Several races and hybrids of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, are available from queen producers. You can select the race or hybrid that best suits your beekeeping style, location and goals. Most commonly available races are: Italian, Carniolan, Caucasian and German Black. Most common hybrids are Midnight, Starline, Buckfast, and Yugo. There are others that are less common, not as available or little is known of their background or performance. It is good practice to ask the producer for any special information or date about queens produced; often a breeding program takes a back seat to simply producing queens for sale.
ITALIAN. The most commonly available race, Apis mellifera ligustica originated on the Italian peninsula, the only European bee with yellow pigmentation. They are short distance foragers, which means they are prone to robbing. They orient on color, so long rows of white colonies lend to drifting. Moderate spring buildup, peak summer populations and slow to shut down in fall can mean lots of winter bees - with the honey stores necessary for that. Low swarming is good, but can be temperamental.
CAUCASIAN. Apis mellifera caucasica evolved in the Caucas mountains near the Black Sea. Predominately dark, with gray or brown spots. Drones have dark hair, and queens are dark, harder to find. They are gentle, quiet on the combs and slow to build in the spring. Little swarming. Produces lots of propolis, but shut down early in the fall. They winter well.
CARNIOLAN. Apis mellifera carnica evolved in Austria and Yugoslavia, and most of Europe. The Yugo bee is of Caniolan decent. Build rapidly in the spring, they are heavy swarmers. Dark, with dark gray hair with some brown. Dark queens shut down in derths and early in fall. Calm and gentle, they forage in marginal weather. Robbing, drifting minimal.
BUCKFAST. A hybrid of several races, selected for gentleness, wintering, production and tracheal mite resistance. Available from Weaver Apiaries and some other outlets. Variable in appearance, queens tend toward leather. Moderate fast spring buildup, peak in early summer, good producers. Low swarming.
STARLINE. A hybrid of several stocks, all Italian. Fast spring buildup, lots of brood early means terrific honey production. Very uniform in appearance, they are slow to shut down in fall. Good commercial bee.
MIDNIGHT. A Carniolan/Caucasian cross. Moderate spring buildup, dark to dark gray, dark queens. Good in marginal weather and extremely gentle. Shuts down early in fall, winters well.
GERMAN BLACK. Apis mellifera mellifera. First bee in U.S., still very prominent in feral populations. Small, dark and mean. Very susceptible to foulbrood, but a survivor bee in many areas affected by Varroa and invasion of Africanized bees.
Africanized bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) have taken up residence in the southern reaches of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. These are undesirable bees because of their defensiveness and are not raised for sale.