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

All the living things are distinct from one another when it comes to traits such as productivity, disease resistance, color, temperament, and so forth.

Such a phenomenon is even true for different species of a single kind available in the earth. Similar to any other beings, honey bees commonly differ among themselves in many forms in attributes.

Not only genetic differences of a colony can influence the characteristics across different breeds, but the surrounding environment plays a significant role in making distinctions in attributes among bee communities.

For instance, different areas are blessed with the diverse type of plants, in turn, it helps to have various honey crops leaving no choice.

For a long time, beekeepers have domesticated honey bees for good. With the passes of time, beekeepers have mastered those differences and traits in having anticipated genetic stocks with distinctive characteristics.

And thus, they can now utilize a variety of strains to match with their specific purpose, from honey crop to pollination to bee production or resiliency.

Whatever your purpose is, it is imperative to make you understand the general grasp of honey bees and their attributes that are important for you.

What Is a Bee Stock?

According to David Tarpy of North Carolina State University, the term “Bee Stock” means, an unconstrained combination of characters that depict a specific bunch of bees.

And such breed can be categorized by the race, species, population, region, or breeding streak in a profitable operation.

Most of the present “stocks of bee” in the U.S. can be clustered at more of such points. Hence, the term “stocks” can be considered interchangeably, based on the certain bunch of honey bees in the question.

The simplest way to comprehend Bee strains are to liken it to the method we have tracked and traced the full-blooded of racing horses through the years. Repeatedly, there are ranks of inheritance that directly go back to year after years in class stock.

It is vital to realize that most of the bees available for purchase originate from so-called royal races of bees, which make us understand that the quality queen mating and the excellence of the bee reproduction. However, the “cleanliness” of the bee stock is not at all times easy to regulate.

Wide variation does exist within bee stocks along with among them. So, any simplifications about a specific stock ought to be considered with caution as there is always room for exceptions.

Even so, the vast and extended experience of the beekeepers allows them to assume some oversimplifications with the aim of better understanding the varieties types of honey bees available.

The statement of Dr. Al Dietz (1992) appeared in the Honey bees of the world. The Hive and the Honey Bee” helps us greatly to comprehend that even if these genetic strains are deep-rooted in the history, they are nothing more than a way to aid us classifying the basic differences. That means, his statement is also not out of flaws and controversy.

The table below will portray a brief synopsis of a few of the common and commercial bee stocks available in the American territory for the purpose of honey production.

Comparison of Common and Commercial Honey Bees and the Characters


German

Italian

Buckfast

Carniolan

Russian

Caucasian

Color

Dark

Light

Medium

Black

Gray

Dark

Tracheal

-

-

+

-

+

0

Varroa

-

-

-

-

+

-

EFB*

0

0

0

0

0

0

AFB**

-

0

0

+

0

0

Other

0

0

+

+

0

-

Spring buildup

Low

Good

Low

Very good

OK

Very low

Gentleness

Low

Moderate

Low-Mod

High

Low-Mod

High

Ability to adjust with winter season

Very Good

Good

Good

Good

Very Good

OK

Honey crop production

OK

Very Good

Good

Good

OK

Low

Excess swarming

OK

OK

Low

High

OK

Low

Propolis

OK

Low

Low

Low

OK

High

Other Traits

Short tongue and nice white cappings

Heavy robbing

Supersedure queens harvest defensive colonies

Good comb builders and Low robbing record from neighbors

Queen cells are always present in the colony and brood rearing is affected by flow

Long tongue

* EFB = European foulbrood
** AFB = American foulbrood

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What to Consider When to Choose a Bee Stock

When to Choose a Bee Stock

The American Bee Journal documented that one should consider 5 key points when he or she is looking for and selecting a bee stock. These factors are mentioned below:

  • 1
    Production
  • 2
    Temperament
  • 3
    Location
  • 4
    Quality of products and
  • 5
    Disease resistance

There are other types of selection criteria which you might want to look into if you are a experienced beekeeper for the 5 years or a fresh beekeeper or would-be beekeeper. These factors include but not limited to:

  • 1
    Reproduction Rates
  • 2
    Age of line
  • 3
    Swarming Rates
  • 4
    Environmental Resilience
  • 5
    Noted Range and
  • 6
    Much more

It worth to mention that there are other criteria to consider for different types of farmers and different styles. They are all actually connected to your goals of keeping bees and why you choose to be a beekeeper.

The Main Types of Honey Bees (Scientific Name: Apis Mellifera)

Bees can be classified by their race, region, population, breeding line or species. Following that suit, there are different types of honey bees available in the world. However, this article is dedicated to the most common and commercially available honey bees in the United States. Without further ado, let’s jump into it.

The German Bee (Scientific Name: Apis Mellifera Mellifera)

The German Bee is also known as Black Bee. Probably, this honey bee was imported to the United States for the first time. They were brought from Northern Eurasia at the time of colonial era. As the name suggests, they are very dark or black in color.

The Positive Sides:

The goodness with Black bees may be the following:

  • The German Bee is blessed with some incredible features which include.
  • They are very much resilient and hardiness in nature, and thus, they can easily survive in the cold and lengthy winters in the northern part.

The Negative Sides:

The most common disadvantages of these bees are the following:

  • The stocks are extremely defensive and thus making their management more problematic.
  • Because of the stock’s defensive nature and their susceptibility to numerous diseases such as American and European foulbrood, many beekeepers have lost their respect for the black bees. 
  • Newly introduced bee diseases have had wiped out nearly all the wild German bees, making them a very rare stock today.

The Italian Honey Bee (Scientific Name: Apis Mellifera Ligustica)

The Italian honey bee is a sub-species belong to Apis Mellifera Ligustic and is originates from Italy. They are brought to America in the period of 1859. Within a short time, they became one of the favorite stocks for beekeepers and had remained the same in popularity to date.

The Italian honey bee is known for extended brood rearing periods. In general, they create colony populations during the season of spring and maintain so till the end of summer.

The Positive Sides:

The key benefits of having an Italian bee are:

  • The Italian bees are less defensive.
  • They are prolific and gentle in nature.
  • They are excellent honey makers.
  • They have strong resistance to diseases.
  • They are light colored and looks very beautiful; their colors extend from light leather hue to lemonish yellow. Many beekeepers highly want the Italian bee for their aesthetic appeal.

The Negative Sides:

Despite the mass popularity of Italian bee among beekeepers, they are not out of some disadvantages, including:

  • Due to their extended brood rearing cycles, they might consume spare honey in the hive if supers are not detached immediately afterward honey flow stops.
  • They are generally notorious kleptoparasites and famous for robbing the honey stores from dead or weaker neighboring colonies. Such behavior makes Italian bees prone to transmit disease easily and rapidly among hives.
  • They tend to have higher collapse rates as compared to their counterparts, and it is due to their superior difficulty with natural pests. 

The Buckfast Bee

The Buckfast Bees are named after a place called Buckfast Abbey in Devon in the UK from where they have hybridized and originated.

During the time of the 1920s, bee populations in the British Islands were being thinned by tracheal lice or the acarine disease. Brother Adam who was a priest at the Buckfast Abby given a charge to create a stock that is capable of fighting with the fatal disease.

He then visited all over the world to talk to beekeepers and study different races of bees. Following that research, he instigated to cross the sturdiest colonies who have had endured in the region of Buckfast with Italian race, which was able to survive in the harsh conditions and cold of the British Islands.

Moreover, the new stock was also able to yield a good honey crop and able to follow good housekeeping habits in order to prevent the transmission of diseases. Because of the moderately defensive nature, the Buckfast stock was able to become a favorite stock among farmers.

The Positive Sides:

The benefits of having this stock bee are:

  • The Buckfast bee has a strong resistance to a number of natural parasites.
  • This bee can survive in the harsh conditions and cold environments.
  • This stock also able to yield a good honey crop for the farmers.
  • They are able to follow good housekeeping habits in order to stop the transmission of diseases.
  • This Buckfast bee can last for years without replacement if the beekeeper can monitor and care their colony on a regular basis.

The Negative Sides:

Albeit these bees are moderately defensive and popular among beekeeper, have some negative sides as well, which are:

  • If the farmer left the colony of Buckfast bee unmanaged for a generation or two, the stock could be one of the most ferociously defensive bees.
  • They are moderate in population buildup during spring, and thus averting them from getting the full benefit of early blooms of nectar flows in the spring.

The Caucasian Bee (Scientific Name: Apis Mellifera Caucasica)

The Caucasian bee is of the subspecies Apis Mellifera Caucasica. These honey bees are native to the hills of the Ural Mountains adjacent to the Caspian Sea in eastern Europe. It is a race that used to popular in the United States.

Nevertheless, because of a couple of negative features, the farmers progressively lost their favor for it over the preceding few decades.

The Positive Sides:

Most mentionable advantages of the Caucasian bee include:

  • These bees are blessed with a relatively long tongue, which enables them to forage for nectar from flowers that other bees may not get access to.
  • They are much more docile, and therefore, quite easy to handle them.
  • These stocks are tending to be an abstemiously colored bee similar to the Carniolan bee.
  • This bee stock shares similar type of traits in temperament as like as Carniolan bee.
  • These bees proceed to a new comb only when the previous one is totally filled, which allow them to store honey more professionally near their brood.

The Negative Sides:

The drawbacks of this stock include:

  • These stocks buildup very slowly during spring, and therefore, they are not able to harvest honey crops in huge amount.
  • They also tend to utilize an extreme amount of propolis or bee glue (the sticky materials used by bees to seal joints of bee structures and cracks of their hives) making it difficult to manipulate their hives.

The Russian Bee

The Russian Bee is among the newest bee races in the United States. It was brought in by the Genetics, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Honey Bee Breeding, and a Physiology Laboratory located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana from the far-eastern parts of Russia.

The researchers documented that these bees are from the Primorski region found on the Sea of Japan, and they have existed there for the last 150 years with the disturbing ectoparasite Varroa destructor (a louse that was responsible for unadorned bee colony losses throughout the world). So, they have assumed that these Russian stocks might flourish in the United States as well.

The USDA scientifically tested whether Russian Bee had evolved intransigence against the famous Varroa ectoparasites and witnessed that it indeed had. Many other studies, on the other hand, have shown that these bees have less than half the number of lice, which are found in any standard commercial stocks. In the year of 2000, the quarantine stage of this project has been completed and then this strain is commercially available.

The Positive Sides:

The benefits of rearing this stock would be:

  • This stock normally tends to rear brood at the time of nectar and pollen flows, and thus their populations prone to fluctuate with the environment.
  • They found to show great housecleaning behavior, and hence are able to fight with parasites and diseases such as varroa and tracheal mite.

The Negative Sides:

The negative sides of having Russian Bee are:

  • They do not perform well when it comes to the production of the honey crop in the existence of other strains.
  • The research suggests that cross-contamination with other stocks can lessen their resistance towards parasites, for example, the Varroa.
  • These bees display some unusual actions as compared to other stocks. For instance, while most other stocks keep queens only at times queen replacement or of swarming, they prone to maintain queen cells in their colonies nearly all the time

The Carniolan Bee (Scientific Name: Apis Mellifera Carnica)

The Carniolan Bee is of the subspecies Apis Mellifera Carnica and is imported from Europe. It is also considered a most favorite stock for beekeepers in the US for various reasons.

The Positive Sides:

What makes this bee to one of the top 2 most coveted bees are given below:

  • The Carniolan Bee race able to grow in numbers rapidly well before spring season and take the benefit of early spring blooms better than that of other stocks.
  • This stock is very much docile, and therefore, the farmers can produce honey with the help of little protective clothing and smoke.
  • The less frequently rob other neighboring colonies of honey, and thus they have lower risks of disease carrying among bee colonies.
  • They are highly skilled builders when it comes to producing wax combs that can be used to manufacture varieties of items ranging from soaps, cosmetics, and candles.
  • This Bee has one of the longest tongues measuring 6.5 to 6.7 mm. Such a long tongue helps them to pollinate crops like clover and thus allow them to gain more sources of nutrition for their colony as compared to other races of honey bee stock.
  • Because of the origin of the stock from Eastern and central Europe, Carniolan Bees have been bred as a stock to be further tolerant of colder climates and thus ranked among the best races for overwintering. 
  • Some researchers find that they do not need much of food supply to survive compared to other bee strains. 

The Negative Sides:

The drawbacks related with rearing this stock would include:

  • As the Carniolan bees can build up rapidly, they are quite prone to have a high tendency to swarm, an effort to release overcrowding. Such a situation allows beekeepers to have a very poor honey crop.
  • The Carniolan Bee asks continued vigilance from farmers to decrease the loss of swarms.

They have proven to be a popular stock for Slovenian beekeepers due to their adaptability as they can live with a modest food supply and a colder temperature during winters.

Bonus:

The Africanized Bee

The Africanized bee is well known as a Killer Bee and is not even originates from Africa but from came from Brazil. This bee strain is a hybrid type developed in a laboratory with the aim of increasing parasite and pest resistance while having an increased production of the honey crop.

This honey bee showed to have a great potential until 26 trial swarms escaped from quarantine and settled in South America.

Many fresher beekeepers are frightened with this type of stock by hearing their name, “Killer Bee” and considering them as a threat of being stung to death. In reality, they are actually misunderstood by many when it comes to their traits.

The Positive Sides:

These are the highly aggressive stock of honey bees, which have some benefits if one can learn to deal with them effectively.

  • They generally produce more honey ad they start honey hunting at a younger age.
  • These bees are well known to many beekeepers for their positive traits, making beekeepers job easy with them.

The Negative Sides:

The disadvantages linked with breeding and rearing Africanized bee are given below:

  • Even though they multiply in numbers at a faster pace, this stock maintains a meaningfully smaller colony size.
  • Sometimes, they are highly aggressive in nature.

The Bottom Line

Even though one could find a huge variation among and within different types of stocks. Still, there are some generalities exits. You can take advantage of on these generalities and variations, based on the attributes or features interest you the most.

The truth is, there is nothing you will find as absolute “best” in the globe! So, the same goes for bee strain! The attributes preferred by one farmer may differ expressively from another’s preference.

You may then ask me, what would you do in choosing the right type of stock for you as it seems to be a daunting task to pick the “best” one?

If I were you then, I would try out as much as races of bees possible in selecting out the bee strains that is best suits for my situation and the surrounding environment.’

I hope, you have already got your answer!

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