Pros and Cons of Bee Species for your Hive

Selecting the best bee species for your hive is crucial to successful beekeeping. However, there are various factors to consider.

Identifying the right species that suits your beekeeping goals, location, and climate can help ensure a more prosperous and productive colony. The good news is that there are numerous bee species available, each boasting unique characteristics and features. Below is the first part of a comprehensive guide about the Italian, Carniolan and Buckfast bee species. In part 2 we discuss the pros and cons of the Russian, German, and Caucasian bee species.

Italian Bee Species

Originating from Italy in 1859, Italian Honey Bees are a popular honey bee breed. Italian bees stand out easily because of their bright, yellow hue. Some colonies are almost completely yellow, giving them a beautiful, captivating look.

They are preferred by commercial beekeepers for high production, gentle nature, reluctance to swarm, and prolific brood cycles. For those new to beekeeping, the Italian bee is often recommended as a great species to start with. This bee has been a popular choice among beekeepers for many years due to its favorable characteristics. Italian bees are known for being easy to work with and learn from, making them a great option for beginners.

Italian Bee Characteristics


Italian honey bees are a popular species for beekeeping due to their gentle nature and high productivity. They are known for their ability to build large colonies and their strong work ethic, making them a favorite among beekeepers. When it comes to beekeeping, some species are less likely to swarm than others. In particular, lighter-colored bees tend to exhibit this behavior less frequently than their darker counterparts.

In springtime, Italian bees rapidly form strong and populous colonies, making it easy to create new colonies. This is beneficial for early pollination of flowering plants like rapeseed. These bees have proven to be adaptable to cold winters and hot summers, although they may not thrive in extremely tropical environments.


However, Italian bees have a prolonged brood rearing period, which may lead to the consumption of surplus honey in the hive if not removed immediately after the honey flow stops. Due to their large winter population their food reserves can quickly dwindle, so it is important they have a sufficient food supply. This is particularly crucial in areas with long winters.

Italian bees are also kleptoparasites. They often robbing the honey stores of weaker or dead neighboring colonies. This behavior can be problematic during times of nectar dearth and may contribute to the spread of transmittable diseases among hives. In addition, this bee species shows no marked resistance against disease and pests.

Carniolan Bee

The Carniolan honey bee (Apis mellifera carnica) is native to the Balkan region. It is easy to identify by its typically dusky brown-grey color with stripes of a duller shade of brown. These bees typically have dark chitin, yet it is possible to find lighter brown rings and dots on their bodies.

Carniolan bees are medium-sized, roughly equal in size to the Italian honey bee, with high elbow joints and short hair. Their abdomens are very slim compared to other Western European black bees, and their tongues are relatively long (6.5-6.7 mm). The lifespan of Carniolan worker bees is up to 12% longer than other breeds.

Carniolan Bee Characteristics


Beekeeping enthusiasts often prefer the Carniolan bee for a variety of reasons. This particular bee stock is gentle and non-aggressive, requiring little smoke or protective clothing during handling. It is good for keeping in populated areas, and has a better sense of orientation than Italian honey bees, which means they drift less to neighboring hives. This bee species adapts quickly to changes in the environment. It is suitable for areas with long winters and overwinters with a smaller number of winter bees.

Carniolan bees are known for their fast rhythm of producing brood. This allows them to take advantage of early blooms and pollinate early and reduce brood rearing when available forage opportunities decrease. They start to forage earlier in the morning and later in the evening, and also on cool, wet days. During periods of high nectar availability, the honey bee colony experiences an influx of workers, which allows them to store large amounts of honey.

They are also less likely to rob other colonies of honey, reducing the spread of disease and are fairly resistant to brood disease. Finally, they have a low use of propolis and are skilled at building wax combs, which can be used for a variety of products such as candles, soaps, and cosmetics.


Carniolan bees are known for their fast population growth, which means when overcrowded, there is a higher likelihood of swarming. To prevent the loss of swarms, beekeepers must remain vigilant and take necessary precautions. Their population strength relies heavily on the availability of pollen, and they do not thrive in hot summer weather.  Finding the queen in this bee species can be difficult.

Buckfast Bee


Buckfast honey bees are a hybrid race of several bee breeds, combining North and native British varieties. They have impressive mite resistance, particularly in the newly developed VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygiene) Buckfast bee species, which has an excellent resistance to varroa mites without the need for treatment. These bees also have a low incidence of wax moth and chalkbrood. No two colonies will look exactly the same, as each breeder focuses on different traits.

Notable for their yellow and brown rings that vary among hives, these bees are darker than Italian bees but lighter than traditional British Black ones. Queens range from light to dark in color.

Buckfast Bees are a good choice for beginning beekeepers and have a low tendency to swarm. With their docile temperaments, they are easy to handle and make great companions for those interested in beekeeping. Their ability to withstand both hot and cold temperatures makes them uniquely suited for urban locations. They have vast pollen collecting abilities, which is a great asset for short and intense seasons.

Also known for their longevity and high honey production, they are active in early spring, with a quick build up of colonies. They produce very little propolis and burr comb, which are extra chunks of comb bees often build between and on top of frames or on the walls of the hive.

The queens produce a large number of offspring, with a reduction of brood rearing in late fall and during food shortages. This bee species has a very low tendency to swarm. Buckfast bees require very little maintenance and can easily be handled by beginners.


In some instances this bee species displays an increased aggressiveness. This usually occurs after replacing an old queen with a new one that has mated with outsiders. To ensure their gentle nature, new pure-bred buckfast queens should only be purchased from a genuine breeder. Bees known as fastbucks are Buckfast crosses that have mated with other breeds in the area and should be avoided. Inspections, combined with pure buckfast replacement queens are therefore essential in keeping a gentler hive.

Although Buckfast bees have a low swarming instinct, they will swarm or abscond in exceptional circumstances. Inspecting hives regularly is therefore essential for beekeepers with this bee species.

Finally, Buckfast bees have a tendency to robbing, therefore it is important to take precautions. With the right attention and management, Buckfast bees can make an excellent choice for beekeepers of all levels.

Other Bee Species

There are several species of honey bees that are commonly used in beekeeping, including German Bees, Russian bees, and Caucasian Bees. For a more in-depth description of these bee species, click here.

In addition to these natural species, there are also numerous hybrid stocks that have been developed. These hybrid stocks are often bred for specific traits, such as disease resistance or honey production, and can be a valuable addition to a beekeeper’s apiary.

For example, the Minnesota Hygienic stock has been specifically bred for its exceptional housecleaning abilities. This trait helps to reduce the negative impact of brood diseases, making it a popular choice among beekeepers. Another bred is the VSH, or “Varroa Sensitive Hygiene” stock, developed by the USDA honey bee lab in Louisiana through selective breeding for mite resistance. While the VSH stock is not independently viable due to inbreeding, its desirable trait has been incorporated into other genetic stocks to enhance their mite resistance capabilities.

The Cordovan bee is one of the easiest species to identify due to its vibrant golden color. This bee species is a natural deviation of the Italian bee with similar traits, but more difficult to source.




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