People generally use the term ‘bee’ for any buzzing flying body. But not all buzzing creatures are bees - they could be a bumblebee, or a wasp, or a fly or a honeybee. It might come as a shock to you, but there are over 20,000 distinct bee species all across the world and not all of them are honey bees. This includes solitary species such as carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and mason bees and social bees such as honey bees, bumblebees, and stingless bees.
We might not have to remember all 20,000 species, but we can and should distinguish between the different species of bees that are found in our Indian environment. Hence, Under The Mango Tree Company, together with our knowledge partner Under The Mango Tree Society, would like to shed light on our unsung environmental heroes - the Indian Indigenous Bees.
In India specifically, there are 800 types of bees and nearly five known Indigenous Honeybee species. There are various essential differences between these bees, that we will discuss below:
- Apis Dorsata
Apis Dorsata, also known as the giant rock bee, are giant bees found in the foothills across India. These bees are excellent pollinators & honey producers. They build a single honeycomb outdoors and often change the location of the colony. Rock bees are wild and difficult to breed. When their hive is disturbed, they can get ferocious. According to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, “They produce about 36 kg of honey per comb each year.” These bees are the largest among the bees described. They are also native to India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia & parts of southern China.
Colour: Similar to the Mellifera, with golden and black stripes on the abdomen
- Loves light and avoids dark spaces
- In nature, they build exposed combs under branches and cliffs. In cities, they prefer ‘artificial cliffs’ - such as apartment buildings
- They have a significant foraging range, and they migrate during the monsoons. They can also fly in low light conditions
- Apis Cerana Indica
Apis Cerana Indica, aka the Indian honey bee, is a subspecies of the Asiatic honey bee. It is also known as the Asian or Eastern honeybee. It is one of the predominant bees found and domesticated in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and mainland Asia. They are excellent pollinators, who ensure the pollination of fruits and vegetables across many agro-climatic conditions. They also play a crucial role in combating soil degradation by pollinating wild plants and making sure more biomass is available to be returned to the soil. These domesticated species construct multiple parallel combs and are more likely to abscond and swarm. Relatively unaggressive, they rarely exhibit swarming behaviour and are ideal for beekeeping. It resembles Apis Mellifera, which tends to be slightly larger and are easy to distinguish.
Colour: Yellow and Black
- They love dark areas and mostly build combed nests in tree holes
- Bees are becoming increasingly popular among farmers for pollination (from vegetables to coconut trees) and honey
- A colony can produce between 6 and 8 kg of honey per year
The Trigona Bee, also known as Dammer or Stingless Bee is the tiniest Bee in India. There are two species of stingless or dammer bees, namely Melipona and Trigona, that are found in abundance in our country. These bees are much smaller than real honey bees and build irregular combs out of wax and resinous materials in cracks and hollow tree trunks. They bite their enemies or intruders. These bees are also native to Sri Lanka & Indonesia.
Colour: Mostly black (some species have a lighter abdomen)
- Much smaller than their peers
- Honey is nutritious because the bee penetrates the flower and therefore collects a lot of vitamins and minerals
- It feeds on small medicinal flowers and is hence popular in Ayurveda - the honey is good for the immune system, has antibacterial properties, etc
(Image credits: UTMT Society)
- Apis Florea
Apis Florea is also called the Little Bee or Asian Dwarf Bee. They build open palm-sized honeycombs on the branches of bushes, hedges, buildings, caves, empty boxes, etc. Florea workers coat both ends of their nest with sticky propolis or 'plant gum' to ward off ant attacks. According to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, “They produce about half a kilo of honey per year per hive.” The size of the bees among the four described Apis species is the smallest and are smaller than that of the Indian bees. They are only familiar in plains and not in hills. These bees are native to India, Thailand, Cambodia, China, and forested regions of the Middle East & Africa.
Size: 7-10 mm
Colour: Reddish-brown abdomen
- Like the Dorsata, they prefer light. They form small, single comb, circular hives on tree branches or bushes
- They are usually found in the plains
- They make a piping noise to scare off predators
Now that you know our country’s indigenous bee types, make sure that next time when you think of honeybees, you take a moment to pause and realize that there are a whole lot of honeybees out there; each of them is different, with their own social habits, radiant beauty and their own value.