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Asian honeybee

An Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) established around Cairns that will compete with native pollinating insects and birds if it spreads widely.

On this Asian honeybee the distinctive hindwing venation can be seen. Photo: Peter Chen | CC BY-SA 4.0

Identification

To the untrained eye the Asian honeybee is not easy to distinguish from the common European honeybees in Australia. It is slightly smaller and not as hairy.

The pale bands on the abdomen are pale yellow and regular and prominent. There are more than three of them.

One vein in the hindwing is different (see illustration). Put technically, the wing has a distal abscissa of vein M, which the European honeybee lacks.

The hindwings of a European and Asian honeybee. Photo: Ken Walker, Museums Victoria, PaDIL

Asian honeybees fly faster.

When swarming, they move in very tight clusters that vary from the size of a closed hand to that of a basketball. The swarms often land on fences, trees and other structures.

They nest in smaller cavities than European honeybees, and unlike the latter they readily nest in human-created spaces such as letter boxes, pot plants, weep holes in walls, compost bins and stationary vehicles. They readily nest near the ground.

When a bee approaches the nest it flies straight in rather than landing at the entrance and crawling in as European honeybees do.

To anyone very familiar with European honeybees the difference in size and banding are noticeable, and it is the difference in hindwing venation that serves as proof.

Asian honeybees might be confused with red dwarf honeybees, which are not (yet) established in Australia.

More close-up images of Asian honeybees can be found on the PaDIL website.

Asian honeybees showing the regular banding. Photo Denis Anderson, CSIRO | CC BY 3.0
An Asian honeybee alongside a European and giant honeybee. Photo: Ken Walker, Museums Victoria, PaDIL

Size

Worker bees are about 10 millimetres long. Their forewings are 7.5-9 millimetres long.

Similar species

European honeybees are 11.5-13 millimetres long, with forewings 8-10 millimetres long. The abdomen has pale bands but these are not neat or pale yellow and there are seldom more than three. The hind wings lack a distal abscissa of vein M.

European honeybee showing less regular abdomen banding. Photo by Fir0002
A European honeybee with only three pale bands, which are untidy along one edge. Photo: John Severns

Behaviour and location

Asian honeybees visit a wide range of flowers, including those of garden plants and weeds. Favoured flowers in north Queensland include those of sensitive weed (Mimosa pudica), golden cane palm (Dypsis lutescens), weeping teatree (Leptospermum brachyandrum), Singapore daisy (Sphagneticola trilobata), bottlebrush (Callistemon species), morning star (Turnera subulata), mad hatter (Cuphea sp.), coral vine (Antigonon species) and lychee (Litchi chinensis). They are more restless on blossoms than European honeybees, and unlike them they will visit flowers during rain.

Asian honeybees are especially noticeable when a swarm with a queen leaves an existing nest to found a new colony, or the existing colony relocates. Swarms may come to rest on the branches of shrubs and trees or on fences, machinery, letterboxes, light poles, rubbish bins, street signs, window sills, bridges, buildings and stationary vehicles. A swarm can contain anywhere between 100 and 8000 bees.

Sensitive weed (Mimosa pudica) is a common weed of roadsides and unkempt lawns in coastal Queensland, with flowers that are worth watching for Asian honeybees. Photo: Okkisafire

Asian honeybees could turn up anywhere in Australia, but especially near an international port. They are unlikely to survive in arid outback locations or in very cold regions. The occur naturally as far north as Japan, indicating more tolerance for cold than giant honeybees and red dwarf honeybees.

Safe collecting

The bees devote themselves to particular flowering plants at which you may be able to capture one with a net, or by lowering a jar or thick plastic bag over one while it is probing a flower. These bees are not highly aggressive at flowers but they can sting, so be careful.

Do not try to capture one at a hive, because the risk of serious stinging is much higher (although Asian honeybees aren’t as aggressive at the hive as European honeybees).

A bee that is captured can be killed in the freezer and photographed. Alternatively, you may be able to kill one by spraying it with a knockdown aerosol insecticide. A photo from a smartphone should be good enough to rule out misidentification.

Who to tell

Think you’ve found Asian honeybees?

Asian honeybees are well established in north Queensland, so the appropriate response will depend on where in Australia you are. If you suspect you have found them, and you live in north Queensland between Cape Tribulation and Cardwell, or on the Atherton Tableland, you should heed the advice on this Queensland Government website.

Elsewhere in Australia you should phone the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline: 1800 084 881. You will be put in touch with the Department of Primary Industries or Agriculture in your state or territory. Do not contact us unless the response you receive is unsatisfactory, in which case you should email us via our contact form.

The problem

Asian honey bees have broad floral appetites and will compete for pollen and nectar with native birds, mammals and insects, and compete for nesting sites in tree crevices, as European honeybees do. In Asia they often exclude other pollinators by swamping flowers, and this has been seen in north Queensland. They are likely to suppress native pollinators, become pollen robbers, reduce seed production, and alter the genetic structure of plant populations. In north Queensland they have been observed robbing and destroying the nest of native stingless bees (Trigona species). A nest of sugar ants (Camponotus species) was also robbed.

Australia’s beekeepers don’t want Asian honeybees because these will compete with their bees for nectar, reducing hive yields, and spread diseases and parasites. Asian honeybees are renowned for robbing European honeybee hives of their nectar and pollen, sometimes leading to colony death. When they dominate a floral resource it is not visited by European honeybees. Asian honeybees carrying varroa mites dreaded by the honey industry were detected in Townsville in June 2016 and destroyed. Several million dollars have been spent controlling these bees in Queensland.

Honeybee stings can cause anaphylactic reactions in susceptible people. These bees are more likely to nest close to people than European honeybees because of their willingness to use letterboxes, bins and wall cavities.

Asian honeybees are frequently detected at Australia’s ports so there is a high risk of them establishing in Brisbane, Sydney and other temperate locations. They have become invasive in New Guinea and The Solomons as well as north Queensland.

Further Information

Who to tell

Think you’ve found Asian honeybees?

Asian honeybees are well established in north Queensland, so the appropriate response will depend on where in Australia you are. If you suspect you have found them, and you live in north Queensland between Cape Tribulation and Cardwell, or on the Atherton Tableland, you should heed the advice on this Queensland Government website.

Elsewhere in Australia you should phone the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline: 1800 084 881. You will be put in touch with the Department of Primary Industries or Agriculture in your state or territory.

Other Insect Profiles

Dear Project Team,

[YOUR PERSONALISED MESSAGE WILL APPEAR HERE.] 

I support the amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan to allow our incredible National Parks staff to use aerial shooting as one method to rapidly reduce feral horse numbers. I want to see feral horse numbers urgently reduced in order to save the national park and our native wildlife that live there.

The current approach is not solving the problem. Feral horse numbers have rapidly increased in Kosciuszko National Park to around 18,000, a 30% jump in just the past 2 years. With the population so high, thousands of feral horses need to be removed annually to reduce numbers and stop our National Park becoming a horse paddock. Aerial shooting, undertaken humanely and safely by professionals using standard protocols, is the only way this can happen.

The government’s own management plan for feral horses states that ‘if undertaken in accordance with best practice, aerial shooting can have the lowest negative animal welfare impacts of all lethal control methods’.

This humane and effective practice is already used across Australia to manage hundreds of thousands of feral animals like horses, deer, pigs, and goats.

Trapping and rehoming of feral horses has been used in Kosciuszko National Park for well over a decade but has consistently failed to reduce the population, has delayed meaningful action and is expensive. There are too many feral horses in the Alps and not enough demand for rehoming for it to be relied upon for the reduction of the population.

Fertility control as a management tool is only effective for a small, geographically isolated, and accessible population of feral horses where the management outcome sought is to maintain the population at its current size. It is not a viable option to reduce the large and growing feral horse population in the vast and rugged terrain of Kosciuszko National Park.

Feral horses are trashing and trampling our sensitive alpine ecosystems and streams, causing the decline and extinction of native animals. The federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has stated that feral horses ‘may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction’ for 12 alpine species.

I recognise the sad reality that urgent and humane measures are necessary to urgently remove the horses or they will destroy the Snowies and the native wildlife that call the mountains home. I support a healthy national park where native species like the Corroboree Frog and Mountain Pygmy Possum can thrive.

Kind regards,
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your postcode]


Dear Project Team,

[YOUR PERSONALISED MESSAGE WILL APPEAR HERE.] 

I support the amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan to allow our incredible National Parks staff to use aerial shooting as one method to rapidly reduce feral horse numbers. I want to see feral horse numbers urgently reduced in order to save the national park and our native wildlife that live there.

The current approach is not solving the problem. Feral horse numbers have rapidly increased in Kosciuszko National Park to around 18,000, a 30% jump in just the past 2 years. With the population so high, thousands of feral horses need to be removed annually to reduce numbers and stop our National Park becoming a horse paddock. Aerial shooting, undertaken humanely and safely by professionals using standard protocols, is the only way this can happen.

The government’s own management plan for feral horses states that ‘if undertaken in accordance with best practice, aerial shooting can have the lowest negative animal welfare impacts of all lethal control methods’.

This humane and effective practice is already used across Australia to manage hundreds of thousands of feral animals like horses, deer, pigs, and goats.

Trapping and rehoming of feral horses has been used in Kosciuszko National Park for well over a decade but has consistently failed to reduce the population, has delayed meaningful action and is expensive. There are too many feral horses in the Alps and not enough demand for rehoming for it to be relied upon for the reduction of the population.

Fertility control as a management tool is only effective for a small, geographically isolated, and accessible population of feral horses where the management outcome sought is to maintain the population at its current size. It is not a viable option to reduce the large and growing feral horse population in the vast and rugged terrain of Kosciuszko National Park.

Feral horses are trashing and trampling our sensitive alpine ecosystems and streams, causing the decline and extinction of native animals. The federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has stated that feral horses ‘may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction’ for 12 alpine species.

I recognise the sad reality that urgent and humane measures are necessary to urgently remove the horses or they will destroy the Snowies and the native wildlife that call the mountains home. I support a healthy national park where native species like the Corroboree Frog and Mountain Pygmy Possum can thrive.

Kind regards,
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your postcode]