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CHAPTER III Edit

RACES OF BEES Edit

THERE are many races of bees, as many, -- in fact, as there are different races of the human family, and each race has its distinctive racial characteristics. Among them are the Common Blacks, the Italians, the Carniolans, the Caucasians, the Cyprians, the Banats, the Holy Lands, as well as many others which it would be useless to describe, as the majority of beekeepers keep either the Italians or the Blacks.

The Blacks are widely distributed throughout the United States, having been brought over by the early settlers, while the Italians are of quite recent importation. The Blacks, while fairly good honey gatherers, and builders of the whitest combs, a thing much desired by the producer of comb honey, are seldom if ever kept by the progressive beekeeper, owing to certain undesirable traits of character. They are of a very nervous temperament, and are apt to rush all over their combs when being manipulated, which renders the finding of the queen a hard task ; they will also gather in great clusters on the ends of their frames and fall to the ground, to the annoyance and discomfort of the person handling them. They are very irritable, and will often fly from their hives and attack the passerby with no provocation whatever. Whether they are naturally lazy or quickly disheartened, the fact remains that they do not seem able to resist disease and enemies as vigorously as the Italians. Again and again have I seen a strong colony of Blacks completely destroyed through the ravages of the bee moth or from disease, which a weak colony of Italians seem able to resist.

One thing is certain, the Blacks become discouraged and quit working upon the first indication of a cessation of the honey flow, and thus leave a lot of unfinished sections in their supers, while other races will continue working right up to the close of the flow. These undesirable traits have induced the majority of beekeepers to discard them, though some beekeepers prefer a hybrid race of Italians and Blacks, as they claim they get in such a mixture of blood the gentleness and hustling qualities of the Italians and the superior comb-building qualities of the Blacks. However, any one who has kept Hybrids can vouch for the fact that what is gained is more than offset by the viciousness of the Hybrid, as they seem possessed of an incurable propensity to sting.

The Cyprians have been extensively kept; they are natives of the Island of Cyprus, and as honey-gatherers are without an equal. They are good defenders of their hives, and will repel the attacks of diseases and robber bees better than any other known race, and are most excellent winterers. As workers they are indefatigable, gathering honey from every available quarter even after other races have quit, but they have the habit of filling their cells completely full, so that the combs have a watery appearance, which renders its sale difficult, hence the few beekeepers who stick to them run them mostly for extracted honey. While this race has all of the desirable qualities attributed to them, their dispositions are so vicious, that there is hardly a beekeeper in the land who keeps an absolutely pure strain of Cyprians. By no means should the novice ever think of keeping Cyprians, as they are extremely sensitive, and resent the slightest jarring of their hives, and when once aroused no amount of smoke will subdue them, in fact, it seems to infuriate them the more.

The Carniolans are large gray bees from the Alpine regions of Carniola in Austria, and with the exception of the Caucasians are the gentlest race known. Coming originally from a cold country, the Carniolans are the hardiest race we know, and not being so sensitive to cold as other races, will begin to go afield earlier in the morning, and work later in the day than others, and for this reason, they winter unusually well. Their comb honey is the best produced, as they do not, like the Cyprians, fill their cells completely full, and thus they produce comb honey of snowy whiteness. To handle them is a delight, as they seldom sting, and I have worked with them day in and day out without any protection for the face or hands, and for weeks at a time have gone without being stung.

But the great objection to the Carniolans, and one that has led most beekeepers to discard them, is their proneness to frequent and excessive swarming, which means a loss of bees and a loss of honey. The Caucasians are in appearance not unlike the Carniolans, and certain strains of them are hardly distinguishable from the Blacks, but in disposition they are in a class by themselves, as their gentleness is simply marvellous. Again and again I have tried to anger them without success; in fact, I have kicked their hives, shaken their frames, blown my breath on them, and, whereas other races would have attacked me at once, the Caucasians would offer no retaliation. It might be inferred from this that they are not good defenders of their hives; but such is not the case, for there have been times when I have been abusing them, when they would sally forth and fight to the death robber bees that tried to take advantage of their hives being opened out of season, to rob them of their stores. They are good winterers, and builders of choice white combs, and not given to excessive swarming, but they have an unpleasant habit of plastering balls of propolis, or beeglue, all over their frames and at the entrances of their hives.

The main objection to this otherwise most excellent race is the fact that they so closely resemble the Blacks that only an expert can distinguish the difference, and if one is not careful, before long the entire apiary will be made up of Blacks. The Banats are a race of bees from Hungary, in appearance similar to the Caucasians, remarkably gentle, and, best of all, are great breeders in the early spring, so when the honey flow comes on they have a great force to gather it. They build beautiful white combs and gather little propolis, and are so little given to swarming that some beekeepers have claimed that they are a non-swarming race. However, their introduction is so recent that the beginner will do well to pass them by until a thorough test shall have firmly established their good qualities.

On the whole it may be said that fully 75 per cent of the professional beekeepers prefer the Italians, as this race seems to have more desirable traits and fewer disagreeable ones than any other. These bees came originally from Italy, the first successful importation of queens being about 1861, and at once leaped into favor, maintaining their precedence to the present time. In appearance they are very handsome, varying in color from a leatherbrown to the most lustrous gold, and, as compared with the Blacks, are remarkable for their gentleness. They rarely get nervous when they are handled, and it is very easy to find their queens. I have frequently opened their hives after nine o'clock in the evening, and have often brought a comb of bees into the house and passed it around for visitors to examine, and I have yet to know of an occasion where those so examining them have been stung, though they will sting if sufficiently provoked.

They are energetic workers, not easily discouraged, and, having originally come from a warm climate, they are alert for enemies and seem to have no trouble in repelling the bee moth.

It has been said that the Italian bees are more prone to rob than other races, but this is an evidence of their honey-gathering qualities. It may be likewise said that when precautionary methods are taken they soon cease to rob, a thing that cannot be said of some of the other races when the habit has once been formed. After many years of experience with almost every known race of bees, I have been compelled to come back to the Italians as the best general-purpose bee in existence. Of late years there has been a tendency toward golden-all-over Italians on the part of some beekeepers, and this demand has led some breeders in their anxiety to quickly produce them to use a Cyprian cross because of their bright golden color, with the result that some strains of Italians are as vicious as the pure Cyprians. For this reason the beginner will do well to select Italians of a leather color, as they are more certain to be of a pure strain, and experience has proved that they winter much better than the golden ones.

In selecting Italian bees it would be a wise thing to secure from some reputable breeder queens of the red clover strain, as these bees will visit and secure a rich harvest from red clover, whereas ordinary Italian bees will seldom visit it, as their tongues are not sufficiently long to reach down into the deep corolla of the blossom.

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