Giant Honey Bees

Male stingless giant honey bee drone
Giant Honey Bee Classification
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae
Genus: Apis
Species: Apis dorsata

The giant honey bee is a species of bee known as Apis dorsata. A giant honey bee belongs to the genus Apis, which is part of the family Apidae. All Hymenoptera, including Apidae, are insects.

The giant honey bee is a social insect, meaning that it lives in a nest as a colony with workers, drones, and queens each having a specific function.

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    Where Can Giant Honey Bees be Found?

    Swarm of giant honey bees on branch of tree

    Giant honey bees can be found in South and Southeast Asia, including India, China, Nepal, Malaysia, and Indonesia.[1]

    As tropical insects, giant honey bees migrate seasonally. In order to avoid inclement weather, individual giant honey bee colonies migrate together between nesting sites. Upon returning from migration, they usually nest at their previous nesting site.

    It is common for giant honey bees to spend approximately three to four months in each nesting site. Due to the scarcity of foraging resources, giant honey bees try to avoid rainy or hot weather.

    Generally, giant honey bees cannot be found outside the tropics, so they aren’t found in Northern America, Europe, or Canada.

    How to Identify a Giant Honey Bee

    One of the most easily identifiable characteristics of giant honey bees is their very large size, with workers reaching a length of two to three centimeters.

    It is also possible to identify giant honey bees by following them to their distinctive nests, which are often found hanging in trees or on ledges in urban areas.

    There is no significant difference in size between giant honey bee queens, drones, and workers within this species, making it difficult to distinguish between the sexes.

    It is important to note that giant honey bee queens are slightly larger than workers and drones and males have larger eyes, rounder abdomens, and no stingers.

    Where Do Giant Honey Bees Live?

    Giant honey bees live in unique nests that are suspended from tree branches or urban structures.

    Giant honey bees live in groups, building their nests together. There are three types of honey bees in giant colonies: queen bees, female worker bees, and male drone bees, each with its own function within the colony.

    Three-fourths of giant honey bees are perpetually engaged in colony defense, hanging from the nest and preventing predators from entering. [2]

    There is a great deal of intelligence in the planning and construction of giant honey bee nests, and they choose strong structures from which to hang them.

    The giant honey bee nests in aggregations, in which separate colonies occupy close quarters. An individual nesting site may contain up to 50 colonies of giant honey bees, such as the top of a tree or the overhang of a building.

    Giant honey bee swarm on branch of a tree
    The giant honey bees will often "shimmer", creating a wave-like effect. As a result of this "shimmer", potential threats to the giant nest of honey bees are deterred.

    The giant honey bee nest is composed of hexagonal cells that form a comb that hangs vertically from a tree branch or surface. 

    Honey is stored in these hexagonal cells, located in the upper corner of the nest, as well as eggs and giant honey bee larvae, which fill the rest of the nest.

    As their width is thin, giant honey bee nests appear as half-ovals from the side and blend in with their surroundings when viewed from below.

    How Big Is a Giant Honey Bee Colony?

    An average giant honey bee colony consists of between 60,000 and 100,000 individual bees. There is typically one giant honey bee queen, a few male drone bees, and thousands of female worker bee, each playing a distinct role in the colony.

    The queen giant honey bee is responsible for producing eggs that result in new bees, while the drones are responsible for fertilizing the queen.

    The worker giant honey bee performs a variety of tasks, including nest defense and food foraging for feeding the colony’s larvae.

    Do Giant Honey Bees Pollinate?

    As a result of their foraging behavior, giant honey bees play an instrumental role in pollination.

    During the process of foraging, giant honey bees fly between flowers and pick up pollen from each flower. This helps plants reproduce by transferring pollen between flowers and encouraging them to reproduce again.

    By transporting pollen from the stamen (male reproductive part of a flower) to the stigma (female reproductive part of a flower), a giant honey bee fertilizes a plant.

    As a result of this pollination, giant honey bees are an essential component of all ecosystems. It is therefore essential to protect and preserve these insects.

    Giant honey bee on orange flower
    While the giant honey bee is an important pollinator, did you know that this is not an intentional process? Bees are carrying out foraging activities, which result in this phenomenon.

    As with regular honey bees, giant honey bees have short hairs covering their bodies that allow pollen to stick to them. Additionally, female giant honey bees possess large and prominent pollen baskets located on their rear legs.

    As a result of these characteristics as well as the sheer number of flowers they visit every day, giant honey bees are very efficient pollinators.

    What Do Giant Honey Bees Eat?

    As with other honey bee species, giant honey bees are generalists, which means that they eat a wide variety of flowers. 

    Both pollen and nectar are collected by giant honey bees from flowers, with adults consuming the nectar for nourishment as well as bringing it home for use in honey production.

    During their larval stage, giant honey bees consume nectar, honey, and enzymes that are secreted by adult worker bees. These larvae are laid in small, individual cells and are primarily fed by worker giant honey bees.

    Honey plays an important role in the diet of giant honey bees. As well as serving as a food source for adults, it is a vital element in the development of young giant honey bees. Thus, giant honey bees will take every measure to prevent intruders from accessing their honey.

    Do Giant Honey Bees Make Honey?

    Giant honey bees making honey in the wild

    As adults, giant honey bees produce honey as a food source and a means of feeding their larvae. The giant honey bee accomplishes this by collecting nectar, converting it into simple sugars, and storing it in their honeycombs.

    In combination with the preservative enzymes produced by the bees, honey becomes thick and sweet, making it an excellent source of carbohydrates for growing giant honey bees.

    The honey of giant honey bees is consumed by humans, particularly in South and Southeast Asia. 

    However, extracting honey from these bees’ nests is much more difficult than extracting honey from regular honey bee nests because of how fiercely giant honey bees protect their honey.

    Do Giant Honey Bees Sting?

    It is well known that giant honey bees are quite aggressive with their stingers, and they are willing to sting humans if they come too close to the nest and threaten their food supply.

    In contrast to solitary honey bees, which do not produce honey and therefore have no honey to defend, giant honey bees are social and therefore produce large amounts of honey to sustain their colonies.

    Intruders are marked when they are stung by giant honey bees. They are known to follow intruders several miles to ensure that they stay away from the giant honey bee nest.

    Other than stinging, giant honey bees use a variety of defensive techniques to protect their nests from predators. In fact, they are capable of heating their thoraces to temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius. 

    45 degrees celsius is high enough to kill most wasps that may try to steal honey from the giant honey bee hive when they come into contact with it.

    Additionally, giant honey bees perform a behavior known as “shimmering” in which they sit on their nest and create a layer of bees that covers the entire nest. In order to confuse wasps, they stick out their abdomens and wiggle them together, making it impossible for them to enter the giant honey bee nest.

    Giant Honey Bee vs. Honey Bee

    Giant Honey Bee Honey Bee
    Appearance Very large, up to 3 cm long. Queens and workers are similar sizes. Up to 1.5 cm long. Queens are much larger than workers.
    Nesting behavior Builds nests that hang from tree branches, rocks, or buildings. Built hanging directly off of a surface. Builds nests in existing cavities such as dead trees.
    Colony size 60,000 - 100,000 bees. Nests in aggregates, meaning that colonies are often nesting just centimeters apart. 20,000 - 80,000 bees. Does not typically nest in aggregates.
    Honey production Produces and stores large amounts of honey, but is very defensive of the honey, making it difficult to harvest. Produces and stores huge amounts of honey that is easily farmed for human consumption.
    Defense mechanisms Three-quarters of bees are employed in colony defense, hanging off of the nest and preventing intruders. Employs a technique called “shimmering,” in which bees wave their abdomens to confuse wasps. Can also effectively “cook” wasps by heating their thoraces to more than 45 degrees Celsius. Stings aggressively. Considered the most defensive of all honey bees. Die after stinging.[3] Honey bees typically only sting when they feel that themselves or their honey is being threatened. They are less aggressive than Giant Honey Bees but will still sting readily when threatened.
    Reproduction The colony cycle begins in October or November, a queen flies away from the original nest and a swarm of workers follows her. The drones mate with the queen. Similar to Giant Honey Bees but takes place in different months depending on the bees’ location.
    Diet Generalist bees, feeding on a wide variety of flowers. Similar to Giant Honey Bees.
    Distribution Found in South and Southeast Asia, in forest areas or on cliffs. Sometimes found in urban areas. Originated in Southeast Asia but introduced honey bees can now be found all over the world.
    Lifespan About two months. One to two months.
    Migration Migrates between nest sites. Does not migrate.

    Reproduction & Lifecycle of Giant Honey Bees

    Because giant honey bee colonies migrate rather than overwinter, they are active throughout the year.

    It is during October and November that they exhibit swarming behavior, which is the method by which new colonies of giant honey bees are formed.

    A giant honey bee swarm occurs when a queen emerges from her nest and flies slowly away as hundreds of worker bees follow it. A new giant honey bee colony is established in a new location and a new nest is constructed.

    When the queen giant honey bee is ready to mate, it flies away from the nest and the drones follow. These giant honey bees mate in the air for approximately 13 minutes.

    In a practice known as polyandry, many giant honey bee drones mate with one queen. There is a general tendency for giant honey bee colonies to mate among themselves as opposed than mating with drones or queens from other aggregations.

    As soon as the queen giant honey bee has mated, it returns to the nest to lay eggs. It lays worker and drone eggs, and these eggs are nourished by pollen and honey, a combination of nectar and enzymes produced by the bees.

    Close up shop of a giant honey bee colony
    Due to the fact that they are active throughout the year, they are particularly valuable pollinators. This is possible because giant honey bees migrate rather than overwinter.

    Honey and protein-rich pollen continue to be fed to the giant honey bee larvae as they grow. They become workers or drones after hatching and perform a variety of duties, including defending the hive, foraging, and raising giant honey bee larvae.

    There is continuous production of new larvae by giant honey bees after the death of older bees, which results in constantly evolving and changing colonies.

    It is rare for giant honey bee colonies to die completely, but they may decrease in numbers during periods of heavy rain or excessive heat during summer.


    [1] Wikipedia [2] Bee Aware [3] entnemdept

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