If you’re a new beekeeper or just learning about the world of bees, like me, it might be surprising to discover just how many kinds of honey bees there are. I had been naive and always thought that there weren’t different types of bees, but it turns out that there are more than twenty different subspecies!
Now, you may be thinking, “Over twenty different kinds? How do I know which one I need?”
This is a tough question to answer, because chances are there are several other questions you have to ask yourself first before you can choose which bees you should get. What do you want to get out of having bees? Where are you located? What bees will work best in the climate you are in? You could go on and on.
Hopefully this post will help you answer a few of them.
The types of honey bees most commonly seen in the United States are Italians, Carniolans and Russians. Another variety of bees that has recently become available are Saskatraz.
The most common type of honey bees are Italians. These bees originated in moderate to semi-tropical conditions on the Italian peninsula, which is known for its long summers and mild winters. Italian honey bees adapted by delaying their brood rearing until late winter and continue to produce brood until the beginning of the winter.
If you want to keep as busy as your bees, Italians are the honey bees for you.
Being that these bees are accustomed to moderate to semi-tropical conditions, it is no surprise that they thrive in the United States. Southern states offer less management issues for this variety of bees, because they have a longer growing season, typically with an abundance of nectar and pollen producing plants.
That being said, the northern U.S. can raise these bees, as well. Though, it should be noted that there might be more management issues, since the growing season in this area is shorter and there is less time for the bees to store food for the long winters.
- Not as defensive of their hives
- Generally calm when their frames are examined
- Do not swarm excessively
- Queens can be easily identified by their orange-gold abdomen
Carniolan bees are another common type of honey bee. These bees were originally from the Carniolan Alps, which are located in parts of Austria and Slovenia. Thriving in this unpredictable environment, Carniolans are able to withstand cold winters and can quickly adapt to change.
Adapting quickly to change makes Carniolans the perfect fit for the short summers in the northern U.S. These bees know to gather a lot of food when the warm weather arrives and know how to cut back and maintain their hive when the season winds down.
- The gentlest of all honey bees
- Calm when their frames are being examined
- Tolerate typical beekeeping management tasks
- Can rapidly increase their population
- Swarm early
- Dark in color
Russian honey bees are a mix of Carniolans and Italians, among others. This variety of honey bee is able to adapt to moderate and subtropical climates, making them most appealing in warmer states that have a longer season. They would also fare well in the northern states, but would be impacted by a shorter season.
- More hygienic- may result in less mites
- Take time to build up their hives
- Stop brood rearing earlier due to their sensitivity to the environment
- More likely to swarm
Saskatraz bees are the newest hybrid variety of honey bees, created at an apiary in Saskatchewan, Canada. The main purpose of creating this hybrid was to create a “Super Bee”, or at least a bee that had the beneficial traits of several other honey bees.
Being that they have the positive characteristics of all the common honey bees. It is believed by many that bees would fare well in any location and could be raised by beekeepers of all levels.
- Naturally resistant to varroa mites and tracheal mites
- Fast spring build-up
- Good honey producers
- Good over-wintering ability
I have only discussed four out of the many varieties of honey bees. It may be overwhelming to choose the right ‘fit’ of honey bees for you, but hopefully now you have a better understanding of the most common honey bee breeds.
If you’re still curious and want to learn more about honey bees and the different types, check out The Backyard Beekeeper: 4th Edition by Kim Flottum!