January 22

Italians v.s. Carniolans: Honey Bee Specie Comparison


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“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.


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!)

About the author

Bryce MacCabe

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, studying and launching rockets, and spending time with his family.

He also sells weather and astronomy equipment and loves observing clouds, lightning, and storms.

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. I see a local seller offering a nuc with BOTH Italian and Carniolan. Is this a good idea? Any suggested pros and cons to this arrangement?

    1. Thanks for your question Cozette.

      Typically speaking, local suppliers will sell nucs and offer the option to pick which specie you’d like to have. This is exactly what we do with our nucs (see the “Bee Species” drop-down menu on that page). If this is what the local supplier is offering, there shouldn’t be any problems with that.

      If they are mixing Italian and Carniolan bees together in the same hive, it’s probably not a huge deal either. The main reason is that in 6 weeks, all of the bees will be the same specie as the queen. The queen ultimately determines which specie your hive will be. If some of your bees are Carniolan and your queen is Italian, the hive will become fully Italian within (approximately) 6 weeks as the existing bees die off and are replaced by the queen.

      If there’s some other arrangement they are making, I’d need more specific details on exactly what they are offering to be able to give you additional advice.

      Hopefully, this is helpful. Best of luck!

  3. I live in East PA and we have some fairly cold winters. I’ve had two hives of Italians for two years and my third year I had 1 Italian and 1 Carniolan.
    All the Italian hives have died over winter. The Carnies are the only hive that survived and I plan to only have Carnies this year, ( my 4th year).
    I know that the Italians had plenty of food AND I treated both hives with an oxalic acid sublimation process before fall. I did notice that the dead Italians were in small clusters in different areas of the hive. I’ve read that they do not form tight clusters as well as the Carnies.
    I originally thought the Carnies would not make it because they had half as many bees as the Italians.

    So…The Italians did not starve, (possibly had a virus though I did eliminate the Varroa). I have to conclude that they died of the cold. I DO also wrap my hives with insulated blankets AND insulate the tops. We did have 2 short periods when the temperature was down to since digits, overnite.

    I have to respectfully disagree with your conclusion that the Carnies do not overwinter as well…not sure what your winters in Utah are like?

    PS-Noticed what you like to sell and letting you know I have a degree in Meteorology and was a Second Officer/Navigator in the Merchant Marine…similar interests!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences William. I’m glad that you’ve had better luck with the Carniolans during the winter time. It would be interesting to sort out the possibilities of a virus or other issues and really drill down to what did your Italians in.

      Perhaps the humidity and/or altitude of your area plays a part? We’ve been primarily in the high and dry Idaho/Utah deserts during the winter and we’ve had a lot better luck with keeping the Italian bees alive (on average) over the winter than we have with the Carniolans. Most interesting indeed… 🙂

      1. Hi, my next door neighbor raises Italian honey bees. A family member is allergic to bee venom. What natural plants are best to deter bees?

      2. Hi David!

        Apologies on the late response. There are a ton of resources online if you google which plants deter bees. From some of the research I have done, it sounds like a few of those being cucumbers, basil, marigolds, mint, and so many others! Our suggestion would be to do some research and find what would best work for you and your family.

    1. Hi!
      Thanks for reaching out!
      I am so sorry to hear that. What type of equipment are you specifically struggling with finding?

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