Italian Bee – Yellow Alp Bee


The Ligurian Bee is a species indigenous to the south of Europe, and has been cultivated in Italy in the same way as the common honey Bee has been in the northern parts of Europe  from time immemorial. It is the Apis Ligustica of the naturalist; and though so well known to exist and to have all the honey-producing properties of our own honey Bee, with some other advantages besides, it seems remarkable that it should have remained so long unknown to the apiarians of this country.

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The merit of introducing this species is due to Mr. Woodbury, the eminent Devonshire Bee-keeper, who, having made the necessary preliminary inquiries, placed himself in communication with Mons. H. C. Hermann, of Tamin-by-Chur, in the Canton of Grison, Switzerland; and on the 19th of July, 1859, the Ligurian Bee was introduced to England.

In a pamphlet on the subject by M. Hermann we have the following particulars of this insect:—

“The yellow Italian Alp Bee is a mountain insect; it is found between two mountain chains to the right and left of Lombardy and the Rhætian Alps, comprising the whole territory of Tessins, Vetlin, and South-Graubunden. It thrives up to the height of 4500 feet above the level of the sea, and appears to prefer the northern clime to the warmer, for in the south of Italy it is not found. The farther one goes from the Alps, the less handsome they are found—as for example in Nice, until they are entirely lost in lower Italy in the black species. We must therefore look for the original in Switzerland, and we can call them with as much right Apis Helvetica, as the Genoese call them Apis Ligustica. Some learned men have called them Ligurian Bees, but that name has neither historical nor geographical claim, and not one Bee-cultivator of the whole district of the Italian Alp Bee knows what kind of insects Ligurian Bees are. The Alps are their native country; therefore they are called Yellow Alp Bees, or Tame House Bees, in contradistinction to the black European Bees, which we might call common forest Bees, and which, on the slightest touch, fly like lightning into your face.

“The Italian yellow Bee differs from the common black Bee in its longer more slender form, and light chrome yellow colour, with light brimstone-coloured wings, and two orange-red bands, each one-sixth of an inch wide. Working Bees as well as drones have this mark. The drones are further distinguished by the bands being scolloped like the spotted water-serpent, and obtain an astonishing size—almost half as large again as the black drones. The queen has the same marks as the working Bees, but much more conspicuous and lighter; she is much larger than the black queen, and easy to be singled out of the swarm, on account of her remarkable bodily size and light colour.

“The Bees are almost transparent when the sun shines on them.

“This race has nothing in common with the black Bees, which can be instantly seen by their ways and manner of building. The cells of the Italian Bee are considerably deeper and broader than those of the black Bees. Fifteen cells of the Italians are as broad as sixteen cells of the black kind.”

Their chief merits in contrast with the black Bees are—1, as they naturally inhabit a region of such elevation as 4500 feet, they are less sensitive to cold than the common Bee; 2, their queens are more prolific; 3, they swarm earlier and more frequently; 4, they are much less apt to sting, and not only so, but unless they are intentionally annoyed or irritated they are not inclined to sting; 5, they are more courageous and active in self-defence, and are particularly disposed to plunder the hives of the common kind; but should the latter attack their hives they fight with great fierceness and adroitness.


As soon as you have become possessed of a Ligurian queen and her attendants, steps should be taken for removing the common queen from the stock, or swarm, to which the strangers are to be united.

Where bar hives are in use the operation is sufficiently easy, but should not be attempted without the protection afforded by a Bee-dress and a thick pair of wollen gloves. The services of an assistant similarly accoutred will be found very useful, but are not absolutely indispensable.

The middle of a fine day is the best time for the operation, which should be commenced by removing the stock a little either to the right or left of its usual position, which must be occupied by an empty hive, from which the top board and comb-bars have been removed. The top board of the full hive must then be shifted on one side sufficiently to expose a single bar, which may be carefully withdrawn after the attachments of the comb have been severed from the back and front of the hire by a bent knife. Both sides of the comb must be rigidly scrutinised, and any cluster of Bees gently dispersed with a feather, until it becomes evident that the queen is not present, when it may be placed in the empty hive. The same process must be repeated with each successive comb until the queen is discovered and secured, when the Bees may be either allowed to remain in the hive to which they have been transferred, or replaced in their original domicile. Sometimes the queen is not to be found on any of the combs, but may be detected among the stragglers remaining in the hive. In practised hands her discovery may be reckoned on with tolerable certainty during the first removal; but if she succeed in escaping detection the process must be repeated until she is secured.

With common hives or boxes driving is the best method to adopt; and the Bees, having been expelled from their habitation, may be knocked out on a cloth and searched over until the queen is discovered.

Should the Bee-keeper be unable to perform the operation of driving, fumigation may be resorted to and the queen secured whilst the Bees are in a state of insensibility.

Should the queen have been removed, and the Bees restored to their original hive and position in the apiary, measures must now be taken to introduce the Italian sovereign to her future subjects. The first step will be carefully to remove the lid of the small box, replacing it with a slip of perforated zinc without permitting the Bees to escape. The whole must then be inverted over an opening in the top of the hive containing the queenless stock, where it should remain undisturbed till the next day, when the perforated zinc divider may be withdrawn, and the union will be complete. The small box itself need not be removed till the third day, when the Bees will be found to have quitted it.

After the lapse of about thirty days young Ligurians may, probably, be discovered taking their flight.


Presuming that the Ligurian queens are in bar hives, and that they prove themselves fairly prolific mothers, let a number of similar bar hives be provided, and into each of these, from time to time, during the course of the summer, let there be carefully transferred from the Ligurian stock a bar with comb attached, containing eggs and young Bees in every stage of progress.

It would be well that every full-grown Bee should be previously swept off this comb back into the old hive, so as to prevent all danger of fighting between them and the Bees of the other stocks to which the comb is to be given. Then, in the middle of a warm and sunny day, when the Bees are chiefly abroad, let this comb, carefully fixed in an empty bar hive, be put in the place of any strong stock of common Bees that may be available for the purpose. This stock may be removed to some distance; but it would be well first so to disturb it as to cause a good many more of the Bees to leave it than might happen to be foraging in the fields; and, moreover to stop up its entrance till the evening. The ether Bees would soon take possession of the empty bar hive, and in three weeks’ time replace their missing English queen with a young artificially-reared Ligurian queen, whose progeny would, in due course of time, become the sole possessors of the hive. The English stocks chosen for this purpose must be in the same, or in a very closely-adjoining apiary, otherwise the absence of Ligurian drones at the proper season would prove fatal to the success of this plan of increase.

One Ligurian stock losing one bar only, from time to time, might in this manner become the parent of a dozen stocks at least in the same season; and the earliest of the young swarms (say those formed in May), might also, in a warm spring, be made productive of two or three swarms in the same manner, without becoming too much weakened. Indeed, two bars may be taken every week out of the Ligurian stock during the months of May, June, and July; and these swarms, artificially formed, in the manner above detailed, may be worked during at least a whole month, from the middle of June to the middle of July.

One good Ligurian stock should be left pretty much to itself, so as to encourage the propagation of drones. Still, even this stock might be made to yield a few bars without in the least rendering the development of drones; but no bars should be taken out till a fair number have been seen abroad. Perhaps the best plan would be to make a swarm out of this hive in the same artificial manner, so soon as many drones are hatched. For drones which join swarms are generally (perhaps always) allowed to remain alive till late in the season, whereas the earliest-hatched drones are frequently destroyed in cold springs in their own hives.

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