While there is only one species of honeybee in North America, there are several races of honey bee. In reality, most honeybees in our area are a mix of several races (mutts) since the Queen bee can mate with drones of different races during her mating flight. Although all honeybees pollinate, eat pollen and nectar and sting as a defensive act, the races have subtle differences.
The Italian honey bee is the most common honeybee and the one most often kept by beekeepers. The lightly colored bee builds the colony in the spring and maintains the large population through the summer. They are among the best honey producers. Because they have large populations, they need large stores of food to survive the winter. They are fairly gentle but do have a tendency to rob other hives.
The Carniolan honey bee is a little darker in color than the Italian. They have a very calm, gentle temperament. They quickly build population early. Because they originate from the higher regions of Eastern Europe will forage on cooler, wetter days than the Italians. They are less likely to rob but more likely to swarm than the Italian. The Carniolan over-winters with a smaller population so they need less stores to survive.
The Buckfast Bee is actually a hybrid bred by Brother Adam, an English Monk. They build quickly in spring and are good honey producers. They are also less likely to swarm than other types. There are two sources for the Buckfast Bee. The Canadian/Denmark stock has a lot of very good traits for disease resistance, overwintering, calm nature and honey production. It is a favorite among experienced beekeepers. Other strains can be more defensive. making them less desirable for the backyard beekeeper. When considering the Buckfast Bee it is important to determine which strain your provider offers
The Russian honeybee is a relative newcomer to North America imported from far Eastern Russia by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture because of their resistance to the varroa mite and their ability to do well in cooler climates. Like the Carniolan they over-winter with a smaller population but they are slower to build up in spring. They also have a greater tendency to swarm and tend to be more aggressive. They do better when not in the presence of other bee types as their resistance to the varroa is lessened by cross breeding.
The Caucasian was imported from the Caucus region near the Caspian Sea in Eastern Europe. Because they have a longer tongue, they are able to extract honey from deeper blossoms. Some consider them to be the gentlest race of bee. They are not as good honey producers as the Italian. They have a tendency to produce a large amount of a sticky propolis making it a challenge sticky to work their hive.
The German bee or "black bee" was one of the early types brought to North America. The type is very dark in color and is very hardy for colder climates. However, due to it's very defensive nature it lost favor with beekeepers and although many feral bees today may still have some German lines, it very rare to find stock today.
Selecting the right bee for you depends on the characteristics that best fit your situation.