Apis dorsata

Common name(s): Giant 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 bigger than the common honeybee, and longer in overall shape. Typical individuals in Singapore are various shades of brown and orange or yellow; they can look far brighter and more contrasting in colour than the common honeybee.

These bees make honey which is highly prized, and equally difficult to obtain. These species do not nest in crevices as common honeybees (both the Asian Apis cerana and the European (Apis mellifera) types). They make large, semicircular or elongated combs which can even exceed a metre! These combs 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. The nests are usually very high in trees in Singapore; this is a good thing, for these are some of the most aggressive and dangerous stinging insects known. According to some, they are even more aggressive than the hornets and show much more persistence in pursuing intruders. In many parts of Asia, experts climb trees at night, and smoke or burn the hive to drive the bees away. They then collect the honey. Another method, described by an elderly man in Singapore, is to light a fire at the base of the tree at night, and then disturb the hive, upon which the bees would attack the fire and be burnt to death. The combs could then be removed.

So far, attempts to domesticate these bees have failed, partly because they often migrate long distances at certain periods of the year. There is, in fact, a misconception that these are "Malayan wild bees" and invade Singapore every year. Although they show strong migratory behaviour, they are certainly native to Singapore and can be found at almost every time of the year, although they are especially numerous in August and September. During certain times of the year, usually from June to September, they gather in huge numbers in urban areas and then die, littering the place with bee carcasses. I am still uncertain about the reason behind this.

Giant honeybees can be seen foraging from a wide variety of flowers. During especially hot weather, they frequently land on wet patches on the ground to collect water. This species is unusual in that it often forages at night as well as in the day.

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