Monday, December 31, 2007

Lesson 20: Different Types of Honey Bees

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One thing that I have discovered is that we must learn to enjoy life, be good to others, reduce our stress and have something positive to look forward to and give back. My family encourages me and gives me joy. And our church family is encouraging to us. And as weird as this may sound, my bees give me a lot of joy! The more hives I have, the more stress is relieved. And to be honest with you my bees give me something to look forward to each year. I believe that if we stay busy, learn a hobby like beekeeping and keeping our minds on positive things, we are all around better off--at least I am.
I promised to share about the different types of honey bees in today's lesson.
Honey bees are not the same as bumble bees, wasps and yellow jackets. The scientific name for the honey bee that we have in America is Apis Mellifera. Apis Mellifera is actually one of eight species of honey bees. Apis Mellifera actually means "honey carrying bee". This is slightly incorrect in that a honey bee carries nectar not honey, but the name still stands.
Stay with me on this; I don't want to lose you. Apis Mellifera is a species of honey bee but within that species there are races. My favorite is the Italian honey bee, known as Apis Mellifera Ligustica, known to beekeepers as the Italian honey bee. This is the bee that most of us enjoy keeping the most. Then we have Apis Mellifera Carnica known as a Carniolan honey bee. Another popular honey bee is Apis Mellifera Caucasca, known as the Caucasian honey bee. These different races are unique because they were introduced into America from specific geographical regions from other parts of the world which gives them each unique characteristics.
Another species of honey bee that makes the press is Apis Mellifera Scutellata, the Africanized bee, imported into America from Brazil in the 1950s.
Now that we know about the Italian, Carniolan and Caucasian honey bee, let's look at other honey bees. Some have crossed these races of bees or have selected certain traits and have produced hybrid honey bees from within a species. This has given us Cordovans, Buckfast, Russian, Starline, Minnesota Hygenic and many other honey bees that have been bred for specific traits.
Which Honey Bee Is Best?
It is a matter of opinion, and my opinion is the Italian. But, let me give you some commonly accepted traits of each species and the common hybrids. Before I do, let me say that these claims of trait specific races and hybrids are claims. Certainly selected breeding has produced unique characteristics and I'm sure someone scientifically measured the results, but results can vary.
Russian bees, known for their resistance to mites, can die of mite infestations. Italians that are known for not swarming as much, can still swarm alot. Carniolan that are known for their rapid spring build up can fail and for some reason not build up fast in the spring. But again, let me give you what is commonly credited to the difference honey bees.
Italian- Apis Mellifera Ligustica
GOOD TRAITS: Very gentle, good brood pattern, isn't so prone to swarm as much, great honey producer, light on excess propolis and makes nice looking white comb honey. A great bee for someone new to beekeeping. POOR TRAITS: Can drift between hives and not find their home. Are prone to rob other hives during a dearth. A dearth is a lull in nectar flow.
Caucasian- Apis Mellifera Caucasca
GOOD TRAITS: They have a long proboscis or tongue. So they can work certain flowers other honey bees cannot. Very gentle. POOR TRAITS: They don't build up very fast in the spring and are very heavy on propolis, making the hive very sticky to work. Can rob more.
Carniolan- Apis Mellifera Carnica
GOOD TRAITS: Explosive spring build up, are not so prone to rob, are very, very gentle, and good comb producers. POOR TRAITS: Explosive build up means more swarms. Honey production is less than the Italian bee.
Russian- Hybrid
A product of the U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture's Honey Bee Breeding Genetics, and Physiology Lab of Baton Rouge, Louisiana by importing this bee from the Primorski region of the Sea of Japan because it had survived mites for 150 years. It is not a species but a hybrid.
GOOD TRAITS: Bred to be more resistant to mites and more winter Hardy. POOR TRAITS: Produces lots of propolis, always seems to have swarm cells in the hive, and moderate honey producer.
Buckfast- Hybrid

A product of Brother Adam (1898-1996). He spent his entire life perfecting the Buckfast honey bee hybrid. He claimed to have eaten a teaspoon of honey a day and in case you don't want to do the math, he lived to be 98!

GOOD TRAITS: Strong resistance to tracheal mites and good hygienic behavior.

POOR TRAITS: Can be defensive.

Minnesota Hygienic- Hybrid
A result of the work of Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota. A few months ago, my wife and I traveled to a queen rearing conference in Ohio where Gary Reuter was one of the main speakers. Gary is a Research Technician at the University of Minnesota working with Dr. Marla Spivak. Dr. Spivak and her team were able to produce a trait within breeder queens, a trait where the bees are able to reduce disease by being exceptionally hygienic.
GOOD TRAITS: Good honey producers and more able to resist American Foul Brood disease. POOR TRAITS: Those mostly common to the Italian bee since this is an Italian bee.
Many other beekeepers and breeders have their special line of queens that they are breeding, making claims, that to them, are very true and founded. But to be honest, there is always the flip side. To gain a positive characteristic may mean you gain two negative characteristics.
In my opinion, beginning beekeepers should begin with an Italian bee. Then, as your apiary expands, you can experiment with a different bee, and see how it goes.

I've tried many different races, and have gone back to the Italian bee. My Russians were too aggressive, didn't make enough honey, and swarmed WAY TOO OFTEN.

Bee-Have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms