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Types of Honey Bees

Choosing Honey Bees for your Small Farm

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There are many different races and hybrids of honey bees, or Apis mellifera, each with its own unique pros and cons. This list will demystify some of the most common types of honey bees, so you can decide which will work best for your situation.

Most of these bees are available from bee suppliers.

Italian Honey Bee

Italian bees, or Apis meliifera ligustica, produce good comb and a large brood, resulting in quick growth of the colony. Over the winter, the large colony requires a lot of food. This is probably the most common type of honey bee kept by beekeepers.

Pros:

  • Great beginner bee
  • Gentle
  • Not too prone to swarm
  • Good honey producer
  • Makes good comb honey

Cons:

  • Prone to robbing other hives when nectar flow is low
  • Sometimes drift between hives and can't find their home
  • Slow spring buildup

Carnolian Honey Bee

The Carnolian bee, Apis mellifera carnica, is originally from the mountains of Austria and Yugoslavia. They have a tendency to swarm, which can be problematic for the beekeeper. But they maintain a small winter colony, so require less food than other types to get through the winter.

Pros:

  • Quick buildup in spring
  • Extremely gentle
  • Good comb producers
  • Can forage on colder and wetter days than other bees
  • Less food required through winter

Cons:

  • Swarms easily
  • If pollen is scarce, brood rearing decreases dramatically

Caucasian Honey Bee

The Caucasian honey bee's name is Apis mellifera Caucasica. They are originally from the Caucasian Mountains near the Black Sea. Caucasians are very adaptable to harsh weather, use lots of propolis, and like to rob honey from other hives.

Pros:

  • Large, strong population
  • Longer tongue allows them to make use of more nectar sources
  • Overwinters well, stops brood production
  • Forages earlier and on cooler days

Cons:

  • Slow spring startup
  • Produces much propolis, which can make beekeeping sticky
  • Wet capped comb is not good for comb honey
  • Although generally calm, when alarmed they do not calm back down easily

Russian Honey Bee

Russian honey bees do not have an official Latin name because they are a hybrid They were developed in the 1990s, when USDA researchers were searching for varroa-mite-resistant strains. In Russia, chemical methods of treating varroa mites were not available, so they found a strain of honey bees that was resistant to varroa mites. With further development, the Russian bee was created.

Pros:

  • Natural resistance to varroa mites
  • Resistant to tracheal mites
  • Quick buildup in spring
  • Winter well in colder climates

Cons:

  • Extremely prone to swarming
  • Can be expensive
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