17 April 2014
THE SHORT ANSWER (TSA)
If you live in North America or Western Europe, when you think of a honey bee, you’re thinking of the Italian bee. All honey bees of are one species, Apis mellifera. The differences are often in the subspecies. The Italian bee is formally named apis mellifera ligustica (or “A. m. ligustica” for short). When you think of the black and lemon yellow striped honeybee, again, you’re thinking of the Italian bee.
Brought from southern Europe to England and the United States in 1859, this bee replaced the German or Black bee that had been the favorite in those countries. After several attempts, the Italian bee was successfully introduced to Australia sometime between 1862 and 1880.
The Italian bee is less defensive and more resistant to disease than the German bee and, soon after its introduction, was exclusively favored by beekeepers. On the down side, compared to the German bee, the Italian bee is less able to cope with extremely cold winters and wet weather in the spring.
All bees consume their own stored honey. But the Italian bee is a particularly “hungry” bee. Beekeepers must withdraw honey promptly after it is stored by these bees because it will be quickly eaten. When their honey runs low, Italian bees frequently raid other hives for the honey stores. Aside from creating social problems, this “sticky-fingered” behavior is a problem for bee keepers because it tends to spread disease more quickly from hive to hive.
Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri