- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
A bee is a bee is a bee?
Poet Gertrude Stein ("a rose is a rose is a rose") could have said that.
True, there's only one species of honey bee in the United States--Apis mellifera, the Western or European honey bee--but there are several races.
The "gold standard" is Apis mellifera ligustica, also known as the Italian honey bee, the most common bee in America. It's basically your yellow or golden bee.
But among the other popular races is Apis mellifera carnica, aka the Carniolans or "Carnies," a darker bee. It is primarily darkish gray.
We spotted both of them last weekend sharing a lavender--the blond Italian bee on one side and the darker Carniolan bee on the other.
Author Richard E. Bonney writes in his book, Beekeeping: A Practical Guide: "For the most part, they (the races) are the result of evolution in geographic isolation (Italians on the Italian peninsula, for instance) where the specific climate and vegetation influenced their development over the ages. Each race has specific traits that relate to the geographic origin of that race."
At UC Davis, bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, focuses her research on identifying, selecting and enhancing honey bee stocks that show increasing levels of resistance to pests and diseases. In the early 1980s, Cobey developed her New World Carniolans stock by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the United States to create a more pure strain.
“Over time, it has proven very productive, winter hardy, well-tempered and more resistant to pests and disease,” says Cobey, who teaches advanced courses on queen bee rearing and queen bee insemination, drawing students from throughout the world.
Genetic diversity, the raw tools for selection, is critical “in maintaining colony fitness and resisting pests and diseases,” she notes.
No matter the races, the honey bees still race for the lavender.
And the other bee friendly plants...