Saturday, May 26, 2007

Races of Honey Bees

Honey bees, like other animals, are divided into a multitude of races. Below is a list of the most common races used for hobby and commercial beekeeping. These varieties, with the exception of German Black and Africanized, are easily obtained by mail in the United States and many other countries. Although races share common traits, you will probably find hives that have their own personalities despite the generic description.


Apis mellifera ligustica: Originally from the Italian peninsula, this is by far the most popular honey bee. Italian bees are yellow in color, relatively gentle, overwinter well, and build up quickly in spring. They are easily provoked to rob weaker neighboring colonies and sometimes exhaust honey stores rapidly in winter.


Apis mellifera carnica: These bees originated in the Austrian Alps and the Danube Valley. Gray/brown in color, they are extremely gentle, conserve winter food stores well, and build up quickly in spring. Carniolan bees build new combs slowly and swarm frequently.


Apis mellifera caucasica: These bees originated in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas. They are lead-gray in color, very gentle, and swarm infrequently. Caucasian bees overwinter poorly, build up slowly in spring, are susceptible to Nosema disease, and gum up their hives with propolis.


Apis mellifera ?: Russian bees resemble the dark Carniolan strain and use less propolis than typical Italian honey bees. They are not prone to sting. The bees show exceptional winter hardiness, small winter cluster, and a high nectar haul per bee. They are more apt to building queen cells throughout the brood season and may have a higher tendency to swarm.


Apis mellifera hybrid: The Buckfast hybrid bee was a honey bee developed by “Brother Adam.” The Buckfast bee is popular among beekeepers and is available from bee breeders in several parts of the world. Most of their qualities are very favorable. They are extremely gentle, and some authorities rate them higher than the Italians in most categories. Their main drawbacks are that they have a strong tendency to lock combs together with brace combs, and they are very liberal in their application of propolis to inner surfaces of their hives, thus acting to defeat one of the main purposes of the modern beehive–that combs should be easily removable for inspection.

German Black

Apis mellifera mellifera: Originally from northern Europe, this was the first honey bee brought to the New World. They are brown/black in color and overwinter well. German black bees are nervous, aggressive, and build up slowly in spring.


Apis mellifera scutellata and its hybrids: These honey bees originated in eastern Africa. In the 1950s, this race was imported to Brazil and began spreading northward. Compared to European races, this bee and its hybrids are extremely defensive, have smaller nests, and swarm more frequently. The first natural colony of Africaized bees in the United States was found in October 1990 near Hidalgo, Texas. Since then, they have been found in New Mexico, Arizona, and


The above has been adapted from A Year in the Life of an Apiary by Keith S. Delaplane from the University of Georgia, with supplemental information added.

1 comment:

Melanie Rimmer said...

Hi Beekeeper. I've just come back from a 2-day beekeeping course and I'm really keen to get my own hives. I enjoyed reading your blog. There are some really helpful articles there. Are you planning to add any more?

I've linked to you from my blog at
I'd be great if you wanted to link back to me, but of course it's entirely up to you. I mostly blog about my family's quest for greater self-sufficiency. I hope I'll be blogging about my own bees in the near future.