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Apis mellifera ligustica
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae
Genus: Apis
Subgenus: (Apis)
Species: A. mellifera
Subspecies: A. m. ligustica
Trinomial name
Apis mellifera ligustica
Spinola, 1806

Apis mellifera ligustica, commonly called the Italian bee, is a sub-species of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera).


The Italian honey bee originates from the continental part of Italy, South of the Alps, and North of Sicily. This sub-species may have survived the last ice age in Italy. It is genetically a different sub-species than the those of the Iberian peninsula and Sicily. It is the most widely distributed of all honey bees, and has proved adaptable to most climates ranging from subtropical to cool temperate, but is less satisfactory in humid tropical regions.

Italian bees, having been conditioned to the warmer climate of the central Mediterranean, are less able to cope with the "hard" winters and cool, wet springs of more northern latitudes. They do not form such tight winter clusters. More food has to be consumed to compensate for the greater heat loss from the loose cluster. The tendency to raise brood late in autumn also increases food consumption.


  • Color: Abdomen has brown and yellow bands. Among different strains of Italian bees there are three different colors: Leather; bright yellow (golden); and very pale yellow (Cordovan).
  • Size: The bodies are smaller and their overhairs shorter than those of the darker honeybee races
  • Tongue length: 6.3 to 6.6 mm
  • Mean Cubital index: 2.2 to 2.5

Disease Resistance[]

There is no clear evidence that ligustica are any more resistant to acarine mites than the Northern dark bee. They also appear to be less tolerant of Nosema than Northern dark bees. They are unable to retain faeces in the gut for long periods and require more frequent cleaning flights than the dark bees. They are affected by the parasitic varroa mite, Tracheal Mites, and the bacterial diseases European Foulbrood, American Foul Brood, Chalkbrood and other diseases of the honey bee.



  • shows strong disposition to breeding and very prolific
  • excellent housekeeper (which some scientists think might be a factor in disease resistance)
  • uses little propolis
  • excellent foragers
  • superb comb builders
  • covers the honey with brilliant white cappings
  • shows lower swarming tendency than other Western honey bee races
  • for areas with continuous nectar flow and favorable weather throughout the summer

not beneficial[]

  • more prone to drifting and robbing than the other principal races of Europe.
  • Often the strong brood rearing disposition and resulting large food consumption in late winter or early spring causes spring dwindling and hence slow or tardy spring development
  • brood rearing starts late and lasts long into late Summer or Autumn, irrespective of nectar flow
  • tends to forage over shorter distances than either carnica or mellifera, and may therefore be less effective in poorer nectar flows.
  • apparently lacks the ability to ripen heather honey before sealing.
  • for cool maritime regions
  • for areas with strong spring flow
  • for areas with periods of dearth of nectar in the summer


It has a reputation for gentleness, but hybrids with the darker races can be especially vicious.

Selective breeding[]

Breeders of Italian bees as well as other honey bee races look for certain beneficial characteristics. Depending on the breeding goal one or more of the following characteristics will be emphasized.

  1. Gentleness or excitability
  2. Resistance to various diseases and the tracheal mite plus the Varroa mite
  3. Early spring buildup in population
  4. Wintering ability
  5. Not prone to excess swarming
  6. Ripens honey rapidly
  7. Honeycomb cappings are white
  8. Minimal use of propolis
  9. Availability and queen cost
  10. Color [1]

Worldwide Distribution[]

  • 1814 introduced into the United Kingdom
  • 1853? introduced to Germany
  • 1839 introduced into New Zealand
  • 1859 introduced to the USA
  • 1862 introduced to Australia, on 9 December into Victoria aboard the steam ship Alhambra
  • 1866 introduced to Finland
  • 1884 (Easter) introduced to Kangaroo Island South Australia, sourced from Brisbane where they were previously imported in 1880 from Italy by Chas. Fullwood. It's possible Jas. Carroll had Italian bees in Brisbane by April 1875, but he certainly had them in 1877 when Angus Mackay accompanied a hive or hives of bees aboard the City of New York, packaged by Harbison in California. After a week's stopover in Sydney, the bees arrived in Brisbane. [2]


  1. George Imrie's pink pages
  2. Barrett, P. "The Immigrant Bees, 1788 to 1898", Vols. I-III) This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).