Asian Honey Bees

Asian honey bee or the eastern honey bee scientifically known as Apis cerana is a species of honey bee native to eastern, southeastern and southern Asia. There are more than five recognized subspecies of Apis cerana including Apis cerana indica, Apis cerana japonica, Apis cerana cerana, Apis cerana java, etc. Apis cerana indica or the Indian honey bee is one of the predominant honey bees found mainly in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and mainland Asia while Apis cerana japonica is restricted to Japan. Apis cerana cerana is a honey bee species native to China and Apis cerana java is native to Java and East Timor.

A colony of Apis cerana consists of one queen bee, several thousand female worker bees and some drone bees. The main method of communication among Apis cerana is the waggle dance performed primarily when a worker bee discovers a rich source of nectar or pollen. They form smaller colonies and produce less amount of honey compared to the European honey bees and they don’t use propolis for sealing their nests whereas European colonies do. Some genotypes of Asian honey bees such as Apis cerana java can’t be easily managed for pollination services and honey production due to its frequent swarming and tendency to abscond.

Apis Cerana Indica

Apis cerana indica or the Indian honey bee is a subspecies of Asian honey bee predominantly found in South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Compared to the other honey bee species, they are relatively non aggressive, have natural defense mechanisms against predators, disease resistant, adapted to live in man made structures, rarely exhibiting swarming behavior and ideal for beekeeping in Asia. As all other honey bee species, Apis cerana indica is holometabolous and the bees undergo four different life stages egg, larva, pupa and adult.

In an Indian honey bee colony, only the queen can lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs to produce queens, female worker bees and drones. The worker bees perform all the hive maintenance tasks including cleaning, foraging, producing honey, tending to the brood and these tasks are divided among them by age. Drones are produced mainly to mate with queens from other nearby colonies. If a beehive goes queenless for a period of time, it may develop unfertilized eggs laying worker bees and a laying worker bee colony almost always die without intervention.

Indian honey bees are important pollinators for many tropical crops including coconuts, mangoes, oilseeds, spice crops, vegetables, coffee, rambutan and papayas in their natural habitat. In some situations, Indian honey bees are considered to be superior pollinators compared to the other honey bee species because of their smaller foraging range which allow them to pollinate same plants multiple times. It’s also very easy to transport small Apis cerana indica colonies to provide pollination services rather than transporting large Apis mellifera colonies.

Honey Production

Honey is the main marketable product produced by Asian honey bee colonies and their honey is usually expensive than the other honey varieties produced by European honey bees and giant honey bees. But some Asian beekeepers are transitioning to European bee management mainly because the average Asian bee colony produces less amount of honey than does the average European bee colony. However, in many Asian countries, European honey bees can only survive under intense protection and care offered by the beekeepers while the native Asian honey bee colonies live naturally in balance with a vast array of parasites, pests and predators. Asian honey bees produce an average honey yield of 8 kg per colony per season.

Asian Honey Bee Sting

Bee stings are a common health problem throughout the world and can sometimes result in fatal allergic reactions. Asian honey bees rarely sting when they are away from the hive foraging for nectar and pollen unless someone stepped on or roughly handled. Only worker bees and queen bees have stingers. Queen bees have smoother stingers and can sting multiple times without dying. But they don’t sting anyone else except the other queens.

Worker bees usually sting for defense and can sting only once but sometimes can sting multiple times depending on the thickness of their victim’s skin. A worker bee’s stinger is barbed and when it stings, the stinger becomes lodged in skin of its victim with a part of bee’s abdomen which leads to its death in minutes. If you get stung by bees multiple times, remove the stingers as soon as possible and seek medical attention immediately if you see signs of an allergic reaction.

Predators and Pests

Asian honey bees have a number of dangerous predators in their natural habitat. Among all of them wasps and hornets are the most serious and abundant predators attacking the colonies of Asian honey bees. A single giant hornet can kill about 40 honey bees a minute and a small group of them can decimate an entire honey bee colony within a few hours. In return, Asian honey bees use different types of defense mechanisms such as thermal defense and wing shimmering to protect their colonies from these aggressive wasps and hornets.

Besides wasps and hornets, certain species of ants and lizards also can significantly damage the honey bee colonies. Asian honey bees usually leave their hive within a few hours if their nest is attacked by green tree ants. Therefore the beekeepers need to be very careful when placing beehives under the trees. Always Keep your colonies strong and clean to avoid wax moths. Highly destructive wax moth larvae can severely damage weak bee colonies by chewing their way through combs. Except for that, Bears in particular are capable of causing serious hive damages in a short period of time but they rarely come to bee yards in most of the Asian countries.

Mites and Diseases

Asian honey bees have inhabited the Asian continent for thousands of years with various parasites, predators and microbial diseases and appear to have developed some degree of resistance to their attacks. But still the Asian honey bee colonies are somewhat susceptible for Tracheal mite and Varroa mite infestations. Except for that, viral and microbial diseases including sacbrood virus, Apis iridescent virus, Kashmir bee virus, European foul brood, American foul brood and other microbial diseases can also damage the Asian honey bee colonies.

Conclusion

Eastern honey bees or the Asiatic honey bees are native to southern, southeastern and eastern Asia. There are eight recognized subspecies of Apis cerana including Apis cerana indica, Apis cerana cerana, Apis cerana japonica, etc. Asian honey bee colonies produce less amount of honey compared to their European counterparts because the European colonies are larger than the Asian colonies. So you have to add more Asian colonies to your bee yard to increase their honey production.

Asian honey bees are efficient pollinators. They pollinate a number of economically important crops including coconuts, mangoes, spice crops and vegetables in many Asian countries. They forage at lower temperatures, have longer daily foraging period and higher floral fidelity compared to the European honey bees. Asian honey bees have a considerable number of harmful predators, pests and microbes in their natural environment. But over the time, bees have successfully developed some defensive mechanisms to fight against these harmful organisms.

Asian Honey Bee Facts

  • Asian honey bees are smaller than European honey bees.
  • They have more prominent and even banding on the abdomen than European honey bees.
  • They are less hairy than European honey bees.
  • Asian honey bees are pests in Australia.
  • When swarming, they move in very tight clusters that range from the size of an apple to that of a basketball.
  • A sting from an Asian honey bee could cause an anaphylactic reaction in a person who is allergic to bee stings.
  • They tend to nest in small cavities such as garden sheds and letterboxes in urban environments.
  • Asian honey bees are natural hosts for Varroa mites.

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