Over the years several subspecies of Apis Mellifera have been introduced to Australia:When describing the characteristics of the different sub-species, what is said about one sub-species can be equally valid for any of the others. A generalisation cannot be made.As an example, a general statement that Italian bees are inclined to swarm and Caucasian bees are not, would be wrong. All healthy bee colonies are inclined to swarm when conditions are good for starting a new colony, as this is their natural way of reproduction. Interacting with bees, after some time you will realise each colony is different, has its own characteristics, even when their queens are raised from the same mother.
The Italian honeybee, also called Ligurian Bee, originates from Italy and has first been introduced to Australia in 1862. It is the most commonly kept sub-species throughout the world and has proved adaptable to most climates from subtropical to cool temperatures. Having been conditioned to the warmer climate of the central Mediterranean, they do not form such tight winter clusters. More food has to be consumed to compensate for the greater heat loss from the loose cluster. The tendency to raise brood late in autumn also increases food consumption. The Italian bee is light coloured and mostly leather coloured; some strains are golden. Queens vary in colour from leathery brown to orange, which makes them comparatively easy to find in the hive.Desirable characteristics:They have a reputation for gentleness. They are hard workers and very prolific breeders.Undesirable characteristics:The most undesirable characteristic is an unusually high consumption of stores. Colonies tend to maintain larger populations through winter, so they require more winter stores (or feeding) than other sub-species.
The Carniolan Honeybee is the most popular among beekeepers in Europe. The Carniolan tends to be quite dark in colour. It is a mountain bee in its native range (Carniola region of Slovenia, the southern part of the Austrian Alps, and northern Balkans) and is a good bee for colder climates. Worker bees have grey-white bands round the abdomen. Queens are black and therefore more difficult to find. They are 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 subspeciesDesirable characteristics:Keeping a moderate strength colony; the colonies are known to shrink to small populations over winter and build very quickly in spring. Considered to be gentle and non-aggressive. Can be kept in populated areas. Sense of orientation considered better than the Italian honeybee. Able to overwinter in smaller numbers of winter bees; honey stores are conserved. Able to quickly adapt to changes in the environment. Rhythm of brood production very steep. Brood rearing is reduced when available forage decreases. Low use of propolis. Resistant to brood diseases.Undesirable characteristics:More prone to swarming if overcrowded. Low ability to thrive in hot summer weather. Strength of broodnest more dependent on availability of pollen.
The Caucasian Honeybee originates from the eastern end of the Black sea coast. These bees are noteworthy for the length of their tongue (proboscis), being the longest of all the mellifera species. They are lead-gray in colour and very gentle. Their spring development is slower than the other sub-species but they build up strong colonies during summer and produce much honey. Drones have dark hair and queens are dark and hard to find. Some strains are excessive propolizers, in some cases building walls of propolis at the entrance to modify the size to their liking.Desirable characteristics:This sub-species is regarded as being gentle and calm on the comb. They raise strong colonies, reaching full strength in mid-summer. Very great producers of propolis. Strong honey producers.Undesirable characteristics:The Caucasian honeybee has a lower resistance to Nosema Apis than the other sub-species and therefore don't winter well in colder climates. Colonies do not reach full strength until mid-summer, which is an undesirable trait for areas with the highest nectar flow in the spring. The great production of propolis may be seen as undesirable as it makes hive management more difficult; frames and hive boxes are glued together. They are inclined to drifting and robbing the weak colonies.
The European Dark Bee originates from the northern part of Europe. It can be distinguished from other subspecies by their stocky body, abundant thoracal and sparse abdominal hair which is brown. Overall dark coloration of the wing veins are nowadays considered to be the only reliable distinguishing character. Some colonies are very "runny" on the comb and so excitable that beekeepers consider them difficult to work with. This characteristic is not, however, one that has been traditionally associated with the dark bee breeds, which were previously known for their rather easy handling (though they have never been considered as placid as the Carniolan honey bee). It is no longer a significant commercial subspecies of the Western honey bee, but there are a number of dedicated hobbyist beekeepers that keep these bees in Europe and other parts of the world. Dedicated breeders and research facilities are today working on preserving and spreading what could be saved from the original stocks. There are only a handful of colonies present in Germany, but larger numbers have survived in Norway, the Alps and Poland and Belgium.SICAMM was founded in 1995 by beekeepers and scientists as an international association devoted to the protection of the European dark honeybee.Desirable characteristics:Significant winter hardiness, defensive against invaders i.e. wasps, high longevity of the worker bees and queen, excellent flight strength even in cold weather, higher resistance against varroa due to better grooming characteristics.Undesirable characteristics:Hybrids have a defensive character and have the reputation of stinging people (and other creatures) for no apparent reason.
Buckfast Bees have allegedly also been imported to Australia at some stage. However, today no bee queen breeder in Australia is known for keeping Buckfast Bees.The Buckfast bee is a man-made strain of honeybee. It is a cross of many strains of bees, developed by "Brother Adam", who was in charge of beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey in the United Kingdom, where the bees are still bred today. WikipediaUnfortunately the legendary Buckfast bee is no longer a reality at the Abbey and they are using Carniolans. [source]Desirable characteristics:Low incidence of chalkbrood and wax moths due to good housecleaning techniques. Very hygienic. Build up rapidly once started. Produce little propolis/brace comb. Does well in cold/wet spring.Undesirable characteristics:Low amount of brood during winter. Possibility of second-generation defensiveness if not requeened (may be from Africanized genes introduced).
Any of the mentioned sub-species are hard to find in their pure form since the introduction of Australian quarantine regulations. Due to the mild climate and pockets of almost undisturbed nature, as well as plenty of nesting places in residential areas, the number of feral bee colonies in Australia is fairly high, especially in residential areas, offering the flora variety of residential gardens. It is therefore not surprising that most of the common pollination is performed by feral bees here in Australia.Since European honeybees were introduced to Australia, those colonies that have escaped (swarmed) have multiplied and one might think that 150 years of cross-breeding in nature has resulted in a new sub-species, derived from the introduced European honeybee species. The Australian Honeybee of European descent? Hybrids or simply Mongrels.Unless queen breeders rear their queens in strict isolation, drones of those feral (liberated) colonies make their contributions to the gene pool when virgin queens are out and about to mate. On their mating flights queen bees mate with up to twelve different drones, it is therefore not surprising to find bee colonies with bees of different subspecies, different size and colours; they all have the same mother but different fathers.Characteristics: To be determined on a case by case basis.