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Bees of a different color

Ever wonder why you sometimes see black bees and yellow bees in the same hive? The answer is simple genetics. Since a queen may mate with many different drones (as many as 20), the progeny of that queen may look strikingly different from one another. Italian drones, for example, have a good chance of fathering yellow bees, and Carniolan drones may father black bees. And while those characteristics are clearly visible, other differences exist which are not so easy to see. Many differing traits within a single hive–including things like wintering ability and disease resistance–are a result of the drone’s chromosomes.

Multiple mating is nature’s way of assuring a mix of genetic information in the hive. If the queen mated just once, then all her offspring would be genetically similar. And genetic similarity is a negative trait when it comes to long-term survival of a species.

Different colored bees in one hive are like different colored cats in one litter. And the reason is exactly the same. A female cat may mate with more than one tom and give birth to a litter of half-siblings–just the same as bees.

Rusty

Half sisters? Yellow bees and black bees in one hive.

Comments

Jon
Reply

Thank you for answering this question. I just introduced my first 2 nucs to their new hive boxes 3 days ago and was inspecting them today. Kept noticing black bees intermixed with the golden yellow Italians. I found it interesting and was going to ask a fellow beekeeper tomorrow. Thought it could be a mixture of bees from the source but genetics makes good sense too.

Also would like to ask about the color of my 2 queens. I was told the bees I was buying were Italians which I believe they are. Both queens look great and healthy but different in color. One is golden/yellow the other is almost a rust/dark red color. I assume genetics or possibly age? Just guessing though so I’d love to hear your insight on this.

Love your site!
Jon

P.S.

One of the frames in one of the nucs had abnormal (wavy) comb. Any advice on correcting this? Will they fix it? Should I just leave it alone? Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Hi Jon,

I think the differences in color are just genetic variations and nothing to do with age. Just like two collies may look different, two queens may look different. Variety is good. The more genetic diversity in your apiary, the better.

Wavy combs happen, usually when the bees have too much room to build. They will not fix it. I would just leave it alone, unless it is causing problems during inspections. If it’s in the way, just cut the comb away and return the frame to them so they can rebuild.

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