Carniolans, Italians, Russians

Trying to figure out what type of bees you would like in your apiary?

I did some research before I started beekeeping, so I knew that I wanted to start with either Carniolan or Italian bees.  However, finding bees for sale in my area was a challenge.  I ultimately found a person that was giving both 1st time beekeeper lessons and selling bees.  I was pleased that I could get instruction and purchase bees from the same person.  However I did not have a choice of bee breeds, only Italian.  Italians are a nice breed for first time beekeepers. .

The following year I wanted to try a couple of Nuc hives and was able to get Carniolans.  The Carniolans nucs had queens that were born the year before from Illinois overwintered queens.  I like the idea of getting a queen from stock that can withstand our northern IL/southern WI winters. I too would like to someday overwinter a dozen or so nuc hives for selling in the spring, providing local beekeepers with bees that are raised and overwintered in our cold northern Illinois weather.

Now that I have some experience with both Italian and Carniolan bees, I wanted to spend some time discussing the pros and cons of the Italian, the Carniolan and the Russian honey bee. (I threw in the Russian honey bee since it is available in Wisconsin and someday I might want to consider buying a few hives)

Italian Honey Bee


  • (Apis Mellifera Liguistica)
  • Light golden color
  • Originated from Italy, brought to the US in the mid-1800s by Rev. Langstroth.


  • Gentle, easy to work with
  • Great foragers
  • Longer proboscis (tongue)
  • Tend to keep a high number of workers throughout the summer
  • Less susceptible to European Foulbrood
  • Don’t propolize heavily- My carniolans propolize much more than my Italians.
  • Don’t swarm as much as other types


  • Prone to robbing
  • Can be slow to build in spring
  • Maintain a large brood area and worker population regardless of environmental conditions – risk of early winter starvation
  • Orient by color, so they can drift from hive to hive, leading to low populations in some hives & also spread diseases among hives.


  • Mine have struggled to stay alive. One year I started with 2 Italians vs 2 Carniolans, by fall I had 1 Italian and 7 Carniolans, using the same management techniques. This may have just been due to where the bees came from.
  • Overall, I think this is a good starter bee. They don’t tend to swarm the 1st year, so it’s easier to learn what’s happening in the hive vs. trying to learn and managing swarming tendencies at the same time.

Carniolan Honey Bee


  • (Apis Mellifera Carnica)
  • Dark brown to black in color
  • Originated from northern Europe


  • Good at defending against pests while being gentle to beekeepers
  • Great foragers, will fly on colder temperatures, earlier in AM, later in PM & on cool, wet days
  • Good at building/breaking down workers depending on availability of nectar/pollen
  • Less susceptible to brood pathogens
  • Low use of propolis – I have NOT seen this with my Carniolan bees
  • Workers live up to 12% longer than other breeds
  • Not prone to robbing, so diseases spread more slowly in a Carniolan apiary.
  • Good for populated areas
  • Able to overwinter in smaller numbers


  • More prone to swarming if overcrowded, even in 1st year.
  • Lower ability to thrive in hot summer temps
  • Slow to build up in spring


  • Mine created a lot of propolis, sticking everything together.
  • Aggressive but don’t have a tendency to sting.
  • Swarmed the 1st year I installed as Nucs.
  • I found them harder to manage than my Italians, due to their swarming tendency and how fast they would build up and get overcrowded. I was able to create a total of 7 hives from purchasing 2 Nucs.

Russian Honey Bee


  • (Apis Mellifera fd)
  • Dark brown to black in color
  • Originated in the Primorsky Krai region of Russia (eastern Russia)
  • Imported into the US in 1997 by the USDA’s Honeybee Breeding, Genetics & Physiology Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana


  • Do not build populations until pollen is available
  • Able to shut down brood rearing when pollen/nectar is scarce
  • Able to quickly increase brood rearing when pollen/nectar is plentiful.
  • Tend to be resistant to varroa and tracheal mites
  • Maintain active queen cells throughout the brood rearing season – Workers destroy extra queen cells


  • Expensive
  • Hard to find (Sweet Mountain Farm in WI sells them)
  • Smell different than Italian bees, thus more difficult to requeen Italians with a Russian queen.
  • Takes 36 days from the time a queen starts as an egg to the time she starts laying.
  • Hard to locate queen within the hive.


  • I have no personal experience with Russian honey bees

~ May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places!

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