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Bee Breeds and Their Qualities

Like man bees come in many different varieties, some are more suited to cold weather whilst other are more productive under certain conditions.

The bee comes in may, many different flavors although for honey production there are only really five main breeds that have made it through the farming selection process.

In this article we’ll have a look at some of the different breeds, some of their qualities and discuss their geographic origins.
I’ll also mention some of the ‘newer’ breeds that haven’t had time to make it through the selection process yet.

Here in Switzerland there are three types of bee which are popular amongst bee keepers, so we’ll start with them.

Carnolian - Apis Mellifera Carnica
The carnelian is by far the most popular breed within Switzerland at the time of writing, it’s general characteristics make it easy to handle and harder to kill/lose.
This breed originates from Slovenia and was officially recognized in 1875.
The carnelian spread rapidly across central and northern Europe at the start of the First World War when the bee keepers of Slovakia sent thousands of queens to other European countries in an attempt to safe guard the species.
And this is what it looks like (one of mine – ‘Jenny’)

Carnolian at 1279 Honey

In terms of its qualities
Eats comparatively little during the winter months
Builds up to full strength quite quickly in the Spring
Creates eggs based on availability of resources
Reasonably disease resistant
Comparatively gentle and hard to annoy
Will swarm (abandon the hive) if there’s no room left to build


Golden Italian - Apis Mellifera Ligustica
Also popular in Switzerland this bee is like the carnelian in a lot of ways but has some different qualities – and it looks like this:
It originates from Italy and it’s sub species appears to be different to that of Sicily or the Iberian peninsular.

Italian Bee at 1279 Honey

Suited to hot, dry conditions
Not as well suited as others to cold winters
Not suited to humid conditions
Very prolific egg creation
Not very disease resistant
Smaller radius of harvesting than other European bees
Brood rearing is not dependant on the food supply – which can cause problems
Very gentle to work with


Buckfast - Apis Mellifera
Perhaps the first thing to understand about the Buckfast is that it is not a pure breed but a hybrid and was created by brother Adam (a monk).
It is allegedly a mix of the French black bee and either the Carnolian or the Italian bee, this is what it looks like:

Buckfast bee 1279 Honey

Produces eggs at a very fast rate
Builds very quickly
Will swarm at a later point than the previous two
Overall gentle but easy to agitate
High disease resistance to mites and chalk brood (I’ll talk about disease in another article)
On a down side it takes a little longer to get going in spring than the other two.

There is a European and American strain of this breed, the American strain is said to be more aggressive, this quality is arguably due to either the influence of Afrincanised bees or as a result of selective breeding for disease control purposes.

Not a species which is particularly popular in Switzerland, it has qualities which make it useful such as resistance to the varroa  and tracheal mites, here’s what they look like:

Russian bees 1279 Honey

In terms of qualities:
Disease resistant
Cold weather tolerant
Quick build up in the spring
On a down side they are more likely to swarm.

There are of course types of bee than I have described here but being in central Europe these are the ones that you are likely to see (less likely to see the Russians and more like to see the Carnolians or Buckfasts to be honest).

That being said I thought you might also find it interesting to see the slight variations between the breeds (colouration and behaviour).

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