There are many different species of bees that are managed by beekeepers all over the world. In America and in Europe, the Western honey bee (apis mellifera) is the species that has within it, a variety of sub-species as well.
When referring to naturally, open-mated queens, you cannot guarantee a certain bloodline, however, we’ll talk about the main sub-species and their characteristics from a biological and behavioral standpoint. Most breeders hybridize these bee sub-species in a way that works well for their climate.
Originally brought into the U.S. from Italy in the mid 19th century. They are yellow bees that vary from light yellow to a golden yellow and usually have 3-5 black bands. The drones are mostly golden in color and the queens have generally generally orange-gold abdomens. They are the most common bee used around the world and are adapted to long summers, mild winters, and early brood rearing in the spring.
Originally from the Austrian Alps and Yugoslavia, these bees are fit to survive cold winters and to react quickly to changing weather. They tend to increase in population quickly in the spring and can swarm early. They slow their activity as food becomes scarce heading into winter. Carniolans are known for being gentle bees, quiet on the comb and very tolerant of hive maintenance. The worker bees can be dark – grey to black with grey stripes on the abdomen and the queens are all black.
Originally from the central Caucasus mountain region of Eastern Europe, these bees are slow to build brood in the spring but can react quickly to available resources. They reduce their numbers in the winter and use stores sparingly. These bees tend to be susceptible to diseases such as nosema. They are very gentle and use propolis extensively to seal up their hives. The workers are dark grey with light grey stripes and the queen and drones are very dark.
This is a mixture of other races – Carniolans, Italians, and Caucasians and possibly others that were brought into Eastern Russia and the Ukraine. These bees were some of the first to be affected by the varroa mite and showed signs of resistance – they’ve been heavily used in breeding programs to provide beekeepers with resistant genetics. A breeding program led by the USDA resulted in 18 strands that could be used to introduce back into the beekeeping community.
These are the successful genetics that have continued year over year and have nested in tree cavities and other areas where they’ve been left alone to manage themselves. This is natural selection at it’s finest, where theoretically, the strongest genetics survive.
We’ve been able to create a diverse bee yard with primarily feral bees and resistant stock mixed in. When dealing with feral bees, especially here in Texas, it is important to monitor them for temperament and make sure that the bees are tolerable to work with. We do get stung by our survivor bees and getting stung does not mean the bees are “too mean” or africanized. If a hive has 50+ guard bees greeting you consistently upon hive inspections – it’s time to requeen with gentler stock. If the bees are succumbing to disease and varroa mites, it’s probably time to requeen. We lean towards a treatment free philosophy so we take mechanical actions rather than chemical actions to help our hives. It is important to note that this philosophy only works with strong genetics – if you are going to be treatment free, you’ll need to plan for losses of weaker hives with inferior genetics.