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The Carniolan Honey Bee: Everything You Need to Know

Did you know that honey bees come in many different subspecies?

As some of the first domesticated insects, they have been selectively bred for certain characteristics that beekeepers are looking for. As a result, there are many different kinds of honey bees with their own unique physical characteristics and behaviors.

One of these subspecies is the Carniolan honey bee. They have special adaptations and qualities that are becoming more and more popular with beekeepers.

Learn all about the Carniolan honey bee, what they look like, how they behave, and what makes them so special.

Carniolan Honey Bee

What Is the Carniolan Honey Bee?

Carniolan honey bees, or “Carnies” as they’re sometimes called, are a subspecies of the Western honey bee that was first designated in 1879.

They’re overall similar to their relatives, but many beekeepers consider them a superior breed due to small but significant differences.

Carniolan honey bees are the same size and have the same markings as other honey bees, but they’re lighter and more gray in color. This is why they’re sometimes referred to as the “grey bee”. Instead of the brighter yellow that contrasts with black stripes, their colors are a bit more muted.

Carniolans are able to crossbreed with other subspecies, and they will if there are other colonies are nearby. For most hobby beekeepers, this means they won’t have “pure” Carniolan honey bees for very long. Queens and drones aren’t concerned about exclusively mating with other bees of the same breed.

Where They Come From

Carniolans were originally naturalized in parts of Slovenia once known as Carniola and the surrounding area.

This includes the southern Austrian Alps and northern Balkans. As a result, this subspecies tends to be naturally better suited for colder climates than other bees.

What Beekeepers Love About Carniolan Honey Bees

After Italian honey bees, Carniolan honey bees are the second most popular breed among beekeepers.

This is because they have a lot of great benefits in their behavior, honey production, and hardiness.

Hive Defense

Carniolans are good at protecting the hive from intruders and assessing threats. This makes them less prone to “robbing,” or stealing of resources, by wasps and other bees.

Carniolan Honey Bees

They’re also more loyal to their colony. It’s not uncommon for bees to “drift” over to another nearby colony and join it, but Carniolans seem to remain dedicated to their birth hive. They have a better ability to orient to their hive’s location, which may be part of their loyalty.

Easy to Work With

Beekeepers know and appreciate the difference between friendly and aggressive hives. A friendlier colony is much easier to work with when you aren’t constantly puffing smoke at all the guard bees who are dead set on stinging you. You never forget that first painful sting!

Carniolan honey bees are known for being very docile and generally aren’t very aggressive toward beekeepers. They typically remain calm during hive inspections and stings are less common.

This also makes them a great breed to keep in more populated areas where the bees can easily visit the neighbors. While it’s unlikely that foragers will sting when they’re out and about, it offers more peace of mind. You probably won’t have angry neighbors knocking at your door claiming your bees are stinging and chasing them.

It’s always best to wear protective gear like a veil, gloves, and a bee suit, but many experienced beekeepers prefer not to for a variety of reasons. It’s a lot easier to work the bees with less equipment when they’re naturally calm.

Adaptable and Hardy

Carniolan honey bees are able to adjust their population depending on the availability of resources. They’ll raise less brood if there isn’t much to forage, and they can make more workers very quickly during a nectar flow.

They also adapt well to environmental changes, both in weather and rationing food. They know to consume their supplies more slowly during the winter. Carniolans can survive in colder temperatures and don’t need as large of a population to stay warm through winter.

Where many honey bees can’t go out to forage when it gets cold and wet, these workers can tolerate less ideal conditions. That gives them more opportunities to gather nectar and pollen.

Carniolan Honey Bee in WInter

Carniolan honey bees are especially popular among beekeepers who live in areas that get really cold winters. Getting a colony through winter can be tough because they’re sensitive to lower temperatures, so a honey bee that can tolerate that is more likely to survive.

Carniolans can even live longer than other subspecies, and they have natural pest and disease resistance. This is a major advantage for beekeepers because keeping honey bees healthy can be a very complex and fragile process. There’s no shortage of parasites and viruses that can easily ravage a colony.

Highly Productive

Carniolan honey bees are able to produce a lot of honey, and this helps them get through winter more easily. Honey bees rely on their honey stores to feed them when they’re stuck in the hive, and they need to have enough to last until spring.

This is partly because they’re better suited to a wider range of foraging conditions. They can start earlier and stay out later in addition to flying in less desirable weather. They can also continue working when other subspecies would already have formed their winter cluster, extending their season.

Carniolan Honey Bees

Of course, beekeepers love Carniolan honey bees for their productivity. Only surplus honey can be harvested, and these honey bees will more reliably make more than enough.

Carniolan Honey Bees Are a Great Choice

While all subspecies of honey bees work hard for their colony, the Carniolan honey bee is very popular for a reason. They go above and beyond with their superior ability to adapt to just about anything they encounter.

If you’re looking to make hive inspections a good experience with friendlier, more gentle bees, Carniolan honey bees are a great choice. Even better, they aren’t as prone to many of the issues that often devastate other hives.

Interested in learning more about these miraculous pollinators? Visit my bees page to learn all about the different roles within the beehive, different bee species, beekeeping, and more!