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Published on 23rd June 2022 by staff

Italian Bee

Apis mellifera ligustica

Italian honeybees are a subspecies of the common domesticated bees, the western honey bee (Apis mellifera). They are arguably the most popular type among beekeepers around the world.

Originally from Italy, these bees were first introduced to Britain by British beekeeper Thomas White Woodbury in 1859.

Italian Bee
Apis mellifera ligustica

Scientific Classification

Class: Insecta

Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Apidae

Genus: Apis

Species: A. mellifera

Subspecies: A. m. ligustica

What Do They Look Like

They are lighter in color than many other bees, with the base color varying from ‘Leather’ to pale yellow (‘Cordovan’) and a vibrant dark yellow (‘Golden’). The belly is marked with yellow and brown stripes. The queen bees have a slightly darker coloration.

Italian Queen Bee
Italian Bee Image

Relatively small in size, the overhairs of the Italian honeybees are shorter than that of darker bee types. Their tongue is 6.3-6.6 mm long, while the mean cubital index ranges between 2.2 and 2.5.

Distribution: Originating from Continental Italy, they have been introduced throughout the world, including Germany, the US, UK, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand

Habitat: Domesticated; can adapt to various habitats

Diet: Flower nectar and pollen

Do They Bite/Sting: Yes; though they are less aggressive than most other bees, they will sting if threatened

Lifespan: Queen bees – several years; workers – around 6 weeks; drones – about 8 weeks

Predators: Wasps, hornets, parasitic mites, animals like skunks and bears.

Italian Bees
Italian Honey Bee Picture

Characteristics

Temperament

The primary reason for their popularity among beekeepers is their gentle and docile temperament, making them easy to handle and work with. However, this makes them susceptible to hive beetles and hornets. 

Nectar-gathering

Italian bees are active foragers and can adapt to different climates. They are more active during warmer days and prefer not to gather nectar during cool, overcast days. As a result, they produce less amount of honey in habitats with colder springs. They are known to keep their hives clean by themselves, which is another reason for their popularity as domestic bees.

Italian Bee Hive
Italian Honey Bees

Wintering

These bees must keep large colonies in winter to produce enough hive warmth to survive the cold. As a result, they will feed through more stored honey and pollen during this period.

Swarming Behavior

They swarm under certain conditions and only into the second year in a hive – usually towards the end of spring and summer.

Their poor sense of direction may often make them drift to another colony and ‘rob’ them (a beekeeping term meaning bees stealing honey from other hives).

Image Source: animal.photos, glenn-apiaries.com, bugguide.net, indiamart.com, beeinformed.org, live.staticflickr.com

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