Best Bee Breeds For Beginners

‘What is the best type of bee for a beginner?’ It’s a question often asked by people wanting their own bees.

Getting your first beehive is exciting and a bit frightening at the same time. You want to learn to manage your bees well and enjoy the experience.

The thing is, it’s easier to enjoy your experience if your colony is calm. If they’re aggressive, it can be difficult to inspect a hive and make it more daunting to learn.

Group of worker bees climbing on top of one another

When it comes to buying your first bees, the queen is the most important thing to consider. That’s because the queen determines the temperament of your bees by passing on her genetic traits.

You want your bees to be calm, healthy and produce honey. So what breed of queen bees will give those qualities to your colony?

Let’s look at the different races of honey bees sold by queen breeders, and their characteristics, to help you decide which one is right for you.

How Many Races Of Honey Bee Can You Buy?

In the U.S. there are several races (subspecies) of Western honey bees available. The most common ones are Caucasian, Carniolan, Italian, Russian and Buckfast.

In Australia, there are primarily three races (or subspecies) of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) offered for sale by queen breeders.

I’ll briefly describe each of these bee subspecies and outline the advantages and disadvantages of each.


Caucasian bees (Apis mellifera caucasia) originate from the Caucasus Mountain area stretching between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, at the intersection between Asia and Europe. They are grey to yellowish in color.

Advantages Of The Caucasian Honey Bee

  • Caucasian bees have the longest tongue, or proboscis, that allows them to draw nectar from both deep and shallow blossoms.
  • They are very calm and gentle to work with and an ideal choice for a beginner beekeeper.
  • They are very productive, being excellent nectar collectors.
  • Caucasian bees will collect nectar during cool weather too and will survive winters well.

Disadvantages Of The Caucasian Honey Bee

  • Caucasian bees tend to build a lot of propolis, or ‘bee glue’ that makes it harder for you to separate frames while inspecting your hive.


Carniolan bees (Apis mellifera carnica) come from southeastern Europe, from the regions of southern Austria, Slovenia and parts of Croatia and Bosnia. They are grey to black in color.

Advantages Of The Carniolan Honey Bee

  • Carniolan bees are calm and easy to manage and therefore an excellent choice if you live in a populated area.
  • They are excellent nectar and pollen collectors.
  • They are hardy bees that overwinter well.
  • Carniolan bees begin nectar collection earlier in the day than some other races.
  • As Carniolan bees come from a cool, wet climate, they are used to foraging during cooler weather.
  • They show better resistance to Nosema disease and the tracheal mite than some other subspecies.

Disadvantages Of The Carniolan Honey Bee

  • Carniolan bees have a tendency to swarm more readily than other races.


Italian bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) originate from Italy and are usually golden in color with different shades of black stripes. Italian bees are probably the most popular race of bee for backyard beekeepers.

Advantages Of The Italian Honey Bee

  • Italian bees are generally quiet and gentle on the combs, making them easier for you to manage.
  • They are excellent at collecting nectar and storing it as honey.
  • They build up large numbers, which increases their ability to collect available nectar.
  • Italian bees don’t have a tendency to swarm as much as some other races.
  • The Italian bee survives winter well if there are enough food reserves.

Disadvantages Of The Italian Honey Bee

  • Because of their tendency to build a large population, Italian bees may starve over winter if there aren’t enough stores of honey and pollen.
  • Italian bees are more likely to rob hives than other subspecies mentioned here.


Russian bees originated from the Primorsky Krai region of Russia, and were imported into the U.S. in 1997 because of declining bee populations caused by an infestation of parasitic mites. They can be a variety of colors, from black to brown.

Advantages Of The Russian Honey Bee

  • Russian bees are excellent honey collectors.
  • They begin collecting nectar earlier than some of the other races of bees mentioned here.
  • They build up numbers quickly when nectar becomes available.
  • Russian bees are more resistant to the tracheal and the varroa mite, although preventative treatment against these pests should still be undertaken.
  • Russian bees overwinter well.

Disadvantages Of The Russian Honey Bee

  • Russian bees are more defensive of their hive than other races of bees (and more likely to sting).
  • Because they build up numbers quickly they are more likely to swarm.


The Buckfast bee is a mix of different races of bee, and was developed with the aim of breeding a bee with many positive characteristics. They are called Buckfast bees because Karl Kehrle, or Brother Adam as he was known, first bred them at the Buckfast Abbey in England.

Advantages Of The Buckfast Honey Bee

  • Buckfast bees are very calm bees that you can easily manage.
  • They are efficient collectors and storers of nectar.
  • They build up numbers quickly when nectar becomes available.
  • They have a low tendency to swarm.
  • Buckfast bees begin foraging early.
  • They are hardy bees that overwinter well.
  • Buckfast bees show strong resistance to tracheal mites.

Disadvantages Of The Buckfast Honey Bee

  • If Buckfast bees are allowed to requeen themselves, then their offspring can be aggressive. As a result of this trait, Buckfast bees are not as readily available as some of the other subspecies.

Final Thoughts

When getting your first hive, one of the many things you must consider is the type of bees that will best suit your situation. Every subspecies of honey bee has different advantages and disadvantages, so you need to figure out which is best for your home and neighborhood.

It’s important to note, however, that most honey bees are actually a mixture of races. The only exception is if a breeder can guarantee that the line of bees comes from pure stock, which is quite rare. Still, a breeder should be able to find a queen that meets your preferences as a beekeeper.

A colony of calm bees that you can easily manage as a beginner is best, especially if you live in a populated area. Inspecting a calm colony of bees will give you confidence as you learn more about beekeeping.

Before making a final decision, it’s also a good idea to talk with an experienced local beekeeper in your area. They’ll be able to tell you where they buy their queen bees, as well as the type of bee that does well in your neighborhood.

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