European Honey Bee Races Found in Latrobe Valley
Since European settlement the following races of bees have been introduced to Australia and by extension may have been or may still be in Latrobe Valley.
Buckfast – hybrids bred by Brother Adam. Not sure if any of these exist in ‘the Valley’ today.
European Dark – apis mellifera mellifera also known as the British Black. Again, not sure if these still exist in the Valley or surrounds.
Caucasian – apis mellifera caucasia. Present in Latrobe Valley.
Carniolan – apis mellifera carnica. Present and popular in Latrobe Valley.
Italian – apis mellifera ligustica sometimes referred to as Ligurian and affectionately known as ‘Keen but not Mean’ referring to their gentle and productive nature. Present and very popular in Latrobe Valley.
Most bees in Australia have genetics made up of all of these races of the Western Honey Bee.
Caucasian Honey Bee – apis mellifera caucasia
The Caucasian honey bee originates from the high valleys of the Central Caucasus. Georgia is the “central homeland” for the subspecies, although the bees also can be found in eastern Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is less common than the Carniolan and Italian races of the Western Honey Bee.
Characteristics and Behaviour
The Caucasian is renowned for it’s slow spring build up, meaning that the colony isn’t at full strength until mid summer. They tend to stick their frames very tightly together and this makes bee management more tricky for the beekeeper. This is due to their tendency to use a lot of propolis. However, they are docile and gentle to handle and form strong colonies. Once agitated, they take a long time to settle down. They can tend to drift and rob from other hives and don’t do especially well in colder northern climates.
The Caucasian Bee has the longest tongue of any bee species, which allows it to reach parts of the flower than others can use. It is able to forage for a longer season due to the number of flowers it can use for nectar. They have a low swarm tendency, due to their slow start up, over crowding is rarely a problem.
Unpredictable weather (Latrobe Valley?)
Another trait of the Caucasian bee is that is stores honey near the brood, typical for a mountain bee. It also uses a minimum number of combs for storing the honey; in other words, it doesn’t proceed to a new comb until the previous one is completely filled. The advantage is that at the end of the harvesting there won’t be half or partially filled combs, a great advantage for capping and extracting the honey. This characteristic of the Caucasian bee recommends it as a great choice for regions with a colder, rainy or constantly changing weather.
Carniolan – apis mellifera carnica
Calm and Docile
The most acclaimed traits of the Carniolan bee are its calm and docile behavior on the comb, the sense of orientation is arguably the best of any race, their brood is highly resistant to diseases and parasites, reduced consumption over winter, the length of the tongue (the second longest after the Caucasian honey bee), explosive spring buildup, they are less prone to robbing and spreading diseases in other colonies, they don’t use excessive amounts of propolis.
In other words, a Carniolan queen will reduce the brood production when nectar and pollen are scarce. Normally, this would be a positive characteristic, but there can be situations where it hinders the growth of the colony and this can negatively affect the next harvest.
Affectionately known in the Valley as ‘Carnies’.
The Carniolan tends to be quite dark in colour. It is a mountain bee in its native range (Carniola region of Slovenia, the southern part of the Austrian Alps, and northern Balkans) and is a good bee for colder climates. Worker bees have grey-white bands round the abdomen. Queens are black and therefore more difficult to find.
Italian – apis mellifera ligustica
Long time resident
Also called the Ligurian Bee, originates from Italy and was first introduced to Australia in 1862. It is the most commonly kept sub-species throughout the world and has proven adaptable to most climates from subtropical to cool temperatures. Having been conditioned to the warmer climate of the central Mediterranean, they do not form such tight winter clusters. More food has to be consumed to compensate for the greater heat loss from the loose cluster. The tendency to raise brood late in autumn also increases food consumption. The Italian bee is light coloured and mostly leather coloured; some strains are golden. Queens vary in colour from leathery brown to orange, which makes them comparatively easy to find in the hive.
The Italian honey bee represents a great blend of important traits, especially from a commercial and breeding standpoint. Among these the most notable are:
- very prolific
- less inclined to swarm
- white honey cappings
- resistance to diseases, especially for the darker sub-variety
- willing to enter supers
- excellent comb builders
The trait of strong brood rearing regardless of nectar flow, along with a poorer sense of orientation mean that the Italian bee is more prone to drifting and robbing than other races.
Chances are if you catch a swarm from within the bounds of Latrobe City and you are well away from an Apiary they are going to be ‘wild’ bees. The biggest advantage for these bees is that they are going to be well acclimatised to our ‘sometimes’ crazy climate. So in that respect they have a lot going for them. As to honey production and other traits it’s a case of test and measure. You could do no worse than catch a decent swarm let them settle in and see how they go. Then if you want you can replace the Queen with your favourite race/strain of bee.
Sources of information for this page: