skip navigation

The Different Types of Honey Bees

Back / The Different Types of Honey Bees

Beekeeping is Tough Business

The Different Types of Honey Bees

Call Us Today Ask a question ?

Bee Hives

The Different Types of Honey Bees

To the average person, honey bees all appear to be one and the same. In reality, there are numerous variations of bees that have differing behaviors, strengths, and limitations. In this post, you will find out about the different types of honey bees that people may choose to care for or otherwise come into contact with.

The most prolific species of honey bee in the world is the European or Western honey bee (Apis mellifera). Its genus name (Apis) means bee in Latin, while its species name (mellifera) means honey-bearing. Western honey bees are domesticated insects that live in colonies with one fertile queen, a few male drones, and many nonmating female workers. They are important pollinators and humans’ source of honey as well. Since people moved them to new places, honey bees exist beyond Western Europe where they originated. Many subspecies of Western honey bees have arisen as well because of the natural geographic variations of the areas they live in and the intervention of people who have selectively bred them. Following are some of the most notable varieties:

Apis mellifera honey bees

The Different Types of Honey Bees

Italian/Ligurian honey bee (Apis mellifera ligustica)

This honey bee subspecies is the most common one in Apis mellifera. As their name suggests, they were first found in Italy, then spread to other regions by people. What makes Italian bees so popular is their more docile nature, resistance to disease, and high production of honey. Italian bees often have lighter yellow body colors that beekeepers like purely for their visual appeal as well.

The downside to these bees is that their brood cycles are long, so they may eat up more honey as larvae mature. In addition, they are known to raid other weaker hives for food and to join other thriving hives, which isn’t ideal for consistency when raising them.

European dark/German honey bee (Apis mellifera mellifera)

The Different Types of Honey Bees

European dark honey bees have an almost completely black coloration that may sometimes include hints of yellow. They tend to be shorter and stockier than most bees in terms of body shape. European dark bees are adapted to live in cold climates and are therefore found in Germany, the Scandinavian countries, and the United Kingdom.

While their resilience would seem to make it a preferable subspecies to raise, it comes with the drawback of defensive behavior. Moreover, when this type of bee crossbreeds with other subspecies, their offspring can be quite aggressive.

Carniolan honey bee (Apis mellifera carnica)

Carniolan bees come from the Carniola region in Slovenia, as well as the upper parts of the Balkan Peninsula and the Eastern Alps. They have a small size and more hair than other subspecies, giving them a grayish appearance. Carniolan bees’ shining trait is their extreme peacefulness, making them safer and easier to work with than most other varieties. Also, they are less disposed to drifting to other hives or stealing from them. This, combined with their disease resistance, makes it less likely for them to contract and transmit illnesses.

Carniolan bees go through winters with a small number and consume less honey that way, which is another plus. In spring, however, their colonies grow quickly, and they may start to swarm due to overpopulation.

Caucasian honey bee (Apis mellifera caucasica)

These bees originate from the Central Caucasus. They are hairy, grayish, and calm like the Carniolan bees. Caucasian bees are larger, though, and have a distinctly long tongue that enables them to gather nectar from flowers that other bee types may not be able to access.

It takes them a while to build up their colony, and their numbers peak around summer. In some locations where flowers bloom primarily in summer, this is a benefit. In others where flowers proliferate in spring, this is a disadvantage and leads to less honey production. Furthermore, they tend to use a large amount of propolis, a sticky substance that holds together their hives. Beekeepers may have difficulty in moving and viewing hive sections as a result.

Russian honey bee (Apis mellifera, regional to Russia)

Russian bees are a more recent stock that does not have a scientific subspecies distinction from general Apis mellifera bees. That being said, they have some unique attributes that made them desirable for import into the US. These bees adapted to life in an area where the bee parasite, the Varroa mite, is prevalent. Because of this, they have a resistance to Varroa mites, which are a threat in other parts of the world. Their hive-cleaning tendencies make them resistant to another parasite, the tracheal mite, as well.

In order to maintain their mite resistance, however, beekeepers must keep Russian bees separate from other subspecies. Should cross-contamination or cross-breeding occur, the Russian bees lose much of their pest resistance. For the average person, these bees are also not easy to obtain since scientists are still studying them.

Hybrid honey bees

Buckfast honey bee (Apis mellifera buckfast)

Buckfast bees were bred by a monk named Karl Kehrle, also known as Brother Adam, who lived in Buckfast Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in the United Kingdom. He bred new hybrids from Italian bees and British strains of European dark bees because these bees had survived the Isle of Wight epidemic. This event was caused by Acarapis woodi—tracheal mites that devastated much of the UK’s bee population in the early 1900s.

As a result of Brother Adam’s efforts, the Buckfast bees can survive in wet and cold climates, make a sizable amount of honey, and clean themselves and their hives well enough to get rid of parasites and lower their risk of disease. They are a bit more defensive than other bees and can become outright aggressive if left unexposed to human interaction for a few generations.

Africanized honey bee (Apis mellifera, hybrid)

A hybrid of East African lowland honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellate) and some European subspecies of Apis mellifera, Africanized bees were first bred in Brazil. Scientists, led by Warwick E. Kerr, were trying to make a bee breed that would make a vast amount of honey in warm, tropical climates and would also resist parasites. The Africanized bee they created ended up having high hostility and relocation tendencies. Unfortunately, the bees they were testing escaped and spread across South America, eventually moving upward far enough to reach North America.

While they are among the most defensive of the different types of honey bees out there, some beekeepers have been able to raise them and take advantage of their substantial honey production.

If you’re dealing with unwanted honey bees appearing in your home or yard, call Honey Bee Rescue today forbee removal in Fort Worth. Using our thorough knowledge and specialized tools, we will safely capture and take away bees without harming them and relocate them to apiaries where they will be cared for by professionals.

The Different Types of Honey Bees or Beekeeping Questons?
Want to know more about beekeeping in east Texas? Visit us on Twitter, Facebook or Youtube.

Sign up to hear from us about The Different Types of Honey Bees specials, sales, and events.

Honey Bee Rescue Address

The Different Types of Honey Bees Questions Comments Concerns?
We love to hear from our customers!