While nobody probably has "pure" honey bees, regardless of the type being kept, maintained, or perpetuated, there are distinct differing traits of the bees readily available. Below is a brief description of the most common types available to beekeepers.

Please do not rely on marketing hype, urban legend, or past observations in determining what type bees you decide to keep. Much of any type of bee offered is based on the breeding protocol and the quality of the bee operation. The ratings and characteristics of observations of the individual strain of bees, probably means far less in comparison of the quality of bee the operation breeding queens and producing bees. The best advice might be - Know your bees, but know your breeder even better.

Italian ( Apis mellifera lingustica)

The most widely used honey bee.

Behavior - Very gentle (10)

Honey Production - Very Good (10)

Propolis - Moderate (5)

Mite Resistance - Low (3)

Overwintering - Below Average (4)

Swarming - Moderate (5)


Score - 37

Overview - Italians are by far the most gentle and one of the best for honey production. Italians are known to overwinter with large clusters, and brood excessively through dearths, making starvation a concern. Mite resistance is lower than most breeds. 



Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica)

A favorite of many northern beekeepers.

Behavior - Gentle (8)

Honey Production - Good (8)

Propolis - Little (8)

Mite Resistance - Above average (7)

Overwintering - Good (7)

Swarming - High (4)

Score - 42

Overview - Carniolans have been increasing in popularity over the past 20 years as "New World Carniolans" and the continuation of the "Old World Caniolan" lines have shown great mite resistance, while being above average in honey production and being very gentle. They have been shown to be a well rounded bee and well adapted to northern climate beekeeping.


Russian (Apis mellifera caucasica)

Highly adapted to northern beekeeping

Behavior - Slightly aggressive and defensive of the hive (4)

Honey Production - Moderate (6)

Propolis - High (4)

Mite Resistance - Very High (9)

Overwintering - Very Good (9)

Swarming - High (4)


Score - 36

Overview - One of the best mite resistant strain available. They overwinter with a small cluster and shut down in a dearth. Very frugal with honey stores. While highly adaptable to northern climates, they do "head-butt" and will protect their hive.


Caucasian (Apis mellifera caucasica)

Good cold weather forager

Behavior - Very Gentle (9)

Honey production - Good (7)

Propolis - Excessive (3)

Mite Resistance - Moderate (5)

Overwintering - Good (6)

Swarming - Low (8)


Score - 38

Overview - A strain of bees not seen in large production. But this strain has many desirable traits for northern climates. They forage in colder temperatures and are very gentle.

Much of what goes into selecting a race of bees is determined by a beekeeper's IPM strategy and management approach. The above is not based on guiding a beekeeper to one race or another. But to highlight the traits that you may be interested. All of the rating can be very subjective. For instance, we rate propolis production with a low score for those races with high propolis tendencies. However new outlooks of the hive's dynamics in regards to disease may actually make high propolis production hives a sought after trait. But at this time, many beekeepers desire hives with low propolis production.


Other items such as mite resistance may be a non-factor for beekeepers who will treat their hives. The score is based on rating the overwintering ability of each hive without traditional chemical treatments. And certainly those with good swarm prevention measures may put less weight on swarming tendencies. Honey production is also very subjective to a beekeepers management, and other factors such as location.