Honey bees are one of the first domesticated insects, and many regions have native honey bees that evolved and adapted to specific conditions. The Caucasian honey bee is a perfect example of this. Their origins make them well-suited to certain parameters.
For many beekeepers, they’re a very appealing and popular choice of honey bee to keep both commercially and in backyard apiaries. Keep reading to learn all about Caucasian honey bees, pros and cons of keeping them compared to other breeds, and where they come from.
What Is a Caucasian Honey Bee?
The Caucasian honey bee, or Apis mellifera caucasia, is a subspecies of the Western honey bee.
They are considered an Old World genetic strain of honey bee due to when and how they originally evolved.
They are also sometimes referred to as the Georgian honey bee because of where they originate from.
Where the Caucasian Honey Bee Comes From
Caucasian honey bees originally lived in the high valleys of Central Caucasus, the area that spans from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.
This region includes Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijian, eastern Turkey, and parts of Russia.
Where to Find Caucasian Honey Bees Today
The Caucasian honey bee was brought to the United States in the 19th century and has grown in popularity.
Today, this subspecies can be found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. They are commonly sold in packages or nucleus colonies by beekeeping companies. While Italian honey bees and others have them beat in popularity, they’re still very easy to find.
Specific Traits of the Caucasian Honey Bee
Caucasian honey bees are not quite as popular as other breeds but have been carefully preserved over time. While other breeds may be more common, they are still considered very common.
These honey bees have many beneficial attributes that beekeepers want. In many respects, they’re fairly similar to the Carniolan honey bee.
Caucasian honey bees are of average size compared to their relatives and have the same body type.
They typically have dark coloring, sometimes with brown spots, and grey hairs. This is one area in which they differ from the more classic honey bee look of black and yellow stripes.
One of their biggest advantages over other honey bee species is that they have the longest proboscis, or tongue, of any other breed. This allows them to reach further into flowers where nectar may be hidden deeper down and otherwise out of reach.
Beekeepers love Caucasian honey bees because they’re known to be more docile and gentle during hive inspections. They’re less likely to attack and get upset.
They’re also prolific at raising brood, building their population quickly. Their populations reach their height in mid-summer, which can be good or bad depending on the nectar flow in a specific area.
Caucasian bees make a lot of propolis which is good for the hive and can be harvested. However, it can sometimes make inspections more difficult.
Honey bees use propolis to seal up any gaps in the hive, especially after inspections. It’s so sticky that it can be a bit harder to get the hive opened up and separate each of the components when the bees make a lot of it.
Caucasian honey bees are sometimes prone to robbing from nearby colonies and wasps. It’s also not unusual for workers from one hive to “drift” to other hives.
They’re known to make more honey than German bees, so they’re very productive. They will typically completely fill a frame with honey before moving to the next one instead of leaving a lot of empty cells.
One of the reasons Caucasians are so sought after is that they tend to create strong colonies overall.
While they can be prone to the fungal infection nosema in some areas, they’re also less susceptible to certain pesticides. This is a huge benefit for apiaries that might be located in areas where there is a higher chance of pesticide use.
These bees are well-adapted to cooler temperatures. They’re able to start flying earlier in the day, finish later, and can work and forage in colder weather than many of their relatives.
This also means they only need a small cluster to get through winter. They will adapt their brood numbers depending on their resources, so they probably won’t end up part of the way through winter with nothing left to eat in the hive.
They’re also very hygienic and sanitary, which helps them maintain better disease and pest resistance.
Something very unique about Caucasian honey bees is that they are capable of making honey that’s very different from most other bees.
Locally called deli bal, mad honey is honey made from the nectar of rhododendron flowers. This nectar contains a neurotoxin that is harmless to the bees but does make its way into their honey.
Turkish beekeepers will set up hives near rhododendrons to intentionally make this specific type of neurotoxic honey. It has hallucinogenic effects and can even be fatal if too much of it is consumed.
Traditionally, mad honey is used for its medicinal and recreational benefits. It’s also become highly prized as an extremely specialized honey product.
Caucasian Honey Bees Are a Great Addition to Your Apiary
If you’re a beekeeper looking for a new breed of honey bees to introduce to your apiary, Caucasian bees are a great choice.
There’s no shortage of fans for this subspecies, and it’s easy to see why. They’re well-loved for their calm demeanor, cold-weather tolerance, and exceptional honey production.
If you’re lucky enough to find it, mad honey is definitely a completely unique kind of honey that’s not commonly known about.
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!