Corvallis, Oregon

Italian or Carniolan?

Having trouble deciding whether you want to order Italian bees or Carniolan? Here is a quick run down of the differences:

Italian (Apis mellifera liguistica)

ItaliansThese bees were brought to the US in the mid-1800s courtesy of Reverend Langstroth, the same person who discovered bee space and invented the original Langstroth hive configuration. True to their name, they originate from temperate Italy and are well-suited to the mild climate of most of the US. The Italians quickly replaced the German Black bee that was in fashion at the time because they were gentler, had a longer proboscis (tongue), and were less susceptible to European Foulbrood. They have been the most popular bee for US beekeepers ever since!

Pros: Italian bees are highly productive foragers and once they get going for the summer they tend to maintain high numbers of worker bees. Their gentle demeanor makes them easy to work, and the light golden color makes the queens quite easy to see. They don’t tend to propolize heavily, but this tendency can vary by colony and conditions. They also don’t swarm quite as much as many other races.
Cons: Italians don’t forage as far as Carniolans. They can be slow to build in spring, especially under wet Willamette Valley conditions. They don’t respond to external conditions as readily as some other races, and may try to keep more brood than they can raise with their existing food stores. Italians tend to orient by color, so they can drift from hive to hive, leading to low populations in some hives and contributing to the spread of maladies.

Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica)

beepackageCarniolan bees hail from the harsher, colder climates of northern Europe. They tend to desire more storage space so that they can put away greater pollen and nectar stores for the winter. Swarms of this race tend to disperse more widely than Italians. Sue Cobey has worked to bring a fresh supply of Carniolans to the US, which helps to diversify the very limited genetic pool honey bees have here.

Pros: Carniolans respond quickly to changes in nectar and pollen availability. They can build up a workforce and break it down more quickly than Italians. They fly at colder temperatures. They may be less susceptible to brood pathogens and don’t rob as often, so diseases may spread more slowly in a Carniolan apiary. They are commonly agreed to be as gentle as Italians.
Cons: These bees are much more likely to swarm, as evidenced by many first-year Carniolan hives that swarmed here in the Willamette Valley last year. They may be slow to build up, but keep in mind that if resources are limited this can be an advantage. It can be difficult to see the darker queen with this race of bee.

Ready to order your bees? Click here!
The Beekeeper’s Handbook, Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile
Honeybee Ecology, Tom Seeley

9 comments on “Italian or Carniolan?

  1. Old Blue NR LLC
    January 29, 2013

    It seems like most of the Carnie queens that come with NorCal packages are bred to the Italian drones that dominate the drone pool. This would produce an F1 hybrid in the offspring(workers and following generation of queens) which is well noted for its swarming tendencies.

  2. Markael Luterra
    January 29, 2013

    My Italians are definitely not gentle. They did go into winter with threefold more bees than my Carniolan hives, so we shall see how they compare come spring.

  3. Karessa
    January 31, 2013

    Mark, how are they faring food-storage wise in comparison to the Carniolans?

  4. Diane Hickey
    January 7, 2014

    I am not a beekeeper , but my dad and grandfather were. Wondering which strain they might have had in Wisconsin during years from 1900 through 1970. I’m guessing Italian but have no idea what was available then.

    • apicurious
      January 7, 2014

      Hi Diane! It probably was Italian but there are a few other strains they might have had. There were still a few German bees in use around the early 1900s.Caucasian bees were introduced in the late 1800s. Although there is no pure Caucasian stock left in the US, there was some in the 1900s! They were calm and gentle but propolized very heavily. How fun that your dad and grandfather were beekeepers! You must have some great childhood memories?

  5. Marlene Robertson
    February 9, 2014

    My Grandfather and Father raised Caucasian bees from 1921 until 1968 in Eastern Canada. In 1969 my Father bought the Italian bees and they were not gentle but extremely great producers. Eventually my Father stopped raising bees.

  6. web
    June 13, 2014

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    • apicurious
      June 18, 2014

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