Photo above: Italian Ligurian Honeybee in North Carolina Photo Credit: Photographer Ken Thomas

Known as the purest species of honeybee currently on planet Earth, the Italian bee, or Ligurian honeybee is a subspecies of Apis mellifera, the Western honeybee. It is named for the fact that it originated in the Ligurian Alps, in northern Italy, during the Roman Empire.

Ligurian queens are highly favored for breeding gentle bees, although they can be considered to show a lack of vitality sometimes. They are strong breeders but can get bogged down with excessive brood rearing. Male drones do not have stingers, so they do not sting.

They are excellent foragers and do best in areas where there is a constant nectar flow all summer long. They keep a clean hive and are less likely than other species to swarm. Unfortunately, they are susceptible to diseases.

This 1:48-minute video by John Hamil is a beautiful tribute to the Italian Honey Bee:



Ligurian honeybees are smaller than the darker honeybee families, with shorter hairs. Their abdomens have yellow and brown bands, and these colors can be brighter or paler depending on the strain.

The Ligurian honeybee originated in the Mediterranean climate but does well in many climates and has proven to be an adaptable bee. This is one of the reasons it has become so popular globally. The bee does not enjoy humid tropical regions, nor does it thrive in cold winter weather, and does not cluster tightly like other honeybees do to survive winter. They cluster more loosely, so much heat is lost, and to stay warm they must consume more food.  

Since they are sweet and docile honeybees, they live in many countries around the world, like the USA, UK, New Zealand, Russia, Poland, and Germany. They are especially favored on Kangaroo Island, Australia, where they were imported in the early 1880s. It is said that the last remaining pure genes of this bee species are found here.

In January 2020, a devastating bushfire wiped out 1,000 to 1,200 hives of these precious insects on Kangaroo Island. It dealt a hard blow to the island's bee-based economy, but what stood out most from the reports of this tragic loss was how the people loved and grieved for their bees.