PLATE XLV, p. 381, fig. 74. Italian Queen. fig. 75. Italian Drone. fig. 76. Italian Worker

BEES bearing the above name have been imported into the United States from Europe within the last two years. They are supposed to be the same variety described by Aristotle as " small and round in size and shape, and variegated in color." He designates this variety as being the best of the three then known.

Virgil describes two kinds as flourishing in his time, the better of which he describes " as spotted, or variegated, and of a beautiful golden color." Plate XLV, figs. 74, 75, and 76, represent the queen, drone, and worker of the Italian bee, colored to life f'fig. 77, the ovary of a queen. It will be seen, on comparing them with the common bee, (plate i) that color is the only distinguishing feature between the two varieties. Busch describes the Italian bee as follows :

" The workers are smooth and glossy, and the color of their

abdominal rings is a medium between the pale yellow of straw and the deeper yellow of ochre. These rings have a narrow, black edge.or border, so that the yellow (which might be called leather-colored) constitutes the ground, and is seemingly barrel over by these slight black edges, or borders. This is most distinctly perceptible when a brood comb, on which bees are densely crowded, is taken out of a hive. The drones differ from the workers in having the upper half of their abdominal rings black and the lower half an ochrey yellow ; thus causing the abdomen, when viewed from above, to appear annulated. The queen differs from the common kind chiefly in the greater brilliancy of her colors."

The following advantages have been claimed for the Italian bee over the common kind : "First : that the Italian bees are less sensitive to cold than the common kind. Second: that their queens are more prolific. Third: that the colonies swarm earlier and more frequently ; of this, he (Berlepsch) has less experience than Dzierzon. Fourth: that they are less apt to sting ; not only are they less apt, but scarcely are they inclined to sting, though they will do so if intentionally annoyed or irritated. Fifth : that they are more industrious. Of this fact, he had but one summer's experience ; but all the results and indications go to confirm Dzierzon's statements, and satisfy him of the superiority of this kind in every point of view. Sixth : that they are more disposed to rob than common bees, and more courageous and active in self-defense. They strive on all hands to force their way into colonies of common bees ; but when strange bees attack their hives, they fight with great fierceness, and with an incredible adroitness."


" During the last two years, we have heard a great deal upon the subject of the introduction of the Italian bee, its superiority, in many respects, over the common black honey bee, and the attempts made to introduce it, not only in the Atlantic States, but in California. There is so often a disposition to overestimate the advantages or value of introductions from foreign countries, with a view of obtaining large or speculative prices therefor, that we have watched the progress of the introduction and culture of the Italian bee, and commented upon such successes as we could find available, rather than recommended positively anything from personal knowledge. We believe, however, that the superiority of the Italian bee is no longer questionable, even among apiarians who have large stocks of the common bee for sale.

" We take pleasure in introducing proof of this, that those who may have been in doubt, may have their doubts removed, and at once obtain this superior breed ; just as the stock-grower would a superior breed of horses, cattle, or sheep.

"Apiarians of the United States are generally aware of the persevering efforts of Mr. S. B. Parsons, of Flushing, L. I., to introduce the Italian bee, and that his efforts have, in the main, been eminently successful. We have thought it might be interesting to bee-keepers, and many who intend to be, to hear relative to the genuineness of his stock. But without relying solely upon his statements in regard to the intrinsic merits of his own hobby, we give the experience of others, in the shape of letters, entirely reliable and conclusive."


EDITOR CULTURIST : Knowing that you have taken a deep interest in the propapation of the honey bee in California, I have taken the liberty to address you on the subject of the Italian bee. I am on a visit to the Atlantic States, to satisfy myself whether they are actually superior to the common bee. I am fully satisfied that they are. I find a greater difference between them and the common kind, in their appearance, than I expected. The Italians are truly beautiful, to one who is an admirer of the industrious little insect. There are two or three parties who have imported the Italian bee from Europe ; but, as far as I could learn, there are only two queens in this country that are direct from the mountains of Italy, where the black bee is not known ; they are in the hands of Mr. S. B. Parsons, of Flushing, N. Y. I have procured a few queens of him, and shall use every effort in my power to try and get them through safely to California. For their capacity to gather honey, I refer you to Mr. Parsons' statements, and others to whom he refers. A. J. BIGLOW. NEW YORK, Sept. 28th, 1860.

Having received sundry requests from gentlemen in California to supply them with Italian queens from the stock which I brought from Italy, I have made arrangements with A. J. Biglow, of Sacramento, corner of Nineteenth and J streets, to take out a number, from which I can supply those gentlemen, and some others, who may desire them. He is now preparing the bees, and will soon be ready to leave. The terms on which he can supply them will depend upon his success in carrying them, and will be made known soon after his arrival.

I obtained these bees in a section where no other race exists. I have not felt like endorsing all that was said of them by German writers, until they had been tested by reliable men here. However beautiful may be bright colors and graceful forms, I felt that these were of comparatively little importance; that the great question was Will they make more honey than the common bee ? My own experience, this summer, has been entirely satisfactory in this respect ; but I am unwilling to rely entirely upon my own, when I have that of others.

The following letters prove conclusively that, the progeny of those bees which came from Italy, have far surpassed the common bee, the past summer, in the production of honey. One is from the Rev. Mr. Langstroth, so well known to all bee-keepers as a careful, conscientious man, and the author of the best work on bees that has yet been written. Another is from Dr. J. P. Kirtland, a well known naturalist, of Ohio, whose simple word is sufficient with all who know his truthfulness, his habits of accurate observation, and his caution in giving his opinion on any subject. The third is from Mr. Brackett, published in the September number of the Agriculturist, and appreciated as the evidence of an unbiased man, who is as skillful an apiarian as he is a successful sculptor. To these letters, I would invite the attention of all who desire information of the qualities of this beautiful and industrious race.


I have three colonies (artificial swarms) to which Italian queens were given in June. All of the common bees appear to have died ; and if we may judge from the working of these colonies, the Italians will fully sustain their European reputation. They have gathered more than twice as much honey as the swarms of the common bee. This, however, has been chiefly gathered within the last few weeks ; during which time, the swarms of common bees have increased but very little in weight. The season has been eminently unfavorable for the new swarms, (one of the very worst I ever knew) and the prospect is, that I shall have to feed all of them except the Italians.

L. L. LANGSTROTH. August 24th, 1860. LETTER FROM DR. J. P. KIRTLAND. In your last letter, you expressed a wish to hear from me the result of my experience with the Italians, etc.

FIRST. Their disposition to labor far excels that of the common kind. From the earliest dawn of day to the arrival of evening, they are invariably passing in and out of the hive, and rarely suspend their work for winds, heat, or moderate showers at times when not a solitary individual fcf the common kind is to be seen. Two hours, each day, their labors are extended beyond the working time of the last named kind.

SECOND. Power of endurance, and especially of resisting the impression of cold, they possess in a marked degree. Since the buckwheat, salidagoes, and asters have flowered in this vicinity, the nights have been remarkably cold. This low temperature has in a great measure suspended the efforts of the common bees, and they have been eating their previously accumulated stores. Not so with the Italians ; they have been steadily accumulating honey anc| bee-bread, and rapidly multiplying their numbers. They seem peculiarly adapted to resist the chilly atmosphere and high winds, which predominate in autumn, on the shores of Lake Erie.

THIRD. Prolificness they equally excel in. Both my full and half-blooded stocks have become numerous and strong in numbers, as well as in stores, at this late season of the year, when the common kind have ceased increasing, and have become nearly passive.

FOURTH. Their individual strength is greater; and this is well illustrated in their prompt manner of tossing to a great distance any robber that chances to approach their hive.

FIFTH. Their beauty of color and graceful form, render hem an object of interest to every person of taste. My coloies are daily watched and admired by many visitors.

SIXTH. Of their moral character, I cannot speak favorably, f robbery of weaker colonies is going on, these yellow-jackets ire sure to be on hand. So far as my experience has gone with hem, I find every statement in regard to their superiority susained. They will no doubt prove a valuable acquisition to localiies of high altitudes ; and will be peculiarly adapted to the limate of Washington Territory, Oregon, and the mountainous regions of California.


" We are yet unable to offer any well founded opinion as to whether the recently imported Italian bees will prove really superior to our common native bees, or not. They are being rapidly propagated and diffused over the country ; and to secure this result, the main effort is now directed. Another season will be required to determine "their merits. The fact that so many of our oldest apiarians have considerable confidence in them, argues well in their favor. We have watched their multiplication from a single swarm, and if the rate of increase be as great at other points to which the queens are being daily dispatched, it will not take long to fill the country with them if such I a consummation be desirable. Below we give an extract from a letter, dated August 10th, written by Mr. E. A. Brackett, the well known sculptor, who is j an enthusiastic amateur in bees also. His suggestion . in regard to improving bees, by care in selecting breeding queens, is worthy of attention. All kinds of domestic animals have been brought to a much higher standard, by special care in breeding. Why may not our common bees be in like manner improved ? No attention has been given to this subject, so far as we know. Let some one of our bee-keepers try the experiment.

" Who knows but that in a few years, we may get a race of bees that shall rival the humble bee in size, and in ability to extract sweets from a large class of, deep-tubed flowers, such as the red clover, and others, which are now useless for the common honey bee. We hope those who undertake the enterprise, will remember to try to breed out their stings. From a honey bee of the size of the humble bee, with the sting developed in proportion, may the fates deliver us. (Speaking of stingless bees, we may mention that our friend A. 0.[1] Moore, Esq., who recently returned from a tour of several months in Central America, brought with him two varieties of stingless bees, which he left in our office for several days. They are quite peculiar and interesting, and we hope to give a further description of them, with engravings of their appearance, mode of depositing honey, etc.) Here is an extract from Mr. Brackett's letter previously referred to:

" Allow me to suggest to you an idea that may be of importance. These bees come from the Italian Alps, where they have received no attention. They are in a state of nature, susceptible, in my opinion, of great improvement, at least, as far as form and color goes, by culture and careful breeding. In order to do this, they should be allowed to build their own comb, as soon as may be, and the largest and best colored queens be selected to breed from ; avoiding breeding in-and-in as much as " I have received a letter from a friend, stating that one of his queens is quite dark ; and he seems troubled about it. A little knowledge, if not a dangerous thing, is sometimes an uncomfortable one. Any one at all familiar with common black bees, knows very well that their queens vary much in color, and I see no reason why the Italians should not do the same, within certain limits, and still be true to the race. Those who are anxious to have high-colored queens, must resort to careful breeding."-

A. J. BIGLOW'S EXPERIENCE, ETC. SACRAMENTO, December 29th, 1860. Mr. J. S. HARBISON : Dear Sir. At your request, I have much pleasure in giving you what few items I have gathered since my connection with the Italian bees, and my experience with them.

Having received an invitation from Mr. S. B. Parsons to become his agent in California and Oregon, through recommendation of Eev. L. L. Langstroth, I left Sacramento on the first of September last for the Atlantic States. While there, preparing the bees for shipment, I made many inquiries of different apiarists in reference to different importations of Italian bees, my object being to gather facts in relation to them. The following items I find in the Country Gentleman of November 1st, which corresponds with the results of my inquiries. " Richard Colvin, of Baltimore, and Samuel Wagner, of York, Pennsylvania, have made several attempts to import these bees, but had been unsuccessful until the autumn of 1859, when Mrj"*Colvin succeeded in getting a few stocks through safe ; which, however, did not survive the winter. " Next in order of date, is the importation of Mr. P. J. Mahan, of Philadelphia.

" In the spring of 1860, Mr. S. B, Parsons, of Flushing, L. I., succeeded in getting a few stocks alive direct from Italy. " The last successful importation was by Messrs. Colvin & "Wagner, sometime during the past season. Two of these importations are from Germany, and one from Italy." The Italians that I have brought out are of Mr. Parsons ' importation ; the queens were nearly all hatched in the month of September ; some, however, as late as October. I prepared one hundred and thirteen packages, with about one-third of a swarm of common bees in each package, and introduced Italian queens as soon as they became settled ; the queens filled the combs with eggs. I engaged passage on the steamer Ariel, which left New York on the first of November, and arrived at Aspinwall on the ninth. I remained on the Isthmus ten days, and allowed the bees to fly five days. Upon giving them their liberty, they immediatefy commenced work, gathering pollen and honey.

During these five days, I examined each package and removed all dead bees. I found the brood had all emerged from their cells, and the queens again depositing eggs in abundance. On the eleventh of November, one of the swarms deserted its hive and entered one of its neighbors, which resulted, as I ascertained the next morning, in the death of the two queens. I divided the double swarm, and returned a part of the bees to the empty package, and gave them both a comb containing eggs, and shut them up, and did not open them again until the thirteenth of December, when I found as perfect a queen to all appearance in each hive as I ever saw, and a large number of queen cells that had been destroyed. I have been thus particular in giving an account of this rear ing of queens at sea, while confined in their hives, as it may be of interest to naturalists. No water was given to my bees during the voyage.

I sailed from Panama, on the steamer Uncle Sam, on the twentieth of November, and arrived at San Francisco on the morning of the sixth of December ; shipped that evening on the steamer for Sacramento, where I arrived on the seventh inst., one month and seven days from New York. I overhauled the bees as soon as convenient, and found one hundred and eleven alive, out of the one hundred and thirteen. Many of the swarms had as many bees when I arrived at Sacramento, as when I left New York. I attribute my success to the rearing of so many young bees on the passage from New York, to San Francisco. On the twenty-first of December, I introduced some twenty Italian queens into native stocks of bees, which I examined before removing the native queen, and did not find a single egg. Two days after I let the Italian queens out of their cages, I found eggs in abundance.

It is my firm conviction, from what I have seen and heard of these bees, that they are peculiarly adapted to the Pacific coast, especially the mountainous region of California and Oregon, as the climate so nearly resembles that of their native home. Yours, with respect, A. J. BIGLOW.


Mr. Langstroth says: "The chief obstacle to the rapid diffusion of this valuable variety has been the difficulty experienced by the ablest German apiarians in preserving the breed pure ; even Berlepsch having failed entirely to do so." " From one Italian queen sent him by Dzierzon, Berlepsch succeeded in obtaining, in the ensuing season, one hundred and thirty-nine fertile young queens, of which number about fifty produced pure Italian progeny."

" It is a remarkable fact, that an Italian queen impregnated by a common drone, and a common queen impregnated by an Italian drone, do not produce workers of an uniform intermediate cast, or hybrids ; but some of the workers bred from the eggs of each queen will be purely of the Italian, and others as purely of the common race ; only a few of them, indeed, being apparently hybrids. Berlepsch also had several bastardized queens, which at first produced Italian workers exclusively, and afterwards common workers as exclusively. Some such queens produce fully three-fourths Italian workers ; others, common workers in the same proportion. Nay ; he states that he had one beautiful orange-yellow bastardized Italian queen, which did hot produce a single Italian worker, but only common workers, perhaps a shade lighter in color. The drones, however, produced by a bastardized Italian queen are uniformly of the Italian race ; and this fact, besides demonstrating the truth of Dzierzon's theory, renders the preservation and perpetuation of the Italian race in its purity, entirely feasible in any country where they may be introduced." S. Wagner, page 324, in " Hive and Honey Bee."

Mr. Wagner very frankly admits that there are a few bees apparently hybrids. This fact, of itself, is sufficient evidence of the inutility of relying on or practicing the theory which he advances. It also proves conclusively to my mind that the theory is not well founded ; or, at least, is of no practical value. Mr. Langstroth says p. 43, " Hive and Honey Bee" that " all the leading facts in the breeding of bees ought to be as familiar to the apiarian, as the same class of facts in the rearing of domestic animals." In this opinion I fully concur. Hence I make the following extract from the same work, for the purpose of correcting what I conceive would be an error in practice, (though not in fact) that ought never to have been recommended to bee-keepers.

" Dzierzon found that a queen which had been refrigerated for a long time, after being brought to life by warmth, laid only male eggs, whilst previously she had also laid female eggs. Berlepsch refrigerated three queens by placing them thirty-six hours in an ice house, two of which never revived, and the third laid, as before, thousands of eggs, but/row all of them only males were evolved. In two instances, Mr. Mahan has, at my suggestion, tried similar experiments, and with like results. It does not seem to have occurred to the German -apiarians that l>y this refrigerating process, we may secure as many Italian drones as we need.

" All that is necessary is to convert by it one or more of the queens of the nuclei into drone layers. The reception of an Italian queen quite late in the season may thus be turned to good account." Exclusively drone laying queens, as well as fertile workers, are monstrosities ; then whv seek to breed from either of them ? Even admitting that it were practicable to do so, there is no necessity for it, as the number of both queens, drones and workers that may be bred from a small number of perfect queens is almost without limit. So well are " all the leading facts in the breeding of bees " known, that they are now increased with as much certainty as that of any of our domestic animals.


Great care will be required in propagating the Italian bees, to keep the breed pure, or up to the standard of the imported ones. This can only be done by removing them away a distance of not less than five miles from all of the common kind, for the purpose of having the young queens impregnated by Italian drones.

Each person should commence with not less than two Italian queens, in order that the queens bred from one hive may be impregnated by the drones of the other, and vice versa, as hereafter directed. New beginners in Apiarian pursuits will do well to procure full hives, whether of Italian or common bees, with which to commence the business. When queens are procured for the purpose of. uniting with common bees, select thrifty hives for that purpose, being careful to remove all drones and drone brood, and supply them with empty drone and worker comb. The queens are then to be united as directed in Chapter xxviii.

After the queens become fairly established, with both worker and drone brood sealed up, with the season and pasturage favorable, proceed to make primary divides, and form queen nurseries from the two Italian hives at the same time, as directed in Chapter xvii. When the queen cells are sufficiently advanced to be used in supplying to colonies, bees and comb are to be selected from common hives in the usual manner, except that no drones or drone brood are to be taken from them, but in their stead, drones and drone brood are to be taken from one Italian hive and put with the embryo queens taken from the other, making the exchange mutual.

All the colonies supplied with embryo queens taken from one hive and drones from the other, are. to be immediately transported to one place, which should be at least five miles from all common bees, as before directed, while all the colonies formed reversely are to be taken to a different place. By this method breeding in-and-in is prevented, and at the same time the breed is kept pure. As fast as the queens become fertile, they are to be taken from the small colonies and supplied to full hives, and the colonies again used to perfect other, queens in like manner. Thus a stock, no odds how extensive, may be quickly and surely Italianized. It will, however, be necessary to Italianize all the bees of a neighborhood, to prevent them crossing with the common bee.

Parties having apiaries remote from all others, who will at once Italianize all their stock in the manner I have indicated, and constantly select the FINEST QUEENS AND DRONES from which to breed, and avoid breeding in-and-in, will be able, not only to preserve the breed equal in purity to the imported stock, but to improve it. From my own experience, I am satisfied that the common bees are capable of being improved in like manner. In closing this chapter I would remark, that it is by no means certain that the Italian bee will possess all the advantages, and to the extent claimed for them. From the number scattered over the country, and in different hands, a few months will suffice to decide the matter.

Let each person who tries them, institute comparative experiments, side by side with the common bee, and thus decide their merits. The interest awakened, and the knowledge obtained in the business of bee-keeping, by such a course of experiments, will alone more than repay for the trouble, besides advancing an interest that is yet in its infancy.

References Edit

  1. "I think it too soon to form any certain opinion in regard to the Italian bees in this country. We niust, therefore, still in a great measure, depend on the statements of German bee-keepers ; and that is universally in favor of their great superiority over the black bee. Dzierzon states, that since he has Italianized his apiaries, his yield of honey has been double that obtained from the same number of common bees. My experience, thus far, satisfies me that they have not been overrated. The queens are larger and more prolific. The workers, when bred in comb of their own building, are longer, and their honey sacs larger. They are less sensitive to cold, and more industrious. " In all my handling of them and I have done so pretty freely, lifting the combs, and examining them almost daily I have never known one to offer to sting. A queen that I received in June, and introduced to a strong stock of bees, in eleven days filled thirteen sheets of comb with brood and eggs. There is at present scarcely a black bee in the hive, so rapid has been the change. Although I have taken from it large quantities of worker brood and sealed drones, the hive is still overflowing.

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