Flight of the Indian honey bee

With World Bee Day (May 20) round the corner, we look at what makes our indigenous foragers so special

May 18, 2020 05:58 pm | Updated May 21, 2020 01:53 pm IST

The Apis Mellifera is the most common bee species in the world, and the most extensively farmed — 75% of honey produced in India comes from them. But it is high time we looked at our own bees. From the forests and farms to our balconies, these hard workers can be spotted everywhere. More suited to our climate and our flora, they may even be better pollinators.

Apis Cerana Indica

AKA the Indian hive bee

Size: 9 mm. Colour: yellow and black

- Love dark spaces and usually build combed nests in tree hollows

- The bees are becoming popular among farmers for pollination (from vegetables to coconut palms) and honey

- A colony can yield between six and eight kilos of honey per year

Apis Dorsata

AKA therock bee

Size: 30 mm. Colour: similar to the Mellifera, with golden and black bands on the abdomen

- Love the light and avoid dark spaces

- In the wild, they build exposed combs under branches and cliffs. In cities, they prefer ‘artificial cliffs’ — such as our apartment buildings

- They have greater a foraging range, migrate during the monsoons, and can fly in dim light

Apis Florea

AKA the little bee or dwarf honey bee

Size: 7-10 mm. Colour: reddish-brown abdomen

- Like the Dorsata, they prefer the light. They make small, single comb, circular hives

- They are usually found in the plains

- They make a piping noise to scare of predators


AKA the dammar bee or stingless bee

Size: 5 mm. Colour: mostly black (some species have lighter abdomens)

- Much smaller than their peers

- The honey is nutritious since the bee goes deep into the flower and thus collects many vitamins and minerals

- Popular in Ayurveda — the honey is good for the immune system, has anti-bacterial properties, etc


The foreign competition

Apis Mellifera

AKA the western honey bee or European honey bee

Size: 10-20 mm. Colour: red/brown with black bands and orange-yellow rings on the abdomen

- They produce between 20 and 40 kilos per colony per year

- Apis is Latin for ‘bee’ and Mellifera is Latin for ‘honey-bearing’

- Their hives can be moved easily, so many farmers use them in monoculture plantations

Sources: Sujana Krishnamoorthy, Under The Mango Tree; Axel Brockmann, National Centre for Biological Sciences; Hema Somanathan, IISER Thiruvananthapuram

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

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