The environment has a large effect on differences among bee colonies (for example, plants in different areas yield different honey crops), but the genetic makeup of a colony can also impact the characteristics that define a particular group. Beekeepers have long known that different genetic stocks have distinctive characteristics, so they have utilized different strains to suit their particular purpose, whether it be pollination, a honey crop, or bee production.
The term “stock” is defined as a loose combination of traits that characterize a particular group of bees. Such groups can be divided by species, race, region, population, or breeding line in a commercial operation.
Although clear classification of the types of honey bees is quite unclear because of exceptions to rules pertaining to classification of a honey bee type, experts have their own markers to know and classify a particular honey bee type. And without further adieu, here are some of the most common type of honey bees and their unique characteristics.
The Italian honey bee belongs to the subspecies category of the Apis mellifera ligustica which originated from the different parts of Italy, commonly south of the Alps and the northern part of Sicily. Their relatives are also known to have survived the last Ice Age.
GOOD TRAITS: The Italian honey bee is actually the most commonly distributed type of honey bee since it has been proved to be quite adaptive to any kind of climate ranging from subtropical up to a cool temperature. A great bee for someone new to beekeeping.
POOR TRAITS: The Italian honey bee has been known to be less productive in regions with humid tropical climate. It is also known for its extended brood rearing periods, meaning its hive can be utilized for a longer period of time.
Carniolan honey bees are also one of the most widely used honey bees today. They are a subspecies of the Apis mellifera carnica or the western honey bee. This type of bee is a native of countries like Slovenia, the southern part of Austria, some parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.
GOOD TRAITS: They are favored by a lot of beekeepers because they tend to rapidly increase in population as well as being quite safe to work with, with the usage of less protective clothing and little smoke. Explosive spring build up, are not so prone to rob, are very, very gentle, and good comb producers.
POOR TRAITS: Explosive build up means more swarms. Honey production is less than the Italian bee.
The Caucasian honey bee is a native of the areas near Eastern Europe particularly near the Caspian Sea.
GOOD TRAITS: One unique characteristic of this honey bee is the long tongue which have proved to be useful in accessing flowers that other honey bees with normal tongue size will not have access to. Very gentle.
POOR TRAITS: One common problem of beekeepers with this type of bee in particular is their tendency to use an excessive amount of bee glue to hold their hive making manipulation difficult. They don’t build up very fast in the spring. Can rob more.
Just like domesticated animals, humans also have found a way to manipulate bee genes to fit their needs. And with that the buckfast honey bee was born. These bees were bred in Germany and are still bred up to this day.
GOOD TRAITS: Buckfast bees are good producers of honey, has low sting instinct, builds up rapidly although they brood slowly in winter.
POOR TRAITS: Can be defensive.
Russian honey bees, as the name suggests, originated in region of Primorsky Krai in Russia. This type of honey bee is currently bred with other types of honey bees to produce a productive honey bee with strong resistance to mites, though it has also been observed that mixing them with other bee species decreases their production.
GOOD TRAITS: One very good characteristic of the Russian bee is its resistance to various kinds of parasitic mites which can greatly affect brooding and honey production.
POOR TRAITS: Produces lots of propolis, always seems to have swarm cells in the hive, and moderate honey producer.
These bees were most likely of the subspecies A. m. mellifera, otherwise known as the German or “black” bee. This stock is very dark in color and tends to be very defensive, making bee management more difficult. One of the German bees’ more favorable characteristics is that they are a hardy strain, able to survive long, cold winters in northern climates. However, because of their defensive nature and their susceptibility to many brood diseases (such as American and European foulbrood), this stock lost favor with beekeepers well over a century ago.
There is no “best” strain of bee, as the traits favored by one beekeeper may differ significantly from another’s choice. Thus, it is best for each beekeeper to experience the characteristics of the different bee strains first hand and then form an opinion about which stock best fits his or her situation.