Most people don’t realize that there are several different types of honey bees out there, which can make starting your hive a confusing process. You may have thought all honey bees were the same, but different species have specific traits and characteristics. Some species produce more honey, bigger hives, and some are more aggressive. Choose a species depending on your personal preferences. Most beekeepers in the US use Italian or Carniolan bees, and these are the species we carry at C-A-L Ranch. Each has its pros and cons.

Italian Honey Bees

Italian honey bee

An Italian hive will build its population early in the spring and maintain strong numbers throughout the summer, but their hive dwindle in the winter. This means that your bees will build a strong store of honey earlier in the season, maintain it through the summer, and require less food to keep them alive during the winter. Italians can be aggressive during the spring but tend to calm down later in the year; they’re known as one of the gentler bee species.

A drawback to the Italian honey bee family: they wander. These bees have poor orientation, meaning they will drift to other colonies to steal honey. This wandering, honey-stealing tendency can spread disase between hives.

Carniolan Honey Bees

carniolan honey bee

Carniolans will increase their brood size early and rapidly in the spring (more than Italians) and carry a large population through the active season. This leaves them prone to swarming. While a large hive may seem overwhelming, these bees are actually gentler than Italians, meaning they require less smoke and protection. Carniolans don’t have the same tendency to wander as Italians, which means they are less likely to spread disease. They also have an above-average honey production.

On the downside, Carniolans enter winter with a large population, meaning you’ll need to provide them with more food throughout the cooler months.


For more information on the differences between Italian and Carniolan bees, check out these articles.