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Russian bees

Russian bees

Russian bees, or dark European bees or Dark forest bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) are a subspecies of honey bee. It is quite difficult to find pure-bred Russian bees. According to statistics, their number is only 5% of the total number of bee colonies of this species on the territory of Russia. The breed has a number of interesting properties and is considered to be one of the oldest in beekeeping.


The Russian bee has characteristic external features that help to distinguish it from other breeds. The insect has a rather large body. Worker bees are 1.2 cm long and weigh 100 – 110 mg. The queen bees, as a rule, reach one and a half centimetres and weigh 190 – 210 mg. The colour of the Russian bee is dark brown or black with grey stripes. Yellow colour is practically not expressed in contrast to Cordovan and Italian bees. The body is covered with a large number of hairs. The legs are wide. Wings are strong, up to 9.7 mm long.

The proboscis of the Russian bee is short and extended (about 6.15 mm). This feature does not allow Russian bees to collect nectar from some flowers where the nectar is deep in the flower blossom.

The empty honey goitre is one and a half times larger and has a volume of 20 cubic mm.


Russian bees are characterised by their high endurance and productivity. Their efficiency lasts all day at temperatures ranging from 10 degrees Celsius to 35-37 degrees Celsius. However, the insect can only work in the heat if the hives are located in the shade. This distinguishes it from the Sicilian bee, which is active even in the heat. Workability at higher temperatures decreases, because bees at this time have to concentrate not on nectar collection, but on nest ventilation to avoid brood heating. Work is also suspended in rainy and windy weather.

Bees of this species are oriented towards climates with harsh conditions and a short honey-gathering period. Therefore, the insect needs to collect as much honey as possible in a short period of time in order to survive the long winter.

The average result of a working season is 50-70kg of honey.

Russian bees can quickly build honeycombs, producing a lot of wax. The peculiarity of these bees is also in their high fertility. Their queen can lay from 2,000 to 2,500 eggs per day, distracted only by meal breaks.

If there is enough food in the colony, the queen does not reduce egg-laying even in the absence of nectar.

Egg-laying in this breed stops quite early in autumn, as brood rearing takes a lot of energy from the colony. For a favourable outcome of hibernation it is necessary that strong, not exhausted specimens go into winter.

Insects do not fly long distances.

Russian bees have a hard time switching from one honey plant to another. Even if a honey bee is already producing nectar poorly, but it was the first to bloom, bees will still prefer it to another plant that produces nectar more abundantly, but bloomed later.

When filling the hive with honey, Russian bees start at the top of the hive and only then put it in the nest.

When putting honey in, the bees of this breed leave a small gap with air between the honey and the wax caps. The honey seal of this breed is always dry and has a white colour. This further affects the taste and aroma of the honey.

Due to the fact that the insects collect honey first in the super, and only from there it is fed to the part of the hive where the brood is contained, the beekeeper when extracting it before wintering should be extremely careful not to leave his wards without food for a long period of time

The favourite sources of honey for the Russian bee are linden and buckwheat.

In case of a strong honey harvest, the main task of the colony will be to collect nectar. Because of this, Drones are kicked out later than in other breeds in order to keep the nest at the right temperature while the worker bees are working on the honey harvest. At this time, the queen bee reduces egg laying to make room in the nest for nectar and pollen.


Russian bees tolerate extremely low temperatures. Hives with bees can be safely left outside for wintering, warmed with snow or any other means at hand to protect the family from draughts.

Bees spend their forage very economically in winter. Due to low feed consumption, the intestines are not overloaded with fecal masses during hibernation, so the breed is less likely to suffer from nosema and can withstand a very long flightless period.

The only danger for bees is increased humidity in the nest. To avoid this, the hive must be well ventilated.

High ability to adapt to climatic conditions is another characteristic feature of this breed. The first flights start already in March days at a temperature of 5 degrees Celsius.

Bees of the Russian breed remain in the club in case of temperature increase, and the mother does not start egg-laying in case of short-term warming, which allows colonies to avoid unnecessary energy expenditures and leave the wintering not weakened.

After hibernation, Russian bees “wake up” later, but reproduction processes are more intensive, even without stimulation with feed. Insect broods with large body sizes require a larger volume of honeycomb cells (5.6 mm). Honeycomb construction is always intensive due to developed wax glands.

Tendency to aggression

The first thing that all beekeepers note in the behaviour of Russian bees is their high aggressiveness. However, as experienced beekeepers point out, a lot depends on how a person behaves. If you work at the apiary not in the evening, when the whole colony is in the hive, but in the daytime, while the flying bee is at work, the chances of not being stung increase. Calm behaviour of the beekeeper, working in warm, windless weather, and the absence of sharp smells on clothing also minimise the risk of attack from the inhabitants of the bee house. Russian bees do not like human interference. Therefore, with the exception of necessary apiary work related to prevention, treatment, nest enlargement, swarm control and honey extraction, bees should not be disturbed.

Due to the high aggressiveness of this breed, care should be taken for the safety of people living in the neighbourhood of the apiary. It is necessary to enclose the apiary with a two-metre deep fence. If possible, it is better to place bee houses far away from populated areas.

A tendency for robbery

Despite their harsh nature, Russian bees are not inclined to rob supplies from their fellow bees in other hives and are not even always able to protect their own honey.

Swarming tendency

Lack of honey yield provokes the family to swarm, so its performance is seriously impaired. The bees do not build honeycombs and collect nectar poorly. Russian bees swarm actively. During swarming, 1-2 large swarms fly out of the nest, which negatively affects the future results of the honey harvest. The approach of swarming can be identified by a high buzzing noise in the hive. Inspection reveals a large number of drones and queen cells appear.

Anti- swarming methods used by beekeepers are less effective on Russian bees than on bees of other breeds. However, they should not be neglected: the beekeeper needs to expand the hive in time by adding frames, and it is also important to replace old queen bees with young ones in time. This should be done every two years, as the insects start swarming when the fertility of the queen decreases after she reaches two years of age.

Breeding areas

In Russia, the breeding area of the Russian bee is quite extensive. This breed can be found in apiaries , in the Urals and even in Siberia. This is due to the fact that representatives of the Russian bee can tolerate low temperatures well. The Russian breed is very popular in Bashkortostan. In Europe, the Russian bee breed can be found in beekeepers in Germany, France, Switzerland and Holland. However, due to its high aggressiveness and propensity to swarming, Russian bees can be found quite rarely today. As a rule, beekeepers choose in favour of more peaceful and non-swarming breeds, even though there is an increased risk of unfavourable wintering in harsh climates.


Unlike southern bee breeds, the Russian bee is more difficult to care for due to its high aggressiveness and tendency to swarm, but its resistance to long hibernation and high speed of colony development ensure that Russian bees can make the most efficient use of the honey harvest time even under unfavourable weather conditions.

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