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Apis melifera
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Carniolan Honeybee

  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Apidae
  • Genus: Apis
  • Species: A. mellifera
  • Subspecies: Apis mellifera carnica

The Carniolan honeybee (Apis mellifera carnica Pollm 1879) originates in Slovenia (with the exception of a small part of Primorska). Nowadays it can be found in the regions of Koroska, Styria, Lower Austria in Austria, a part of Hungary, Romania and  predominantly in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

The Carniolan honeybee is spread throughout the rest of the world as well, except for polar and some tropical regions.  It is considered to be the second most popular bee race in the world. It even looks that in the future it willsurpass the now most popular breed-an Italian honeybee breed: Apis mellifera ligustica.

Carniolan honey bees are about the same size as the Italian honeybee race, but they are physically distinguished by their generally dusky brown-grey color that is relieved by stripes of a subdued lighter brown color. Their chitin is dark, but it is possible to find lighter colored or brown colored rings and dots on their bodies. They are also known as the ‘Grey Bee’.

Carniolan bees are nearly as big and long as the Western European black bees, though their abdomens are much slimmer. Furthermore, the Carniolan bee has a very long tongue (6.5 to 6.7 mm, which is very well adapted for clover), a very high elbow joint and very short hair.

Origin and Traits

The bee is the subspecies of the Western honey bee that has naturalized and adapted to the Carniola region of Slovenia, the Southern part of the Austrian Alps and North Balkan. These bees are known as Carniolans in English. At present this race (i.e., subspecies) is the second most popular among beekeepers (after the Italian honey bees). It is favored among beekeepers for several reasons, not the least being its ability to defend itself successfully against insect pests while at the same time being extremely gentle in its behavior toward beekeepers. These bees are particularly adept at adjusting worker population to nectar availability.

It relies on these rapid adjustments of population levels to rapidly expand worker bee populations after nectar becomes available in the spring, and, again, to rapidly cut off brood production when nectar ceases to be available in quantity. It meets periods of high nectar with high worker populations and consequently stores large quantities of honey and pollen during those periods. They are resistant to some diseases and parasites that can debilitate hives of other subspecies.

The most important traits are its small consumption of winter stores, fast spring buildup, its ability to be an exellent honey producer on honeydew sources, and their fast minimization of brood in a period when there are no adequate honey sources so that the brood disappears in early autumn.

The Carniolan honeybee is very gentle towards beekeepers and defends itself against robbing of other bees. Bees are almost entirely unsusceptible to bee mites (acariosis apis). In comparison to other types of honeybees, the Carniolan honeybee can also resist nosema disease (nosemosis apium) and American foulbrood (pestis apium).

Beneficial Traits

  • considered to be gentle and non-aggressive
  • can be kept in populated areas.
  • sense of orientation considered better than the Italian honey bee race
  • less drifting of bees from one hive to a neighboring hive
  • when compared to the Italian race, they are not as prone to rob honey
  • able to overwinter in smaller numbers of winter bees; honey stores are conserved.
  • able to quickly adapt to changes in the environment
  • better for areas with long winters
  • rhythm of brood production very steep. Brood rearing is reduced when available forage decreases
  • small use of propolis
  • resistant to brood diseases
  • for areas with strong spring nectar flow and early pollination
  • forage earlier in the morning and later in the evening, and on cool, wet days.

Non-beneficial traits

  • more prone to swarming if overcrowded
  • low ability to produce wax and build comb (not uniformly accepted as fact)
  • low ability to thrive in hot summer weather
  • strength of broodnest more dependent on availability of pollen
  • dark queen is difficult to find


  • Krvina, A., Mihelič, J,, Slovenia-country of good bee-keepers. Ljubljana, Domus,1995, s. 3-13
  • Poklukar J., Babnik J., Božič J., Božnar A., Debelak M., Gregorc A., Jenko - Rogelj M., J Jelenc J., Kresal D., Meglič M., Rihar J., Senegačnik J., Stark J., Strmole B., Šivic F., Vidmar U., Zdešar P., Od čebele do medu. Kmečki glas, 1998 , 472 s.
  • Rihar, J., Vzrejajmo boljše čebele. Ljubljana, 1972, 158 s.
  • Rinderer TE: Bee Genetics and breeding. Academic press inc., 1986, 425 s.
  • Ruttner F., Naturgeschichte der Honigbiene. Ehrenwirth Verlag, 1992, 357 s.
  • Graham, Joe. The Hive and the Honey Bee. Hamilton/IL: Dadant & Sons; 1992; ISBN 0-915698-09-9.
  • Skinner, John A. Beekeeping in Tennessee, 2004; University of Tennessee; web accessed Oct 2006 -
  • Slovenian carnica bee breeder web page accessed Oct 2006 -
  • Cobey, Sue; New World Carniolan Honey Bee Breeding Program; Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Laboratory; Ohio State University web accessed Oct 2006


  • The Preserved Slovenian Autochtonous Domestic Animals (Slovene & English) -

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Created: Wednesday, December 01, 2004; Last updated: Thursday, August 25, 2016
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