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The Italian Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera Ligustica) is one of the more popular bee strains; however, due to the inconsistency in quality of its specimens, the Italian bee has been both greatly appreciated and criticized. Therefore we’ll try to express our own experience with the Italian honey bee in an objective and balanced manner. An opinion can only be correctly formed as long as it’s backed up by research and valid reasoning.
Firstly, we have to take into consideration the fact that there are 2 sub-varieties of the Italian honey bee. The differences between them are significant. With regards to honey yielding and reproduction, we had the best experience with the Italian honey bee imported from the North-West region of the Italian Alps (Ligurian Alps). This variety of the Italian bee has a darker color than the normal (more yellowish) bee.
The other sub-variety, that has a lighter color, comes from the regions near Bologna and at one point was extremely popular all over the world. This variety is used at a large scale in North America, South America, New Zealand and Australia and has a decent amount of positive traits, but also lots of drawbacks that make it less efficient and advantageous. Among these we have a lower honey yielding and lower resistance to diseases.
A large number of beekeepers consider the lighter color Italian honey bee as being the actual pure Italian honey bee. However, making a claim with regards to the purity of a race based solely on the color is unrealistic and doesn’t have any scientific data to back it up. The purity of a race is determined by a morphological analysis. Moreover, the characteristics of the bee are influenced to a high degree by the environment. A bee that comes from an area with similar climate profile is likely to adapt faster and better.
Having said that, Romania’s climate characteristics are extremely similar to the area of the North-West Alps from Italy.
Apart from that, there is another variety of Italian honey bee, easily distinguished by its light yellow color. It was once called Aurea and now it goes by the name of Cordovan. The Cordovan was highly desirable for its esthetic look, but turned out to be far from profitable in practice.
We have to take into considerations all the differences between these varieties when talking about the qualities of the Italian honey bee.
Thus, 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
As far as drawbacks go, the strong brood rearing regardless of the nectar flow, along with a poorer sense of orientation mean that the Italian bee is more prone to drifting and robbing than other races. Please note that the orientation can be improved by a different disposal of the hives (we’ll have an in-depth article about this issue real soon).
The weaknesses of the Italian bee are present to a much higher degree in the case of the lighter color variety. It also has a larger consumption of stores. This is a very important aspect to take into account; certain sub-varieties are more suitable for a certain area than others. In America, New Zealand or Australia bees are widely used for pollination, so the selection was carried out for this purpose alone, so a high consumption of stores wasn’t really an issue.
Before criticizing a race, we must first select a sub-variety that suitable for the climate and our purpose. From our experience with the dark variety of the Italian honey bee, we can definitely state that it represents a unique combination of great traits from an economical and breeding point of view. Provided that the beekeeper takes into account its characteristics and works accordingly, the results will be spectacular.
Below you’ll find all the links to the articles from this mini-series:
- The Buckfast Honey Bee
- The Italian Honey Bee
- The Carniolan Honey Bee
- The Caucasian Honey Bee
- The Carpathian Honey Bee