Honey Bee Specie Comparison: Italian vs Carniolan Honey Bees

Honey Bee Specie Comparison: Italian vs Carniolan Honey Bees

Product Reviews

Jan 22

“Which honey bee specie should I get?”

This is one of the things we get asked the most from new beekeepers. Unfortunately, there is no one clear answer to this question.

For most beekeepers, this comes down to a choice between Italian and Carniolan honey bees.

Both honey bee species have pros and cons that may sway your decision. The best thing you can do is learn the differences between these two species and make your decision from there.

In this blog post, you’ll learn these differences as well as our recommendation for our favorite specie.

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Brief Disclaimer

Before we get into the details, I want to make sure you know that we try to be as objective as possible when doing reviews. We base our reviews off of our experiences with different products and we’re not afraid to go against the grain when needed.

Our ultimate goal is to provide the best possible recommendations for backyard beekeepers.

In these reviews, you might find things that many others won’t agree with and that’s ok. We encourage all beekeepers to do their due diligence and make sure to select products that best fit their beekeeping goals.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the review.

Italian Honey Bees

Let’s start by taking a look at Italian honey bees.

Italian bees are one of the greatest honey bee species in our opinion because they generally exhibit the best combination of good traits found in other species.

Specifically, Italian honey bees are known to do the following:

  • Produce a large supply of honey
  • Create strong colonies that grow rapidly
  • Exhibit more mild temperaments than aggressive species such as Russian or Africanized bees
  • Survive the winter better than more docile species

Our experience has shown that Italians are the most balanced of any honey bee specie.

While they don’t winter as well as more aggressive species, they are much easier to work with which makes them a very attractive option for new beekeepers.

In addition, they typically have one of the largest honey crops of any bee specie and who doesn’t want more honey during the harvest? This is another big benefit of using Italians.

Over all, Italians are one of the best options for your bees. Here’s our score:

BCB Score - Italian Honey Bees

4.5 Stars

Carniolan Honey Bees

Now let’s jump over to Carniolan honey bees.

Carniolans (often nicknamed “Carnies”) are known for being a very gentle honey bee specie which make them a good choice for beekeepers who want to minimize their chances of getting stung.

Important Note

If you have severe aversion to getting stung, beekeeping may not be the activity for you. Even though Carniolan bees are gentle, it’s very likely that you will get stung at some point.

Carniolan honey bees generally exhibit the following traits:

  • Start foraging earlier than most other species in early spring
  • Produce large quantities of beeswax
  • Exhibit very gentle temperaments
  • Survive the winter relatively well

Because Carniolans begin foraging earlier, they are a good choice if your winter sets in early and you need to give your bees as much time as possible to forage. Just also know that you’ll most likely need to feed them longer in the spring than Italians because they begin foraging sooner.

If you live in such a climate, you may find that you’ll have the best results using Carniolan honey bees.

At Bear Country Bees, the trade-off we’ve experienced with Carniolans is that they don’t seem to winter as well as other species despite various resources suggesting that they are better at it.

Important Note

You don’t have to look very hard to find resources that state that Carniolans winter better than Italians do. Here are just a few sources we’ve found that provide compelling arguments for this claim:

However, despite the seemingly general consensus that Carniolans winter better, we have had a better success rate with Italian honey bees.

That said, most of the time you can’t go wrong using Carniolan bees. They are quite gentle and get a nice early start in the spring. Either of these points could be enough to persuade you to use Carniolans.

This is our score for Carniolan:

BCB Score - Carniolan Honey Bees

4.0 Stars

Our Recommendation

When comparing these two species based on the above criteria, our recommendation for most beekeepers is to use Italian bees.

In our experience, Italian bees have an edge over Carniolans in both their ability to successfully winter and produce more honey. The fact that Italians tend to build stronger colonies than Carniolans is also a plus.

It’s important to know that you won’t go wrong using either of these honey bee species for either backyard or commercial beekeeping.

Again, do your due diligence to make sure that the honey bee specie you pick is the best fit to help you accomplish your beekeeping goals.

Over to You

What do you think? Which specie is your favorite? Why? Have you had similar or different experiences with your bees?

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave us a comment below and share your experiences with us!

(We personally respond to every comment!)

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About the Author

Bryce is the CEO/CMO of Bear Country Bees and is in charge of marketing, strategy, and innovation. When he isn't obsessing over creating the best possible experience for backyard beekeepers, he loves reading Star Wars, visiting new places, and spending time with his family. He also sells weather and astronomy equipment and loves spending his spare time observing clouds, lightning, and storms.

  • Dave Smith says:

    How do they both compare to saskatraz bees? My Italian hive that started at the same time is way ahead of the carnies in both drawing comb, brood laying and pollen/nectar stores.
    Both are nice gentle bees but at the moment the Italians are stronger and nicer to work with.

    • Bryce MacCabe says:

      Hi Dave,

      I’m glad to hear that your Italians are doing really well! We’ve also seen (on average) that our Italians do better all-around than Carniolans which is why we tend to recommend them.

      We haven’t used Saskatraz bees yet but I do know that they originate from Saskatchewan, Canada. The queens are bred specifically for honey production, wintering ability, temperament, tracheal mite resistance, varroa tolerance / resistance and brood disease resistance. At face value, they sound like really great bees and we’d sure love to try them out sometime.

      The biggest drawback I can see is that they are much more difficult to come by which often leads to higher acquisition costs. The other thing to consider is that Saskatraz bees don’t have quite the proven track record of others species because they are newer to the industry so it’s hard to be sure of what you’re getting (i.e. they may not deliver on the promises as well as other species).

      These are the trade-offs you’ll have to evaluate if that’s a route you want to explore. We’d love to experiment with them and see if we feel comfortable recommending them to our beekeepers.

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