Bee species found in the North East of India

Winter is coming and in the forests animals both large and small are stocking up for their families to last the winters. Little mice are looking for food at people’s homes and fabric to keep their burrows warm. Bears are hogging on fresh fish and other things in the forest to help them with a long winter full of sleep, birds are stocking up on insulating agents to fill their nests with and tiny little bees are visiting as many flowers as they can to stock up on the honey that’ll be their food, their feed for the baby bees and for their queens.

Continuing our journey with bees and the honey they make, let us tell you, that in North East of India, there are completely different species of honey bees that give you different kinds of raw honey which is very essential for human health.

There are 5 species of bees that are most prominently found in the north east. They are:

  1. Apis Laboriosa
  2. Apis Mellifera
  3. Apis Dorsata
  4. Apis Florea
  5. Apis Cerana

Let us know more about each of these bee species found in the North East of India

  1. The Giant Honey Bee or Apis Laboriosa

The taxonomy of this species of bee:

  • Common names: Himalayan Honey bee/ Cliff bee honey bee
  • Species: Apis Laboriosa smith, 1871
  • Genus: Apis Linnaeus, 1758
  • Sub Genus: Apis (Megapis) Ashmead, 1904
  • Family: Apidae
  • Subfamily: Apinae
  • Tribe: Apini Latreille, 1802

Diagnostic characteristics of this bee:

  • The nest of this bee that is made of a single comb is built over vertical cliffs or under overhangs.
  • Their nests found commonly on a high altitude that is above 1200 metres.
  • Their nest consists of a single large comb.
  • The length of their fore wings can measure up to 12mm in length and hind wings are present as well.

Overview of the bee

The species of bees called the Apis Laboriosa is the largest species of honey bees in the present. The distribution of this species is restricted and their nesting behaviours are unique compared to other species. This species of bees has no races or variations within the species according to research but in the past, this species was thought of as being a sub species of the Apis Dorsata Honey bee. But this species of bees can be differentiated from the Apis Dorsata species through the following characteristics:

  • The distribution of this species is limited to the Himalayas.
  • The species can be found at an altitude of 2500 metres and upto 4000 metres above sea level.
  • The colonies of this species usually can be found nesting under the cliffs but never in an accumulated form.
  • The foragers (or the working force of the bee population) do not produce the humming sound during the waggle dance.

Behaviour of Nesting:

The nest of this species is constructed in an open space and it consists of a single comb that can almost at all times be found hanging from a rock or a cliff at a very high altitude. Different from Apis Dorsata, the species of bees has never been found to nest in an aggregation.

Host Association:

The Apis Laboriosa is a polylectic which means that it is bound to visit a vast range of plants for its food.

Cultural significance:

This species of honey is known to produce three kinds of honey the Red honey which is made from flowers that bloom at really high altitudes, the spring honey made from flowers at mid or low altitudes and then there is the autumn honey that is mostly created from any site at lower grounds. It is this red honey that is known to have really intoxicating effects and is so sought after in the markets. The honey hunters are known to sell this really priced honey at 6-7 times the price of regular raw honey. This red honey is highly priced and aggressively bought when available in the market because of its super rare and unique medicinal value and the Intoxicating almost hallucinogenic taseer (Urdu for effect) of consuming the honey.

  1. The Dwarf honey bee or the Apis Florea

The taxonomy of this species of bee:

  • Common names: red dwarf honey bee
  • Species: Apis florea Fabricius, 1787
  • Genus: Apis Linnaeus, 1758
  • Sub Genus: Apis (Micrapis) Ashmead, 1904
  • Family: Apidae
  • Subfamily: Apinae
  • Tribe: Apini Latreille, 1802

Diagnostic characteristics of this bee:

  • The length of the forewing of the worker bees measures to 6.2mm-6.8mm.

Host associations:

The Apis Florea is a bee that can be called a generalist because it is known to visit a large range of plants for its food.

Behaviour of nesting:

The nests that the Apis Florea make for them are usually exposed and is made up of one single horizontal comb that is built around or attached to branches to trees that are tall. Their nests are often found to be built in thickets and are shaded and sometimes may be built around human settlements or manmade structures. In the wild however, this species thrives and lives in forests, savannah woodlands or any sort of disturbed area.

Cultural significance:

This species of bees are known to have two main kinds of human interactions, that of Hunting and of Tourism. Within the Asian countries there is rise of hunting activities for the search of this bee species. This species is basically harmless to humans and this is why they are easy to hunt and to rear as well. This species of bees also hold religious significance in Hindu and Buddhist religions. Within the Hindu culture the honey from this species of bees is a sign of blending, adaption and unity of when everything comes together, this is why honey is served in many rituals and traditional ceremonies. Within the Buddhist religion, when you offer honey to a monk it is best received as generous alms and it is considered as the most expressive way to reward a good deed.

  1. The rock bee or the Apis Dorsata

The taxonomy of this species of bee:

  • Common names: giant honey bee
  • Species: Apis dorsataFabricius, 1793
  • Genus: ApisLinnaeus, 1758
  • Sub Genus: Apis (Megapis)Ashmead, 1904
  • Family: Apidae
  • Subfamily: Apinae
  • Tribe: Apini Latreille, 1802

Diagnostic characteristics of this bee:

  • The worker bees of this species are reddish brown or brownish black in color.

Host associations:

The Apis Dorsata is a bee that can be called a generalist because it is known to visit a large range of plants for its food.

Behaviour of nesting:

The nests of the Apis Dorsata are built in exposed, open or conspicuous areas such as rock cliffs, tall trees and buildings. The nests of this species are aggregated or clumped up together although there have also been sightings of singular nests. There have also been unusual sightings of around 20-25 nests all in the same vicinity or on a single tree. They build their nests at around 6 meters above the ground. They build their nets out of a single comb that is built under rocks and tree branches for its support. The storage of honey happens at the top of the nest followed by the storage of pollen in the second layer and then the worker brood layer and finally the drone brood layer. The lowest part of the nest is called the active area or the mouth, this is where the workers take off from and land after a foraging session. This is also the space where the scout bees dance atop the vertical surface.

Cultural significance:

A single nest of the Apis Dorsata Bee can hold up to 4 kilograms of honey which makes harvesting the nests of these bees a regular activity for bee hunters. This also makes the honey coming from this particular bee species an important source of income for some people. However, there is a grave issue; DUE TO DEFORESTATION, USAGE OF PESTICIDES, SMOKING THE HIVES AND URBANIZATION, THE POPULATION OF THIS BEE SPECIES IS DECREASING AND HAS REACHED A DANGEROUS LOW. The Apis Dorsata is an aggressive species of bees and can viciously sting humans to protect their nests and their broods.

  1. The Asian honey bee or Apis Cerana

The taxonomy of this species of bee:

  • Common names: Asian honey bee, Asiatic honey bee, or eastern honey bee
  • Species: Apis cerana Fabricius, 1793
  • GenusApis Linnaeus, 1758
  • Sub Genus: Apis (Apis) Linnaeus, 1758
  • Family: Apidae
  • Subfamily: Apinae
  • Tribe: Apini Latreille, 1802

Diagnostic characteristics of this bee:

  • The body of the female worker is moderately sized where the forewings can measure up to 7-9 mms.
  • The legs of the female workers are rusty red.

Host associations:

The Apis Dorsata is a bee that can be called a generalist because it is known to visit a large range of plants for its food.

Behaviour of nesting:

The nests of the Apis Cerana are usually built in enclosed little cavities of space where the combs are neatly arranged parallel to one another and they are separated by a uniform distance from each other. The Apis Cerana colonies are relatively smaller in size with up to 7000 individuals living in a single colony which is why they prefer to nest into small cavities of space. This species also does not use Propolis to glue their nests.

Cultural significance:

This species of bee is known to compete with birds of the native land, insects and even mammals to acquire nesting sites. They will also compete with other species of bees that will eventually affect pollination of plants. The species is an intelligent one amongst the species of bees and have very special powers. In an experiment a Japanese Giant hornet was left to invade of the hives of the Apis Cerana bees and as soon as the threat was acknowledged a swarm of around 500 A. Cerana bees completely surrounded the hornet and then vibrated their flight muscles to hard that the temperature of the area raised to a whopping 47 degree Celsius which resulted in the hornet being heated to its death. The swarm of 500 bees also made sure that they did not exceed 50 degrees Celsius because that would be their lethal limit.

  1. The European Honey bee or Apis Mellifera

The taxonomy of this species of bee:

  • Common names: western honey bee, European honey bee, common honey bee
  • Species: Apis mellifera Linnaeus, 1758
  • Genus: Apis Linnaeus, 1758
  • Sub Genus: Apis (Apis) Linnaeus, 1758
  • Family: Apidae
  • Subfamily: Apinae
  • Tribe: Apini Latreille, 1802

Diagnostic characteristics of this bee:

  • The length of the forewing for this bee can measure up to 7.5-10 mms.

Host associations:

The Apis Dorsata is a bee that can be called a generalist because it is known to visit a large range of plants for its food.

Behaviour of nesting:

The nests of the Apis Cerana are usually built in enclosed little cavities of space where the combs are neatly arranged parallel to one another and they are separated by a uniform distance from each other. This species is also known to adapt to domestication very well. They can live in human-made hives most common of which is the Langstroth hive.

Cultural significance:

Did you know? The European honey bees were one of the very first insects that reacted well with domestication. Even today, it is the main species of bees that is kept by bee keepers as a means of extracting honey for commercial use and for their pollination services. Due to this, the species of bees has been successful in occupying every continent except for Antarctica. This species is threatened by pests and diseases.

These amazing species of bees that are so versatile and different to each other, have found their homes in the Forests of the North East of India. They give us the ever so precious nectar called honey and what’s more they spray this nectar with a load of medical goodness that helps human health with a multitude of ailments. We should support honey from local bee species because the raw honey that they make is on any given day a hundred times better and beneficial for your health than the commercial honey that we are used to buying in the markets.

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