Caucasian Honey Bee: Apis mellifera caucasia
The Caucasian honey bee originates from near the Black Sea in the valleys of the Caucasian Mountains. This region experiences weather extremes which have made the local bees adaptable to harsh weather.
Caucasian honey bee characteristics
Caucasian bees are a calm and gentle race and are a good option for beginner beekeepers. Initial inspections, which can be a source of anxiety, should be relatively stress-free. But these bees are no pushover; they’ll defend their food sources from threats if needed. You may also want to check out our guide to Cordovan bees if you want docile bees that are easy to work with.
Unlike other breeds, the Caucasian doesn’t release apitoxin when it uses its stinger. That means, if you or an unsuspecting animal happen to get stung, it won’t set off alarm bells. Other bees that are nearby won’t also go on the attack.
Of all the bee races, the Caucasian takes the award for the longest proboscis. This is the insect’s tongue, which can measure up to 7.3mm. Deep tube flowers are easy game for this bee. However, size doesn’t appear to offer a huge advantage. This bee isn’t usually as productive as the Italian, Africanized, or Russian honey bees.
Caucasians are a mountain bee, so they store honey near their brood. They also won’t start building out new comb until the current one is completely full. That’s a useful benefit for beekeepers as there won’t be partially filled comb at harvest time.
These bees don’t have problems dealing with cold weather. Their hardy nature makes them ideal for winterizing in America’s northern states, Canada, and parts of Europe that experience cold winters.
Caucasian honey bees are a tough race that can tolerate light rain without wing damage. They can also fly in fog, thanks to a heightened navigation system. Urban beekeepers looking to keep bees amongst high rises may want to consider these bees. Their ability to find their way through mountains will help them find the hive in challenging urban landscapes.
Beekeepers are less likely to experience aggressive behavior from Caucasians. But that doesn’t make them an easy breed to work with. Below are some potential disadvantages of using them.
- Messy builders: they are avid producers of propolis and burr comb and use them extensively for patching up hive openings. Expect to clean up a lot of sticky messes, especially if your hive doesn’t observe appropriate bee space.
- Disease prone: beekeepers often report these bees having poor resistance to Nosema disease. Taking preventative steps like avoiding cool, shady, damp sites for the hives is advised.
- Tendency to rob: Caucasians may be a harmonious race of bees but that doesn’t stop them from robbing honey from other hives. If you manage multiple hives, they may descend into lawless chaos at times. These bees also tend to drift.
- Hard to find: they’re not as popular as they were in the 1900s mostly due to the other challenges mentioned in this list. Finding pure Caucasians is difficult in many areas.
The Caucasian queen bee
Caucasian queen bees have a similar temperament to the rest of the colony. They are typically well-natured with low aggression levels.
The queen is one of the most productive on offer and is often compared to the Carniolan queen for its prolific character traits. You can learn more about Carniolan bees here.
Some European bee races have queens that take up to 3 days to assimilate with a new hive. However, a Caucasian queen will have settled into her new conditions within 1-2 hours.
In some cases, two queens will co-inhabit a single hive! This would never occur in most other common bee breeds.
9 facts about Caucasian bees
- Caucasians are an Old World strain that was introduced to the U.K. in 1926 by Mountain Grey Apiaries.
- They mostly have dark bodies with gray bands although some are silver-gray.
- They’re extremely agile, strong bees that can fly long distances and form strong colonies.
- Brood rearing starts late in the season.
- Produce the highest amount of honey during nectar dearths and bad weather where other bees will remain sheltering in their hive.
- They have a low tendency to swarm which is also a trait of Buckfast honey bees.
- Possess a type of blood group and tissue that is unique to their race.
- Better able to withstand American foulbrood.
- They’re excellent pollinators, visiting different plants on the same foraging trip. No other race of bee can pollinate all legumes species as well as the Caucasian worker bee.
Caucasian bee vs Italian bee – what’s the difference?
Italian bees are popular amongst beekeepers in the United States for their docile behavior and propensity to forage well. They build large colonies and produce a lot of honey. Caucasian bees are also non-aggressive and adapt well to cooler weather. They aren’t as productive as Italian bees and build messy hives which require more work from the beekeeper.
Russian vs. Caucasian bees – how do they differ?
Russian and Caucasian bees both have a gentle temperament and can adapt well to cold weather. However, Caucasians are less productive and build a lot more burr comb and propolis that needs to be cleaned up regularly. Russian bees are a much more popular option with beekeepers than the Caucasian.
Are Caucasian bees any good?
Caucasian bees are a passive, hard-working race that are a good option for beginner beekeepers. The hive can get a bit messy, so be prepared at every inspection with a hive tool. Of course, propolis isn’t all bad! It’s super-useful for winterizing the hive and keeping unwanted breezes and pests out.
Caucasians are also a good option if you live in a cold and wet climate. They can handle relatively low temperatures and light rain. This breed will start foraging earlier in the season and keep going later than most.