The common western honeybee (apis mellifera) has a number of races or subspecies that are commonly used by beekeepers world wide. I want to cover some of the more common bee races and their characteristics today.
The Italian Bee (apis mellifera ligustica)
The Italian bee is the most common honey bee in the United States today. They are a yellow bee, which can vary in color from a dark leather color to a light yellow, with three or five black bands on the abdomen.
Italians are generally considered one of the more gentle bee races and are thus a good choice for non rural areas. Having an aggressive bee hive in the suburbs is probably not the best plan in the world.
They are resistant to wax moth and European Foulbrood. They keep their hives clean and don’t create much propolis. They are prolific foragers and breeders and don’t swarm all that often. They build comb quickly and their cell cappings are generally clean and white.
They consume more winter stores than other bees, probably since they come from the Mediterranean climate. They can be a bit slow to develop in the spring, and are prone to drifting between hives.
The Carniolan Bee (apis mellifera carnica)
The Carniolan bee is a dark bee with gray or brown hairs. This can give them a soft banded appearance on the abdomen. They come from the Alps of Europe and are the second most popular bee race in the United States.
Like Italians, Carniolans are a very gentle bee, but are not quite as gentle as the Italians. They tend to do just fine in populated areas like the suburbs. They are large bees and are well suited for colder climates.
They use fewer winter stores than other common bee races and overwinter with smaller numbers of bees. They do well in areas with long winters. They orient themselves well and don’t drift very much. They are resistant to European and American Foulbrood.
They will forage longer than other bees, getting started earlier in the day and staying out later in the evening. Cool and wet days don’t bother them like they do other bees. Carniolan workers live 10-12% longer than other breeds.
They are prone to swarming. They have a hard time in hot weather, and require a significant amount of pollen for brood rearing.
The Caucasian Bee (apis mellifera caucasica)
They are also fairly gentle, and have the longest tongues of other honeybee subspecies. They winter well in cold climates and raise strong colonies in the spring. They produce more honey than most other species.
They create a ton of propolis which can seriously impact hive management. They are susceptible to nosema apis and nosema ceranae, which are parasites that attack the intestines of bees. They tend to drift, and love to rob other hives.