Which Bee is Best for You?

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Are you a Ford or a Chevy kind of person? Or are you more like “as long as it drives, I don’t care what it is”? If you’ve ever been in the middle (or at the end) of this question, you know people can be loyal to their favorite brand. The same goes for honeybee races. Gather a room full of beekeepers and ask them what their favorite bee race is. You’ll have a multitude of opinions — all of them right.

When I started beekeeping, we ordered bees through our beekeepers association and they only had Italian bees, so that is what I got. Depending on your circumstances, you may not have a choice in the type of bee you get. However, you can generally find all three races available for sale online.

Similar to the different beehives, each bee race has characteristics that will appeal to particular types of beekeepers.

For instance, if you want a gentle bee that’s not prone to swarming, then the Italian honeybee would be best for you. If you want really resilient bees that handle the cold well, then the Russian honeybee would be good for you. If you live in an area with a lot of wildflowers and trees, then the Carniolan honeybee might be the one for you. Much of this decision will be based on availability in your area, too.

Bees bridge two parts of bee swarm.

Italian Honeybee

The Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica) is the most popular among beekeepers. They originated from Italy but have adapted to survive in climates all over the world. They are known for their gentle nature and they aren’t prone to swarming — although they do swarm. They are strong honey producers and great beginner honeybees.

The downside is although they’ve adapted to many climates, they don’t thrive in high humidity or places with extreme cold. They make horrible neighbors to other beehives, because they like to rob honey if food is in short supply. In addition, Italian honeybees often get lost and have a hard time finding their way back home.

Carniolan Honeybee

The Carniolan honeybee (Apis mellifera carnica) is the second most popular honeybee among beekeepers. They are a great honeybee for producing worker bees when there is a heavy nectar flow, and slowing bee production when there is less food available. Carniolan bees are extremely docile but are great defenders against pests.

Their honey production is less than that of the Italian bee, and they are more prone to swarm. They aren’t fans of hot summers. Then again, who is?

Russian Honeybee

Russian honeybees (Apis mellifera) were introduced into the United States in the late 1990s to increase the declining bee population. They were introduced because they are resistant to parasitic mites that have plagued honeybees. They are not an aggressive bee and they overwinter well.

The downside is they do tend to cost more than other bee races and are prone to swarming. If they do swarm, you could lose your investment.

Common Bee Race Attributes

 Italian Honeybee Carniolan Honeybee Russian Honeybee
Docile great great good
Isn’t prone to swarm great good okay
Good honey producers great good/great good
Overwinters well good okay great
Disease-resistant okay okay great

More from Beekeeping for Beginners:

Wouldn’t it be great to raise your own bees, have a fresh supply of honey, and bring thousands of healthy pollinators into your yard? Beekeeping for Beginners is a simple, step-by-step guide that helps you learn the fundamentals of modern beekeeping. You (and your bees) will be buzzing with delight. From picking the right hive and bringing your bees home to surviving winter and collecting honey, experienced beekeeper Amber Bradshaw takes you on an easy-to-follow journey through your first year of beekeeping and beyond. Beekeeping for Beginners includes: Just the essentials? Learn everything you need to know to begin your first colony? written with brand new beekeepers in mind; Modern beekeeping? Start your colony off right with guides that feature the newest practices and current, natural approaches; and Learn to speak bee? Clearly defined terms and a complete glossary will have you talking like a pro beekeeper in no time. Begin your beekeeping the right way? and avoid getting stung by mistakes? with Beekeeping for Beginners.

Excerpt from Beekeeping for Beginners: How to Raise Your First Bee Colonies, by Amber Bradshaw, published by Rockridge Press. Copyright © 2019 by Callisto Media. All rights reserved.