Types of Honey Bees: Everything You Need to Know About Them

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Types of Honey Bees

What are the best honey bee varieties?

Whether you’re looking to rear honey bees or just seek to increase your knowledge, this post contains all the information you need.

Like other living organisms, honey bees differ in characteristics such as resistance to diseases, productivity, and appearance.

The environment largely contributes to the variations among bees. However, the genetic makeup of a bee colony also influences its traits.

Farmers have known about these variations for a long time, and thus they keep different varieties according to their need, whether it is honey crops, bee production or pollination.

Types of Honey Bees

A bee stock refers to a set of characteristics associated with a particular group of bees. Commercially, bees can be categorized by race, population, region, species or breeding line. There are wide variations between the stocks but there are also similarities. Here is a look into the most common honey bees in the US.

The Italian Honey Bee:

Italian bees, of the sub-species Apis M. Ligustica, were brought to the US in the 1850s. In a short period, they became a favorite stock for farmers and they have remained as such to date.

Known for long brood rearing periods, these bees can create colonies during spring and maintain them till the end of summer.

The main benefits of these bees include:

  • Not aggressive
  • They have a high resistance against diseases.
  • They're exceptional honey makers.
  • They are beautiful, with colors ranging from light leather to lemon-yellow.

Though bee keepers are very fond of the Italian bees, they are associated with some disadvantages too, including:

  • They have extended breeding periods, meaning they might consume the honey in the hive.
  • They are infamous kleptoparasites are known to rob their weaker neighboring colonies of their honey stores. This might cause easy transmission of diseases. 

The Carniolan Bee

Brought in from Europe, the Carniolan bee, of the subspecies A. M. Carnica, has been a favorite stock for farmers in the US.

The following are some of its traits that have made farmers fond of it:

  • Able to multiply in numbers during spring and exploit the early spring blooms better than other stocks
  • Very docile, and thus you can harvest the honey with little protective gear and smoke
  • Rarely rob other bee colonies, and thus there are low risks of disease transmission
  • Highly skilled in building wax combs, which can be utilized to manufacture a range of items, including soaps, candles, and cosmetics

The drawbacks associated with keeping this stock include:

  • Due to their ability to multiply rapidly, they are quite susceptible to overcrowding, a situation that may result in the production of a poor honey crop
  • The stock needs the farmer to stay watchful to reduce the loss of swarms

The Buckfast Bee:

During the 1920s, bee stocks in the British Isles were ravaged by the acarine disease. Adams, a Buckfast Abbey monk, was given a responsibility to create a stock that was capable of resisting the fatal disease.

He went all over the world talking to beekeepers and studying different types of bees. In the end, Adams created a stock, mostly from the Italian race, that was able to thrive in the cold, harsh conditions of the British Isles.

Furthermore, the stock could produce a good honey crop and was able to exercise good housekeeping habits to prevent the spread of diseases. Known to be moderately defensive, the Buckfast stock is a favorite among farmers.

Cons:

  • They can become fiercely defensive if left unmanaged for a generation or two
  • Their buildup during spring is not high enough to allow them to take full advantage of early blooms

The Caucasian Bee:

The Caucasian bee, of the subspecies A. M. Caucasica, is a kind that was once popular in the US. However, due to a couple of unfavorable features, farmers gradually lost their regard for it.

Noteworthy advantages of these bees include:

  • They have a relatively long tongue that allows them to reach nectar that other stocks may not access
  • They are very docile, and thus easy to handle.

The disadvantages of this stock include:

  • They don’t multiply very fast, and thus are not able to produce huge honey crops
  • They use excessive bee glue (the sticky substance bees use to seal their hives), making their hives hard to work

The Russian Bee:

This is one of the newest stocks in the US. It was imported from the eastern parts of Russia by a Louisiana breeding and genetics laboratory concerned with honey bees.

The coordinators of the project had researched on these bees and found that they had been able to coexist with dangerous ectoparasites, the Varroa Destructor, mites that were responsible for the annihilation of many honey bee colonies around the world. For that reason, they believed it was possible the Russian bee could thrive in the US.

They performed tests to ascertain whether the bee had developed resistance against the Varroa ectoparasites and found that it indeed had. 

Here are the pros associated with the Russian bees:

  • They normally rear brood in times of pollen and nectar flows, and hence their populations usually fluctuate with the environment
  • They display great house cleaning customs, and thus are able to resist diseases and parasites

Cons:

  • Don’t perform well in the presence of other stocks. According to research, cross-contamination with other strains can lower their resistance to parasites, including the Varroa.

The Black Bee:

Also known as the German bees, the black bees are perhaps the first honey bees to be imported into the US. The stock has a black color and tends to be extremely defensive, thus making its management problematic.

One of the best features about them is that they are very resilient, and therefore they easily survive the lengthy, cold winters in the north.

Nonetheless, due to the stock’s defensive tendency and their vulnerability to numerous diseases, including the European and American foulbrood, farmers have lost their regard for the black bees.

New bee diseases have wiped out almost all the wild black bees, leaving them very scarce today. 

Final Verdict

Photo by Venkata Suresh on Unsplash

Although there are huge variations among different stocks, there are, still, some generalities. You can capitalize on these variations and generalities, depending on the features that interest you.

I would recommend that you try out different strains of bees to find out the stock that best suits your situation.

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