5 Curiosities About the Giant Honey Bee

Giant honey bees form extremely large nests. Here are 5 curiosities related to the defensive strategies of these structures.
5 Curiosities About the Giant Honey Bee
Georgelin Espinoza Medina

Written and verified by the biologist Georgelin Espinoza Medina.

Last update: 31 January, 2023

Bees are very popular insects throughout the world for their hard work as pollinators. They’re related to ants and wasps, within the group of Hymenoptera. Would you like to discover some curiosities about the giant honey bee?

They’re also known scientifically as Apis dorsata. Nowadays, they’re highly researched insects, thanks to their ingenious defensive strategies against predators. In this article, we’ll bring you 5 amazing aspects of their life, as well as some of their characteristics. Don’t miss it!

Giant honey bee characteristics

As their name suggests, giant honey bees are quite large when compared to the European bees (Apis mellifera), which they resemble in appearance. They’re actually twice the size of the latter. The workers can reach up to 3 cm (2.2 inches) in length and the rest of the colony members, the queen, and drones, are slightly larger in size.

These bees are eusocial insects; in their colonies there are different types or castes of individuals. These are a queen, several males or drones and many workers. Each has a characteristic appearance and role.

Apart from their length, another aspect that stands out in these insects is the nest or comb. It’s a large, exposed structure, as it’s placed hanging from trees, branches or cliffs, without any protection other than a curtain of giant bees, which can be formed by up to 100,000 workers.

Curiosities about giant honey bees

As their nests are exposed to the open air, bees have different types of defensive strategies, some of them quite interesting. Let’s look at 5 of these aspects in the following giant honey bee curiosities.

1. Giant honey bees perform something similar to a wave to defend their nest

Just like fans in a stadium before a sports game, giant honey bees perform some synchronized wave-like movements. This behavior is called shimmering because it’s visualized as a glistening flash or shimmer.

This shimmering occurs when the bees turn their abdomen in a coordinated and rapid manner. It begins at any point on the nest “curtain” and spreads to the rest of the structure. It’s an individual response that turns into a collective one. All with the purpose of scaring away predators approaching the nest.

2. Brightness is more powerful against dark objects and light backgrounds

The behavior of brightness is intriguing to scientists and has been the subject of study for several years. Recent research (2022) published in the Journal of Experimental Biology brought some interesting discoveries.

The researchers used circular cardboard figures of different sizes, in different shades and contrasts. On the one hand, black objects with light backgrounds. On the other, the reversed pattern, i.e., light objects with dark backgrounds. The brightness response occurred only in the first case and isn’t reduced by repeated exposure to the stimulus.

3. Shimmering behavior doesn’t occur with small visual stimuli

In the above study, small cardboard pieces (4 cm – 1.6 inches – in diameter) didn’t produce the shimmering response in Asian bees. It’s estimated that there’s a minimum threshold for defensive social behavior to occur.

4. The shimmering is a specialized response to hornets

Apparently, the shimmering response doesn’t occur to threats like birds. Thus, this defensive behavior seems to be a specialized defensive strategy against one of the main enemies of bees, hornets.

Furthermore, studies conducted at the University of Graz and published in the journal Plos One in 2008, examined the interaction between these bees and hornets (Vespa sp.). It’s also recorded that the speed and proximity of the flight of these predators is responsible for modulating the strength and speed of the defensive response of the glow.

5. Giant honey bees are the most defensive

Giant honey bee.
Apis dorsata.

Out of all the different types of honey bees, this species is the most defensive and dangerous in Southeast Asia. This is because it doesn’t hesitate to attack with its powerful poisonous sting, which is very painful. In particular, they react in this aggressive manner to large threats, such as birds or mammals, which they attack in groups, accompanying their aggression with buzzing and stinging.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these 5 curiosities about giant honey bees. These large insects make apparently unprotected nests, but they develop amazing defensive strategies such as the shimmering response, which we still need to learn more about.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Jack, C., Lucky, A., & Ellis, J. (2015). Giant honey bee Apis dorsata fabricius (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Apidae). University of Florida. Recuperado el 29 de enero de 2023, disponible en: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN1119
  • Kastberger, G., Schmelzer, E., & Kranner, I. (2008). Social waves in giant honeybees repel hornets. PloS one, 3(9), e3141.
  • Vijayan, S., Warrant, E., & Somanathan, H. (2022). Defensive shimmering responses in Apis dorsata are triggered by dark stimuli moving against a bright background. Journal of Experimental Biology, 225(17), jeb244716.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.