When it comes to beekeeping, there are many different bee stock species to choose from, each with its own unique traits and characteristics. These differences can be attributed to genetics, which can have an impact on things like temperament, disease resistance, productivity, and color.
Experienced beekeepers have long recognized the advantages and disadvantages of working with various genetic stocks for various objectives, such as pollination, honey production, bee reproduction, or overall resiliency. Knowing these differences is essential for attaining your beekeeping goals.
In Part 1, ´Pros and Cons of Bee Species for your Hive´, we have discussed the Pros and Cons of the Italian, Carniolan and Buckfast honey bee. Below we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the German, Russian, and Caucasian honey bee.
German Bee Stock
Beekeeping enthusiasts often choose to raise the German Dark Bee, also known as the European Dark Bee. It is s a subspecies of the Western honey bee Apis mellifera mellifera. This subspecies was originally brought over from Northern Eurasia during the colonial era. Since then it has been further segmented into various sub-races due to its resilience and ability to survive harsh winters.
Its hardiness makes the German bee (A. m. mellifera) or “black” bee a popular choice among beekeepers looking for a species that can withstand colder climates.
It is easily identifiable due to its stocky body, brown and dark coloration, and sparse abdominal hair. From a distance, they may appear blackish or dark brown. Furthermore, their short tongues (5.7-6.4mm) set them apart from other subspecies of honeybee. Additionally, they have distinctive yellow spots on the abdomen which helps to identify them when seen up close.
German Bee Characteristics
German honey bee stock is known for their impressive work ethic when it comes rearing brood. Their population increases rapidly in late spring and summer, allowing them to make more honey in the process. This means they produce sufficient honey to last during long and cold winters. This species also appears to have a stronger longevity than other species.
The German bee thrives in colder, wetter climates, which means they stay active later into fall. They can fly in lower temperatures than other bee species, which results in longer daily foraging hours than other bee species.
German bees are more nervous and aggressive. Although this makes them great in defending their hive it also means they are more likely to sting. Because queens mate close to their habitat, the risk of inbreeding is higher, which results in higher aggression. This higher aggression together with the rapid increase leads to a greater chance of supersedure. In addition their rapid increase also means this breeds has a higher tendency to swarm. As a result, beekeepers have become less fond of this species, which is now considered endangered in Germany.
Their poorer hygienic behavior means they are more prone to varroa mites, while their larger trachea makes the susceptible to acarine mites. In addition, they are susceptible to diseases like American and European foulbrood.
Due to their larger size and short tongues, they have difficulty entering smaller flowers and collecting nectar from longer-tubed flowers, making them poorer pollinators.
The Russian Bee
The US Department of Agriculture’s Honey Bee Breeding imported the Russian bee from far-eastern Russia. Due to their coexistence with Varroa mites for the last 150 years, this species has evolved resistance to these mites. This species is usually dark-brown to black with a pale yellow abdomen.
Unlike most other bee stock, Russian bees consistently have queen cells in their colonies, even outside of swarming or queen replacement periods.
Russian Bee Characteristics
Russian colonies overwinter with smaller colonies. This slower buildup has the advantage that bee populations rapidly increase when nectar sources become available. Their tendency to only rear brood during periods of abundant nectar and pollen causes fluctuations in colony populations.
Russian bees are known for their excellent housecleaning behavior. This makes them resistant to both varroa and tracheal mites.
While these bees have shown some resistance to varroa mites, they still require intervention from beekeepers to effectively manage the infestation. Their ability to rapidly increase can lead to swarming if not carefully monitored.
Russian colonies can be more defensive and temperamental, with a higher likelihood to sting. This species performs best when not exposed to other strains. However, queens often mate with drones from other stock which reduces their resistance to varroa mites. These ‘uncontrolled’ hybrids can show traits of increased aggression and reduced honey production.
Caucasian Bee Stock
Caucasian bee stock (A. m. caucasica) are not always easy to come by, but they are a popular bee species among beekeepers because of their gentle nature. Their bodies range from dark to black with grayish stripes on their abdomens. Caucasian bees have a very long tongue, allowing them to forage for nectar from long-tubed flowers.
Caucasian Bee Characteristics
The Caucasian honey bee has a longer tongue than other types of bees, which makes them ideal for beekeeping in areas with a variety of flowering plants.
Highly valued for their gentleness and hardiness, they are able to tolerate colder temperatures than other bee species. The colonies typically don’t reach full strength until midsummer, but they conserve their honey stores better than other species and may show some resistance to European Foulbrood.
Despite their gentle nature, Caucasian bees still require the same care and attention as other bee species. Proper nutrition, adequate ventilation, and protection from pests are all important elements of successful hive management
Caucasians have some resistance to a particular disease called European Foul Brood, but they still show a higher susceptibility to it compared to other bee species.
They can be quite prolific comb builders and tend to use large amounts of propolis to fasten the combs and reduce the size of the entrance. Some newer strains, however, use less propolis for this purpose. Caucasians tend to drift more and rob other hives, but don’t swarm as much as the Italians.
However, their slow spring buildup limits their ability to produce large honey crops, and they tend to use excessive amounts of propolis, making their hives difficult to manipulate. Despite their decline in popularity in the US, they remain a valuable species for beekeepers.
When deciding what bee stock to use in a hive, it is important to consider factors such as the climate and environment of the area, disease resistance, honey production, pollination efficiency, and temperament. Different bee strains have their own unique strengths and challenges, and beekeepers should research and consult with local experts to determine the best option for their specific needs.