absconds
  • Difficult to keep near to human habitations and livestock
  • Overwinters poorly in temperate climates

Buckfast Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera: hybrid
The Buckfast hybrid was produced by Brother Adam of the Buckfast Abbey. Brother Adam crossed a great many races of bees with the British bee in hopes of creating a superior breed. The results are what is now known as the Buckfast Bee.

Pros and Cons of the Buckfast honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Highly Tracheal Mite Tolerant
  • Extremely gentle, with low sting instinct
  • Resistant to Chalkbrood
  • Low swarm instinct
  • Overwinters exceptionally well
  • Well suited to cool, wet climates
  • Good honey producer
  • Prolific queens (lay many eggs)
  • Frugal - Low amount of brood during fall (uses less honey stores during winter)
  • Packs brood nest with honey for good wintering
  • Curtails egg laying during dearths
  • Brood rearing ceases during late fall
  • Low incidence of chalkbrood and wax moths due to good housecleaning techniques
  • Very hygienic
  • Build-up rapidly once started
  • Produces little propolis/brace comb[1]
  • Does well in cold/wet spring
  • Not widely available
  • Slow spring build-up
  • Poor early spring pollinators
  • Low amount of brood during fall
  • Less honey or pollen due to erratic spring weather conditions

Carniolan Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera carnica

Pros and Cons of the Carniolan honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Earlier morning forager
  • Forages on colder and wetter days than most other bees
  • Overwinters well on small stores, as queen stops laying in the fall
  • Explosive build up in early spring
  • Exceptionally gentle and easy to work
  • May interrupt brood rearing during times of drought
  • Does not typically propolize heavily
  • Creates less brace and burr comb
  • Crosses well with other varieties
  • Likely to swarm unless carefully managed
  • If pollen is scarce brood rearing greatly diminishes

Caucasian Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera caucasica

Pros and Cons of the Caucasian honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Low swarming instinct
  • Large and Strong population
  • Calm when on comb
  • Overwinters well by stopping brood production in the fall
  • Forages earlier and on cooler days
  • Has a longer tongue than most races and can thereby take advantage of more nectar sources than most.
  • Purebreds not widely available in U.S.
  • Slow spring startup
  • Produces an abundance of propolis, which may be beneficial to propolis collectors, but makes the overall hive more difficult to work.
  • Makes wet capped comb, which is poor for honey comb sale
  • Once brought to a level of alarm they are difficult to calm and easily stings.
  • Susceptible to nosema
  • Prone to rob

Cordovan Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera ?
A genetic trait, usually found in the Italian race, cordovans are used mainly for tracking the genetic makeup due to the wide variance in color.

Pros and Cons of the Cordovan honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Usually found in strains of Italian honeybees
  • Attractive coloration make queen location less difficult
  • Superb comb builders
  • Very gentle
  • Coloration trait is useful in open mating based breeding programs
  • The cordevan trait may be bred into any race of honeybee
  • Cordovans ARE currently sold in the US
  • Consume large amounts of food in winter
  • Italian cordevans may perform poorly under under cold wet conditions
  • The cordevan trait is recessive

Feral Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera ...
Feral honey bees consist of escaped swarms and unmanaged colonies.

Pros and Cons of the feral honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Genetically diverse
  • Often acclimated to the area they are present in
  • May be captured for free
  • Not commercially available (must be captured, or obtained through interbreeding with local drones)
  • Unknown parentage, may be Africanized
  • Not selected by humans
  • Feral nesting cavities may contain American Foulbrood

Western European Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera mellifera
The Western European Honey Bee, also known as the dark or black bee, was the first honeybee imported to the Americas. This distinctly marked bee is brown and black in color and overwinter well.

Pros and Cons of the Western European honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Overwinter exceptionally well
  • Decent yield also in poor years
  • Good spare time beekeeping
  • Needs very moderate food supplies
  • Slow Spring build up
  • Not currently sold in the US

Italian Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera ligustica
Italian bees are the most common stock bee, and likely are the race to be found in packages or as unspecified breeds and queens for sale.

Pros and Cons of the Italian honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Good beginner bee
  • Readily builds comb
  • Unparalleled comb builders
  • Only moderate tendency to swarm
  • Relatively easy and calm to work with
  • Lower range propolis producer

  • Continuous brood rearing continues after honey flow ceases
  • More likely to starve during long winters
  • Poor flight orientation, highly prone to drifting
  • Aggressive foragers, causing tendency to rob

Midnite Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera: Hybrid
The Midnite hybrid is a combination of both the Caucasian and Carniolan races.

Pros and Cons of the Midnite honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Very gentle
  • Daughter queens will not resemble their mother

Russian Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera: hybrid
(A. mellifera caucasica with some Italian and Carniolan.)

Pros and Cons of the Russian honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Brood rearing is highly dependent on forage availability
  • Increased tendency to swarm
  • Tend to propolize
  • Expensive
  • Susceptible to Colony Collapse Disorder
  • Susceptible to infection by Nosema fungus
  • more availability
  • Aggressive

Starline Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera: hybrid
The Starline is an Italian hybrid known for its vigor and strong honey production.

Pros and Cons of the Starline honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Good brood producers
  • Creates large honey crop under correct conditions
  • Minimal propolis buildup
  • Fast spring build up
  • Well suited to clover honey production
  • Poor at overwintering due to large population
  • Offspring queen often do not have same traits as mother, requires annual requeening

Yugo Honey Bee[edit | edit source]

Apis mellifera ?

Pros and Cons of the Yugo honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Low swarm instinct
  • Overwinters well
  • Crosses usually produce heterosis (hybrid vigor)
  • Tracheal mite resistant
  • Not widely available in World
  • Honey bee difficult to locate

References[edit | edit source]

  2. Foley's Russian Bees: The Primorsky Russian Honeybee Retrieval Date: December, 2015