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Getting Started: Races of Honey Bees

Honey bees are Old World insects that were introduced into North and South America by European settlers. The most well-known races of honey bees in the New World are:

Italian Bees, Apis mellifera ligustica

Originally from Italy, Italian bees (Fig. 1) are by far the most popular honey bees. These bees are yellow in color, relatively gentle, overwinter well and build up quickly in spring. They are easily provoked to rob weaker neighboring colonies and sometimes exhaust honey stores rapidly in winter.

Fig. 1Fig. 1

Carniolan Bees, Apis mellifera carnica

Carniolan bees (Fig. 2) originated in the Austrian Alps, northern Yugoslavia and the Danube valley. Gray/brown in color, they are extremely gentle, conserve winter food stores well and build up quickly in spring. Carniolan bees construct new comb slowly and swarm frequently.

Fig. 2Fig. 2

Caucasian Bees, Apis mellifera caucasica

Caucasian bees originated in the Caucasus mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas. They are lead-gray in color, very gentle and swarm infrequently. These bees overwinter poorly, build up slowly in spring, are susceptible to Nosema disease and gum up their hives with propolis (tree resins and beeswax).

German Black Bees, Apis mellifera mellifera

Originally from throughout northern Europe, the German black bee (Fig. 3) was the first honey bee brought to the New World. They are brown/black in color and overwinter well. German black bees are nervous, aggressive and build up slowly in spring.

Fig. 3Fig. 3

Africanized Honey Bees, Apis mellifera scutellata and its Hybrids  

Africanized honey bees (Fig. 4 & 5) originated throughout east Africa. In the 1950s, this race was imported to Brazil and began migrating northward. Compared to European races, this bee and its hybrids are extremely defensive, have smaller nests and swarm more frequently. Africanized honey bees began colonizing the southwest regions of the United States in the 1990s.

Fig. 4Fig. 4
Fig. 5Fig. 5