What Are Carniolan Bees? A Beekeeper’s Guide

Carniolan bees crawling on a frame

Carniolan honey bee: Apis mellifera carnica

Carniolans are a subspecies of the western honey bee, native to the Carniola region of Slovenia. They’re a popular choice with hobbyist beekeepers in Europe, Australia, and North America.

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

Characteristics of a Carniolan honey bee

Carniolans are generally good-natured bees that are ideal for beginners. They are hard-working, adapt well to foraging conditions, and have good pest resistance. A hive of Carniolan bees will grow fast when surrounded with abundant food sources, so space should be closely monitored to avoid swarming.

Gentle nature

The Carniolan bee is a gentle breed that’s a great option for hobbyists or newcomers to beekeeping. They tend to accept inspections without becoming overly aggressive, although a little smoke is usually needed.

Bee breeds vary, but you’ll typically find Buckfast and Cordovan bees exhibit less aggressiveness.

Carniolan beehives are relatively calm when it comes time to re-queen. The colony usually accepts the new queen quickly with less chance of her being killed. This trait results in more efficient beekeeping as there is reduced “hive downtime” waiting for the new queen to lay eggs.

If you’re interested in more choices of docile bees, be sure to check out these types of bee breeds. We look at a range of bee races, some friendlier than others!

Beekeeper in suit holding up a frame covered in Carniolan bees
The Carniolan breed is popular with beekeepers

Excellent foragers

The Carniolan bee bursts into action in early spring, heading out in search of foraging resources. While most other races of bees stay within the hive, this bee is quick to start building brood and honeycomb.

Aided by an impressively long tongue, the Carniolan gets access to nectar stored in hard-to-reach flowers and clover. When foraging conditions are good, their colony will thrive.

Carniolans will appeal to beekeepers living in areas where winters arrive early. They’ll have a head start on the other breeds with foraging, and are likely to be better prepared for winter.

Tip: Check out our super-popular article on bee races to find out what’s the right breed for your hives.

Good pest resistance

Parasites like varroa and tracheal mites are an ongoing problem for beekeepers worldwide. If left unchecked, they can take down a hive and cause the remaining survivors to abscond. Learn more about tracheal mites here.

Carniolan honey bees have good resistance to parasites and some diseases. They defend their hive aggressively against threats from arachnids and other parasitic insects. Beekeepers will still need to inspect their hives periodically and mite treatments are often required.

Carniolan honey bees at the entrance of a hive
Carnies defend their hive from pests aggressively.

Adaptable to conditions

Carniolans react swiftly to changed foraging conditions. As nectar availability rises, they will quickly increase their worker population to take advantage of the excess. This means the colony will often have sizeable pollen and honey reserves by summer.

During a nectar dearth and as winter approaches Carniolans reduce brood production to a bare minimum. They’ll overwinter with a small hive, allowing them to take a frugal approach to the stored honey. A small colony means fewer mouths to feed.

Tendency to swarm

Carniolan bees are prone to swarming which can be frustrating for beekeepers who will lose significant bees and honey. This behavior often happens during spring buildup. They grow so rapidly that the hive must move to a new home.

Beekeepers who decide to use Carniolan bees will need an active, hands-on approach. Regular inspections are essential during nectar flow and extra brood boxes or supers should be added early before the hive gets crowded.

A swarm of Carniolan bees.
Carniolan bees have a tendency to swarm.


Carniolan bees are typically dark brown or grayish with light brown bands. They are sometimes referred to as grey bees because of their abdomen’s color.

Carniolans are about the same size as the Italian honey bee, with a disproportionate tongue that can measure up to 6.7mm. They also have short hair and high elbow joints relative to other bee races.

How to operate a Carniolan hive

Carniolan bees are fairly easy to manage, and they aren’t big users of propolis, so there’s less cleaning up involved. Although this breed of bees is considered non-aggressive, they are usually more defensive than Italian bees. Smoke is usually required before getting to work.

Spring buildup can be a busy time for Carniolan beekeepers. Check the hive often to ensure the hive has sufficient space.


  • One of the first bee breeds to start foraging in early spring.
  • Non-aggressive bees most of the time.
  • Quickly increase or reduce brood production as required.
  • Good resistance to mites, small hive beetle, and some diseases.
  • Frugal users of honey stocks in winter.
  • Spend longer each day foraging, even in bad weather.
  • Don’t tend to drift or rob like some bee races.
  • Suitable for urban areas if managed properly.


  • Aren’t happy dealing with long, hot summers.
  • Tendency to swarm as they can quickly outgrow their space.
  • Often need supplemental feeding in early spring.
  • Queen can be difficult to spot if she isn’t marked.

5 fast facts

  1. Carniolans are also known as Carnies.
  2. The scientific name for the Carniolan honey bee is Apis mellifera carnica.
  3. It is a subspecies of the Western honey bee.
  4. The Carniolan is native to Kočevje, a sub-region of Carniola in Slovenia.
  5. The race is also naturalized in Croatia, Serbia, Austria, Hungary, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Bulgaria.

Commonly asked questions

What is the difference between Italian and Carniolan bees?

Both bee races are excellent options, building big hives in the right conditions and providing good honey at harvest. Beekeepers may find Italian bees are a little less aggressive and have a lower tendency to swarm. Carniolans manage pests more aggressively, work longer in the day, and start foraging earlier in spring than Italian honey bees.

Are Carniolan bees aggressive?

While Carniolan bees may be slightly more aggressive than Italian and Buckfast bees, they are less defensive than the Russian breed and much more friendly than Africanized honey bees.

How do you keep Carniolan bees from swarming?

Carniolan bees swarm because they build comb fast and run out of room. If beekeepers keep a close eye on the hive’s available space, they should be able to reduce swarms.

Buckfast vs. Carniolan bees – how do they compare?

While both bee races are good honey producers, Carniolans are more likely to swarm and have a bit more aggression. Buckfast bees have a relatively mild spring buildup and don’t capitalize on the early spring blooms as well as Carnies.

Summing up

Carniolan honey bees are a popular choice of breed in many parts of the world. They are good workers that provide a lot of honey for beekeepers. In the right conditions, it’s hard to fault Carniolans. Their weaknesses can mostly be kept in check with good beekeeping practices.

If you’re looking at different races of bees, you may want to research the Caucasian honey bee. They’re also a good option if you can find a supplier in your area.

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