Last night I attended the early Spring meeting of the South Western Ohio Beekeepers Association (“SWOBA”), and one of the items on the agenda was the selection of Favorite Bee. The Italians won, of course, but coming in a close second was the Russian Bee.
Alas, my beloved Buckfasts weren’t even in the running. People said they were too cranky. They haven’t met my little darlings.
Back to the Russian Bees. They are similar to Carniolans, but have a different provenance. They were imported into the United States from Russia in 1997 by the USDA’s Honeybee Breeding, Genetics & Physiology Laboratory In Louisiana in response to severe declines in bee populations caused by infestations of parasitic mites.
USDA researchers found mite-resistant bees on the far eastern side of Russia, in the coastal Primorski region around Vladivostok. They brought the Russian bees to the US and have since been using them in breeding programs to improve existing stocks.
Russian bees are widely available from US suppliers. In addition to mite resistance, they differ from Italian bees in that they are darker in color and less likely to swarm and rob from other hives. They winter well.
One disadvantage is that they do not build up their colony population until pollen is available, and they shut down brood rearing when pollen is scarce. By contrast, Italian bees maintain a large population regardless of environmental conditions.
One ironic note – the White House bees are a Russian bee hybrid. Times have certainly changed.