Apis andreniformis

Common name(s): Black dwarf honeybee

This species is quite widely distributed in tropical Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and China.

This species is distinctly smaller and more slender in shape than the common honeybee. It is a dark colour overall, with distinct light bands on the abdomen. Younger individuals are often uniformly lighter in colour. The first photo shows an older individual foraging from flowers (most bees are quite old by the time they start actively foraging), while the second shows newly-hatched bees on the nest.

The nest of these bees somewhat resembles nests of Apis dorsata, albeit a scaled down version, far smaller version. The nest is a single comb, usually semicircular in shape, and there is clear division between cells containing honey and various types of larvae (worker, drone and queen brood), just as in other honeybees. The nest seldom exceeds 20cm to 30cm in vertical height. It is built in trees and shrubs, and may be anywhere between 1 foot and 20 feet above ground level (3 feet to 10 feet being more usual). Nests are built on branches and never cavities as in the common honeybees (both the Asian Apis cerana and the European (Apis mellifera) types). The nests are exposed and hung on trees; there is no outer covering or envelope of any sort but the combs are protected by layers of bees which almost completely cover them in an active nest.

This species, though very common in Singapore, has not, to my knowledge, been covered by the local guidebooks in the past. This is because it is often mistakenly identified as Apis florea. The two species are very similar and have only recently been acknowledged as separate species; prior to 1990, this species was once considered a subspecies or colour form of Apis florea. In actual fact, Apis florea is also present in Singapore, where it is rare and not widely distributed, although it is not found in the southernmost part of the Malay Peninsula or Indonesia.. The true Apis florea is similar in size and behaviour, but has obvious reddish colouring. Refer to the photo of Apis florea below for comparison. It is supposedly even less defensive of its nests and does not show "trembling" or "shimmering" behaviour as a defensive response (see below).

Apis andreniformis is not particularly defensive; it is certainly less so than Apis cerana or Apis dorsata. In my experience, a nest will start "trembling" or "tremoring" in defense when approached to within 3 feet. This behaviour is present in many Asian honeybee species (Apis cerana, Apis dorsata and Apis andreniformis). The bees swing their bodies from side to side rapidly, sending waves throughout the swarm, and more and more bees follow suit; the whole nest thus appears to "shimmer" at regular intervals of one or two seconds. There is usually a little "tail" of bees at the bottom of the nest. When disturbed, this "tail" lengthens noticeably, and at the same time, a loose swarm starts forming at the top of the nest, near the attachment to the branch. All these bees will be involved in attacking if the intruder comes closer.

Once thoroughly alarmed, these bees will attack viciously in large swarms, although it is rare for them to be agitated to this extent. Nests of these bees still pose little danger to the public in general, unless a nest is located in a low bush where one could accidentally knock into it. The sting of these bees is not really painful but produces a surprising amount of swelling. Their stings are short and cannot easily penetrate the average adult's skin (except for softer parts such as the underside of the forearm or the neck). They, too, leave their sting in the wound as common honeybees do, and so only sting once.

Unfortunately, it is so far not possible (at least from my attempts) to relocate these bees. This is because upon being moved, they will simply swarm to a new location, often back to somewhere near human habitation. If a nest is attacked, the bees may sometimes swarm to a new location, and workers will return to salvage the honey stored in the nest. I have also observed a wide variety of strange behaviour with this species, including completely abandoning a nest, only to return to it the following day, or abandoning the nest and building a new one from scratch in a nearby tree! This species is worth studying further.

Black dwarf honeybees can be seen foraging from a wide variety of flowers, often alongside common and giant honeybees. During especially hot weather, they frequently land on wet patches on the ground to collect water.

References/Further reading: Benjamin P. Oldroyd and Siriwat Wongsiri, 2006. Asian Honey Bees. Harvard University Press

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