The Races of Bees

The Various Races found in Europe and
the Outstanding Characteristics of Each.

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Published in
The Bee World, 8, pp 4-5,
June, 1926.
Original in Gleanings in Bee Culture.
By Phillip J. Baldensperger,
Nice, France

Apis mellifica, var. lehzeni, V. Buttel-Reepen (1906).   An able bee-book written by H. Lehzen, in honour of whom the adjective “lehzeni” was given, describes this bee as different from the brown bees just described.   This author, who has kept the heather bee in the heather regions of Lüneburg especially (though she extends all along up to Holland), says: “This bee is a product of the German bee, and has been differentiated by many centuries of breeding into the actual race — that is to say, a very diligent, hardened bee, and one of great swarming propensities.”   The bees swarm two to five times a year, and a first swarm usually swarms again in good seasons.   Swarming may even go on with second swarms.   The heather bee begins brood-rearing early in the year, and continues late in the fall.   V. Buttel-Reepen says: “The bee is an outcome of natural breeding, and has not been produced by beekeepers in their selection.   Their swarming propensities are so great that a single stock has gone up to an increase of fourteen in the same year in specially good seasons.   They liberally build drone comb, and second swarms build drone comb in the first year which are readily utilised by the young queens.”

When the Germans, after the Great War, had to furnish a number of colonies of bees to France and Belgium they delivered numbers of heather bees.   Mr. Tombu, permanent secretary of the International Beekeepers’ Congress, and the Belgian delegate at the meeting of that congress in Quebec in 1921, who, together with the French beekeeper and professor at Nancy, had to receive the bees in Germany, refused many thousands because of their swarming propensities.   He said that when they had received a consignment of bees they set them up in the railway station, and as late as November the bees would swarm and cluster about the railway poles.   This disagreeable feature finally caused them to refuse further shipments of these bees.   The French beekeepers mostly complained of having received a very inferior strain of bees, and refused to receive any more of the kind.

The abdominal segments of the heather bee are black, bordered with yellowish fuzz, while on the thorax there is black fuzz.   In queens and drones this fuzz is completely black all over.   They build up to 50 queen-cells, being an intense swarming race.

No doubt the early Dutch settlers in America brought over this strain of heather bee, which has been an inhabitant of America since 1638.   It not only was the companion of the white man, but, on account of its great propensity for swarming, even preceded the white man into the west, and is actually found all over the United States and South America.   This accounts for the disagreeable characteristics of the American brown or black bee, which is very aggressive and unstable, running about the hive when disturbed and dropping from the combs when lifted up, indicating that the American black or brown bee is a descendant of the heather bee and not of the better race previously described as the brown European bee.

When the British Isles were almost completely swept clear of its bees as a consequence of the great bee plague known in 1904 as the Isle of Wight disease, heather bees from Holland were brought over.   These did not prove satisfactory, but this was a good way of filling the gap and receiving Italian queens, which have taken the place of the old English bee; but to what extent is not now known.

Campine bees living in the heather regions of Holland, as well as the northern bees of the Scandinavian regions, are very likely of the same race, though possibly somewhat modified by their isolation.   The introduction of foreign races, which is going on there, will also completely eliminate the pure strain.

The Carniolan Bee

Apis mellifica, var. carnica, Pollmann (1889).   The grayish Carniolan, also called Noric, is a race found in Carinthia, Carniola, and in modern Jugo-Slovakia down to Dalmatia, with slight differences in colour toward the Banat, but is found in its purest type in Carniola, where Ambrozic, the renowned queen-breeder at Laibach, raised them in the 70’s and 80’s of the last century.   On account of their gentler temperament than the browns, they have been largely imported into Germany, and also by Benton to America in the early 80’s of the last century, where they have been mixed to some extent with the original brown bees.   In Alsatia most beekeepers have Carniolan bees, and consider them to be very good honey-producers.   The segments of the abdomen are black, bounded by a grayish ring covered with a whitish fuzz by which, when pure, they can easily be distinguished from brown bees.

They are very good breeders, as they have inhabited countries with early and late honey-producing plants.   On account of the low hives utilised in their native country they swarm readily, exaggerating the swarming to such an extent that they sometimes completely deplete their hives.   The bee-owners of Carniola have been in the habit of carrying their hives on their shoulders to the heather regions up the rugged mountain paths, which was an excuse for them to keep their bees in low and light hives.   The bees carry on breeding late in summer, spending a considerable amount of their winter stores while doing so.   …This undesirable quality may, however, be reduced by selection,

The author’s experience with the Carniolans of Laibach proved them one of the best races for producing comb honey; but because they are very mild-tempered they are not adapted to any country where ants; wasps, hornets, or the like abound, as they are poor defenders of their homes.

The Hymettus Bee

Apis mellifica, var. cecropia, Kiesenwetter (1860).   The Grecian bee is simply a hybrid between dark northern bees and probably imported Cyprians.   The name “cecropia” given in 1860, is due to the supposition that some settlers, led from Egypt to Greece by Cecrops, brought the bees to Greece.   Benton, who lived for some time in Athens, where he received the Cyprian, Syrian and Palestinian bees, did not consider them worth while, and used some colonies only to receive the queens coming in from the near east.

The Anatolian Bee.

Apis mellifica, var. insularium, Buttel-Reepen.   Like the Grecian bee, the Anatolian varies from dark to yellow as it may be nearer the coast or further inland.   Buttel-Reepen gives it the name of “insularium,” because the bee was brought from Syra, Rhodes, or from Smyrna.

Emile Baldensperger, who passed three years in Turkish captivity about Coniah, in central Anatolia, or Asia Minor, had an occasion to see a swarm of dark bees and dark bees in hives; but on account of his situation as a prisoner of war from 1916 to 1918 he could not study the bee more intimately, except that he said he handled them without being stung on one single occasion.

The Caucasian Bee

Apis mellifica, var. remipes, Pallas (1862).   The Caucasian bees vary greatly in colour.   Some are dark and some bright yellow, according to their origin.   They are yellowish from the regions of Vladikavka.   Butlerov was the first scientific beekeeper to call the attention of the beekeeping world to them in 1877.   Through German beekeepers in the same region some yellow Caucasians were sent to Jaffa, Palestine, in 1881; but very soon they were hybridised with the yellow Palestinians.   Some were sent over to America as early as 1880.   Dathe, in his Asiatic journey in 1883, brought some Caucasian bees of the darker colour with him to Germany, but they were given up for many reasons, among which was the difficulty of transportation.   The author received dark as well as yellow Caucasians in southern France about 1904 or 1905; but the bees of either of the two strains were very inferior honey-gatherers, and since European and American foulbrood were there they soon fell victims to the dread diseases.   They are universally noted for their gentle disposition, but are judged a great swarming race by some, and a very poor swarming race by others — facts which, along with the various descriptions of colouring, show that they vary according to origin.   As they are found on both sides of the Caucasus Mountains they may be called a mingled race of bees, taking their journey northward from Hindustan, through Persia, or else a mixture of the Syrian and Asia Minor bees, meeting at the end of the Taurus Range and following the mountains of Armenia and around Ararat.

The Bee World, 8, pp 4-5,
June, 1926.
Original in Gleanings in Bee Culture.
Phillip J. Baldensperger,
Nice, France