What Is A Cordovan Bee? Quick Beekeeper’s Guide

Cordovan bees on a frame next to honeycomb

Cordovan bees are one of the easiest varieties to recognize thanks to their beautiful golden color. Not technically a race of their own, they are a subset of the Italian bee.

Are you trying to decide if Cordovans are a good option for beekeeping? Keep reading to discover their characteristics along with their pros and cons.

Characteristics of a Cordovan honey bee

The Cordovan is like an Italian bee, sharing the same characteristics. However, these traits are often more pronounced. While this means it has some useful strengths, it also has some shortcomings.

Gentle nature

Cordovans are an extremely gentle breed that is comparable to the Buckfast race. This makes them an excellent option for hobbyists and beekeeping beginners.

They are also popular with beekeeping schools and Universities. Their non-aggressive attitude makes inspections and observation much easier.

Cordovan workers are also relatively calm when it comes time to re-queen. The colony will accept a new queen quickly with less chance of her being killed. This makes for efficient beekeeping with less “hive downtime” waiting for the new queen to lay eggs.

Infographic showing the strengths of a Cordovan bee.

Prolific builders

In springtime the Cordovan queen bee is prolific, laying a lot of eggs fast. This allows the colony to build huge colonies by the time summer arrives. They are great pollinators and beekeepers making bee packages early in the season will appreciate this race.

Keep in mind, that Cordovan bees are a hungry breed tending to eat a lot of honey when foraging isn’t favorable.

Low swarming and high robbing tendency

While Cordovans don’t have a strong tendency to swarm, they are prone to robbing. A colony will quickly rob a nearby hive but won’t always defend its own home against outside bees.

Beekeepers may want to use an entrance reducer in times of nectar dearth to reduce the robbing.

Warm climate bees

Cordovan honey bees thrive in warmer weather. With their early spring buildup, they’re not as well suited to the northern parts of the United States. Whatever the climate, they need plenty of stores for winter as they’re not a frugal breed.   

Wherever Cordovans are kept, they are hygienic and work hard at keeping the hive clean and free from unwanted parasites and pests. 


A Cordovan bee is easy to spot thanks to its striking light-yellow body and less-defined stripes. They are often called golden or blonde bees. Unlike Italian bees which have a black head and legs, the Cordovan’s are burgundy or reddish-brown.

The queen has an even lighter-colored body which makes her easy to spot on frames. Beekeepers who enjoy spotting their queen will appreciate this distinction from other breeds.

This video shows the result of introducing a Cordovan queen into an established Carniolan hive. The color difference between each breed is easy to identify.

If the queen is replaced by the colony, you’ll easily discover if the replacement mates with drones of another race. The golden workers will soon become a darker shade, due to the Cordovan bee’s recessive genes. Africanized Cordovans will become much darker.  


  • Docile, non-aggressive bees that are easy to work with.
  • Build up brood fast in early spring.
  • Excellent for pollinating orchard trees and other crops.
  • Low tendency to swarm.
  • High standards of hive hygiene.
  • Great to look at and easy to spot the queen.
  • Quickly identify if the hive has been Africanized.


  • Tendency to rob other hives.
  • Doesn’t deal with varroa mites as well as the Russian breed.
  • The hive eats a lot of honey.
  • Aren’t ideally suited to cold climates.
  • Harder to find than Italian bees.
Containers of fresh honey next to a frame.
Cordovan bees produce a lot of honey if the conditions are right.

Commonly asked questions

Are Cordovan bees easy to buy?

Packages of Cordovan bees aren’t as commonly available for sale as other breeds like Italian and Russian. In areas like California and the Southeastern United States, you should be able to find local breeders. If you can’t find a seller, then try online or hope you get lucky and catch a swarm.  

Who created Cordovan honey bees?

Although we know how most bee races were created, the history of the Cordovan is unclear. They appear to have naturally deviated from the Italian strain for unknown reasons.   

How do I know if a Cordovan queen has been replaced?

A benefit of Cordovan honey bees is that you’ll quickly know if the queen has been replaced. The color of the young bees will soon change to a darker shade. That is unless the queen only mated with Cordovans. If this occurs, you may only know she’s been replaced if the previous one was marked. 

Are Cordovans used for commercial use?

Although some commercial apiaries use Cordovans in the United States, they are mostly used by hobbyist beekeepers in other parts of the world.

Where does the name Cordovan come from?

“Cordovan” is a type of leather produced in Spain that has a unique reddish-purple color. Cordovan bees have a similar colored head and legs, which is where the name comes from.

Summing up

The Cordovan bee isn’t technically its own race of honey bee. It’s a subset of the Italian bee and shares similar traits.

Beekeepers in the southern states looking for calm bees that are easy to work with should consider Cordovans. They’re lovely looking bees that are prolific builders in early spring.

While they have a healthy appetite, if the foraging conditions are good, beekeepers should be rewarded with plenty of honey. These are also some of the best bees for pollination or for making bee packages early in spring.

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