European Honey Bee Sub-Species in Australia.

Several European honey bee sub-species have been buzzing about Australia since the 1800s.

Many environmental factors always influence the temperament and honey output of a beehive. But if you’re getting started, it’s useful to know a little about some intriguing variations in the European honey bee. Many sub-species of Apis Mellifera developed with the different climactic conditions of their homelands. According to AgriFutures, Australia is home to three European honey bee sub-species:

  1. Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera, ligustica)
  2. Caucasian honey bees (Apis mellifera, caucasia)
  3. Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera, carnica)

The truth is that most bee hives in Australia contain a hybridisation of these three variations. Feral bees have been present in Australia since the 1800s. So, as many beekeepers re-home feral hives, these hybrid bees are often the most accessible to the beginner or backyard beekeeper.

Even so, you may wish to source from a breeder a new, docile Queen (available from breeders from September to February only). Not only is the Queen the mother of all new bees born into a hive, but she is the master and commander of the beehive too. It’s her temperament and her command for resources and honey that her workers reflect. Italian Queens are popular in Australia due their docile nature, coupled with good honey production. AgriFutures notes that Italian bees are generally attractive for their large colonies and brood nest size.

Still, the Caucasians and Carniolans are apparently even more gentle. But these tend to have lower honey production. There is a trade-off: the more docile a beehive, the less honey it’s likely to produce (more on that topic here).

Of course, there are other factors to consider if you are stocking your beehive with one of these strains. Which is best suited to your local climate? Do they have a tendency to swarm? How disease resistant are they? You also need to consider your personal need for honey, propolis and beeswax and balance this with other traits.

Here’s a quick run-down of some pros and cons for each kind of honey bee stock used in Australia, according to Amazing Bees:

Italian bees:

PROS – These bees have a reputation for gentleness, being hard workers and very prolific breeders.

CONS – Colonies tend to maintain larger populations than other strains through winter. So, they need more winter stores (or feeding) than other sub-species.

Caucasian bees:

PROS – Regarded as “gentle and calm on the comb”, these bees raise strong colonies. They are also very good producers of propolis and strong honey producers.

CONS – The Caucasian honeybee has a lower resistance to fungal parasite Nosema Apis. Also, their colonies do not reach full strength until mid-summer. This is undesirable if the highest nectar flow in your area is in the spring. High production of propolis can also make hive management more difficult. Frames and hive boxes are sometimes glued together. They may also drift and begin robbing weaker colonies. (Though other sources state that Italians are prone to robbing also).

Carniolan bees:

PROS – These bees are desirable for keeping a moderate strength colony. They shrink to small populations over winter and build again very quickly in spring. Also considered to be gentle, they are good in highly populated areas. They quickly adapt to changes in the environment. Their sense of orientation better than the Italian honeybee. Able to overwinter in smaller numbers, their honey stores are better conserved. Their low use of propolis also makes hive management easier. They are also resistant to brood diseases.

CONS – These bees are more prone to swarming if overcrowded and they have a low ability to thrive in hot summer weather. Also, the strength of the broodnest is more dependent on availability of pollen.

Another point to ponder.

A feral, hybridised swarm in your area may already be perfectly adapted to your location. Swarms and feral hives can often be re-homed in your own backyard beehive. This helps curb feral bees from out-competing natives or taking up much needed bird nesting spaces. There are a few things to be aware of, such the possibility of disease and aggression. Thus, always get a qualified beekeeper to capture and re-home a local swarm or hive into a backyard beehive for you. They can also provide you with knowledge, support and advice.

Here at Bee2Bee Ian often re-homes swarms and feral hives into our NZ pine beehives. He has plenty of experience handling feral bees. If you have a swarm or hive at home and would like to be set up with your own backyard beehive, have a look at our range online and be sure to get in touch!

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