Why choose Carniolan honey bee?

22.06.2020. 13:00

The Carniolan bee is a subspecies of the Western honey bee, and it is ranked as the second most popular subspecies among beekeepers. The Western honey bee, also known as European honey bee or Apis mellifera, is the most common species of honey-producing bees. They share characteristics with other honey bee species, and that includes the eusocial way of living, one fertile female bee per colony, many non-reproductive female worker bees, and a small number of fertile male drone bees. All activities in the colony are organized using a complex communication based on pheromones and the dance language. Because of its popularity, the Western honey bee can be found on every continent except Antarctica. This is quite beneficial for our crops because Western honey bees are great pollinators. When it comes to beekeeping, honey production success heavily depends on what type of honey bee you are working with. For example, some bees are quite aggressive, which makes handling them very difficult. Today we will meet Carniolan bee and why so many beekeepers adore it.  

How do you identify Carniolan bees?

The Carniolan bee, known as Apis Mellifera Carnica, originates from Eastern Europe, so it is adapted to cold winters and long hot summers. 

The main characteristic from the biological aspect is the segmented abdomen. The three segments of its abdomen are covered in short grey hairs, which partially conceal the abdomen covered in brown spots or bands. The underlying dark abdomen makes grey hair seem like frost. 

When it comes to the size of their body, it has some similarities with the Italian bee. Their body is medium-sized, long and narrow. Even though Carniolan bees are slightly smaller than other races of bees, that doesn’t impact their honey production. Moreover, they have a long proboscis, which enables these bees to use the red clover for pollen and nectar. Since red clover is an important forage crop in Europe, biological adaptation is important for bees in this area.

What is the difference between Italian and Carniolan bees?

Both of these bee species have pros and cons, and which one you choose for your apiary depends on what characteristics of your bees fit you the best. We will help you in deciding by teaching you the differences between Italian and Carniolan bees, so you can know what to expect. 

Italian honey bee

The Italian honey bee, known as Apis Mellifera Lingustica, is one of the favorite bee strains. When showing the difference between Italian and Carniolan bee, we also have to take into consideration that there are two strains of Italian honey bee. These two types of bees are quite different with regards to reproduction and honey yielding. One strain of Italian honey bee comes from the North-West region of the Italian Alps and is dark in color, while the other strain comes from the region near Bologna and is light in color. The second Italian honey bee strain has many positive traits, but also lots of cons that make it less efficient. Its most prominent negative traits are lower resistance to diseases and lower honey yield. 

Among beekeepers, the lightly colored honey bee is considered as pure Italian honey bee, but making such claims based on the color of a bee is not scientifically backed up. When it comes to the characteristics of the bee, they are highly influenced by the environment. Every living organism adapts to its environment to be better and to increase the chances of survival. 

When talking about the characteristics of a honey bee, it is important to mention brood production in spring and fall. In spring, a queen bee starts to increase the brood production early. The increase usually begins when the pollen starts coming into the hive. Because of this, the colonies of Italian honey bee are strong and grow rapidly. In fall, brood production is reduced as soon as the nectar stops coming into the hive, which can come as early as August. 

Swarming is typical for all bees since that’s the way they reproduce. For the Italian honey bee, the tendency to swarm is average and usually starts in the second year in the hive. 

As far as temperament is concerned, Italian honey bees are gentle. Their laid back nature is the reason they are so popular. Even beginner beekeepers shouldn’t have a lot of trouble with these gentle bees.

With these bees honey production is quite good, but keep in mind that these bees won’t gather nectar during cooler and overcast days. If you are in an area with a cool and overcast spring season, your honey yield will be lower.

Carniolan honey bee

The Carniolan honey bee, known as Apis Mellifera Carnica, is another widely used type of honey bee. They are most known for their gentle temperament, and their brood is highly resistant to parasites and diseases. Moreover, their reduced consumption of resources during winter and explosive spring buildup make it one of the most economically viable races of bees. 

The Carniolan bee has many positive traits that make it an excellent choice for any beekeeper, but there are also some downsides. One of the negative traits is their ability to adjust worker population to pollen/nectar availability, which means they can reduce brood production when nectar and pollen are scarce. This would usually be a positive characteristic, but in some situations, this can hinder the colony's growth, which will harm the next honey harvest. To prevent that situation from happening, you have to add additional protein and sugar syrup. You can learn more on how to make your beehive thrive here.

Moreover, their explosive spring buildup also has both positive and negative traits. The rapid growth of the colony can result in an overcrowded hive, which then leads to swarming. Because of this, paying close attention to the population of your bees is recommended, so you can take steps to reduce the possibility of swarming, such as adding additional supers. 

Their brood production in fall is strong even late into September, which means that the colony will be strong going into winter. Even though this is a positive trait, there is also a negative side. Going into winter with a large cluster of bees also includes going through resources faster. To sustain the colony, you have to add sugar water in early February. 

When it comes to hive defense, Carniolan bees can be more aggressive than Italian bees but are mostly gentle tempered. It’s nothing unmanageable, but you will need some smoke to calm the colony when you have to work with them. A bee smoker is one of the essential beekeeping tools, so using a smoker is not a big issue. If you haven’t used the smoker before, you can learn how to use it here.

Since these bees gather nectar even on cooler and overcast days, they are better in collecting nectar than Italian honey bees. This affects honey production in a way that the yield of honey is increased by 15%.

The Carniolan bee brings a lot to the table

We have shown you that both types of bees have their positive and negative traits, but which characteristics are important depends solely on your area and what you look for. For example, if you are a beginner beekeeper, we would recommend maybe trying Italian honey bees until you get the hang of it. Carniolan bees are very aggressive, but it is a lot easier to work with gentle bees while you are still learning. However, if you are in an area where winter sets in early, we would go with Carniolan bees. Their early start in forage will give them more time to collect enough resources for honey production. A nice early start in the spring is quite an advantage to some other types of bees because of increased honey production. You won’t go wrong with either of them, but make sure that you pick the honey bee that best fits your needs. A good foundation (honey bees) puts you on a good path of accomplishing your beekeeping goals. We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What is your favorite honey bee specie? How was your experience with your bees?