I am more and more favouring the Carniolan bee as my preferred sub species of the honey bee, and am in the process of changing all my queens to Carniolans by raising my own.

Origin

The Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica) honey bee is the subspecies of the Western honey bee that has naturalized and adapted to the Kočevje (Gottschee) sub-region of Carniola (Slovenia), the southern part of the Austrian Alps, Dinarides region, southern Pannonian plain and the northern Balkans. These bees are known as Carniolans, or “Carnies” for short, in English. At present this subspecies is the second most popular among beekeepers (after the Italian bee). Carniolan bees are dark with brown spots or bands on their abdomen. They’re slightly smaller than other races of bees, but that doesn’t seem to correlate to their ability to forage and bring pollen and nectar stores back to the hive.

Carniolan (Carnica) bees can also come from the Austrian Alps, Yugoslavia, and Danube Valley regions. They can be found across much of Eastern Europe including Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Qualities

It is favored among beekeepers for several reasons, not the least being its ability to defend itself successfully against insect pests while at the same time being extremely gentle in its behavior toward beekeepers.

These bees are particularly adept at adjusting worker population to nectar availability. It relies on these rapid adjustments of population levels to rapidly expand worker bee populations after nectar becomes available in the spring, and, again, to rapidly cut off brood production when nectar ceases to be available in quantity. It meets periods of high nectar with high worker populations and consequently stores large quantities of honey and pollen during those periods. They are resistant to some diseases and parasites that can debilitate hives of other subspecies.

Anatomy and Appearance

Carniolan honey bees are about the same size as the Italian honey bee, but they are physically distinguished by their generally dusky brown-grey color that is relieved by stripes of a subdued lighter brown color. Their chitin is dark, but it is possible to find lighter colored or brown colored rings and dots on their bodies. They are also known as the “grey bee”.

Carnica_bee_on_Hylotelephium_'Herbstfreude'.jpg
Carnica bee on Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ with pollen basket
Biene_auf_Großer_Fetthenne_06.09.11_IMG_9734c.jpg
Carnica bee on Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’

Carniolan bees are nearly as big and long as the Western European black bees, though their abdomens are much slimmer. Furthermore, the Carniolan bee has a very long tongue (6.5 to 6.7 mm, which is very well adapted for clover), a very high elbow joint and very short hair.

Character and Behaviour

Strengths

  • Considered to be gentle and non-aggressive
  • Can be kept in populated areas
  • Sense of orientation considered better than the Italian honey bee
  • Less drifting of bees from one hive to a neighboring hive
  • When compared to the Italian honey bee, they are not as prone to rob honey
  • Able to overwinter in smaller numbers of winter bees
  • Honey stores are conserved
  • Able to quickly adapt to changes in the environment
  • Better for areas with long winters
  • Fast rhythm of brood production and then brood rearing reduction when available forage decreases
  • Low use of propolis
  • Resistant to brood diseases
  • For areas with strong spring nectar flow and early pollination
  • Forage earlier in the morning and later in the evening, and on cool, wet days
  • Workers live up to 12% longer than other breeds

Weaknesses

  • More prone to swarming if overcrowded
  • Low ability to thrive in hot summer weather
  • Strength of broodnest more dependent on availability of pollen
  • Unless marked the dark queen is difficult to find

Carniolans need beekeepers to pay more attention to swarm prevention and control as they are more prone to swarming than other sub species, but are well worth the effort, particularly if (like me) you have hives in your (or someone else) back garden.

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