Characteristics Excluding Africans:

  • Italians – big populations that use a lot of food, good honey production, calm on the comb, fairly gentle, with a tendency to drift and rob
  • Carniolans – one of the gentlest bees, very clean, slows or stops brood rearing in times of dearth, explosive spring population once pollen is available, overwinters well and consumes a small amount of food. Likes to swarm.  Not inclined to rob.
  • Caucasians -another dark race that overwinters well on a small amount of food.  Builds large populations that have a low tendency to swarm, forages at low temperatures, and has long tongues, which gives potentially gives them access to a wider range of foraging resources.  They use a lot of propolis but are almost impossible to find nowadays.
  • Russians – similar to Carniolans in a lot of ways but slower to build up, and supposed to be mite resistant.
  • Buckfast – this is a hybrid that produces well and can be gentle or chase you out of the bee yard. Resistant to tracheal mites.

 What the experts (speakers from meetings) say:

  • “We need genetic diversity.  We’ve studied, and there is a bottleneck of genetics, in both southern and western queen breeders.”
  • “We’ve gotten permission to import bee semen of Caucasian bees from Turkey.” (note 1)
  • “To start a queen program, you can get bees of different races from different breeders.”

On the other side, many speakers say they prefer darker bees to survive the cold winters.  One speaker became a Russian queen breeder.

The debate continues and it’s very confusing.  Which is it? Diverse genetics or isolated breeding for extended periods of time (race)  

Let’s talk about the Buckfast bees, this bee was a response to the tracheal mites found in England. Bees were imported from distinct races from around Europe Mideast and Africa for specific qualities to be bred with the Abbey’s survivor stock.  The genes from a new race could take up to ten years to get established in the Buckfast bee line.   The thought of letting the bees mate indiscriminately and getting a good result seems odd to me.  As seen in the Buckfast bees, thought, effort, and time played a role.  I don’t have eighty years, as in the Buckfast bees, to develop my own stock, so I’ll cheat a little.

My bee wish list:

  • a bee that survives winter
  • a bee that is gentle
  • a bee that knows when to slow or stop brood rearing in late fall and times of dearth
  • a bee that is slow to rob. 

Is this list too much to ask for?  Are there bee races that have these characteristics? Why, yes! Carniolans!  That was easy.  Now, I need to maintain my line of bees. Is my line of bees totally Carniolan?  No, I’m sure there are Russian and Italian genetics in there some place and a splash of other stuff also.

 Maintenance Program:

  • Work with survivor stock   Dead bees are hard to raise queens from.
  • Color:  Carniolans are dark bees so yellow bees get evicted from my home apiary. Removed from breeder stock.
  • Nasty bees are destroyed.  They are totally unacceptable. I kill nasty queens.
  • Hives that survive with little stores.  I use mostly 6-frame nucs and extra queens are left in mating nucs. I had a queen that lived through the winter of 2013 and 2014 on less than 10 lbs of honey/year.
  • Bees that fly. On sunny, winter days, I look to see who’s flying and at what temperatures. Do they fly on windy or rainy days? Are they out before the sun is up? I don’t want the bees that come out on the porch and go back in till 9:30 because its chilly.

 As you can see, I’m more of a purist when it comes to types of bees. Am I saying that other bees are bad?  NO! Well, maybe a little bit, for me anyway.  I’ve read and heard stories of genetically diverse bees that are great and then that good trait falls apart in a generation or two.  The Buckfast bees took up to ten years to establish a new trait. Also, there are times hybrid vigor is followed by nasty bees.

The catalyst for this article was a table in Dewey Caron’s book, Honey bee Biology and Beekeeping (old version) page 82 Table 7-1 Comparison of Distance Communication in Several Bee Races. When I first saw the table, I thought Carniolan bees foraged further. But as I looked, I started thinking if a Carniolan queen had a daughter showing Carniolan traits, would she be able to communicate the proper distance to her half-sister that demonstrated Italian traits. Such as if she did a wagtail dance for 80 meters would her half-sister fly 34 meters and be confused. If the Italian sister did a sickle dance would the Carniolan sister be confused from the start? If this is true of the dance, what else might get lost in communication?  Maybe they have a way to sort this stuff out.  Do subfamilies hang out in their own subfamily? Are they able to translate the dance info from the different half-sisters?

I think genetic diversity causes chaos in the hive. I can’t prove it. I think it’s better to have diversity amongst bee races.  As an example, if you have Italians, get Italians from multiple suppliers.

Notes: 1)  Recently bees were brought to this country to increase diversity amongst the three races from Europe. Bees from Italy to mate with our Italian bees, Carniolan from their home land to increase the genetics of our Carniolans, and Caucasians from Turkey’s border area, that were mated with Carniolans due to a lack of Caucasians left in the US.  First mating would be 50% Caucasian the second mating would be 75% Caucasian and so on.

Michael R. Lund 4/27/2014