A large Asian honeybee, the giant honeybee (Apis dorsata) will compete with native pollinating insects and birds.
Photo: Rison Thumboor | CC BY-SA 4.0
The giant honeybee bears some resemblance to the common honeybees in Australian gardens, but the differences are substantial.
- It is bigger, with a proportionally longer abdomen.
- The head has black rather than brown hairs.
- The thorax (the section between the head and abdomen) is black at the front (and usually pale brown at the back).
- The abdomen darkens along its length, going from orange-brown at the base to black at the end.
- The wings are smoky rather than entirely clear.
- The bees have open hives that hang from branches, cliffs or buildings.
You can see more images of giant honeybees on the PaDIL website.
Giant honeybee. Photo: Vengolis | CC BY-SA 4.0
Worker bees are 1.7–20 millimetres long. Their forewings are 12-15 millimetres long.
Behaviour and location
Giant honeybees visit a wide range of flowers, including those of garden plants and weeds. If they establish in Australia they will be noticed in parks and gardens and in native vegetation.
They are a tropical and subtropical bee unlikely to be seen in Victoria or Tasmania or in outback locations.
They suspend their open hives from high branches, and sometimes from buildings and cliffs. These can be 1.5 metres across. They are flat because there is only one large comb, on which the bees rest.
Giant honeybee hive. Photo: Vinayaraj | CC BY-SA 4.0
If the bees are regularly attending flowers you may be able to take a photo of one, capturing key diagnostic features such as the long shape. Or you may be able to catch one with a net, or in a jar or thick plastic bag lowered over it while it is busy at a flower. These bees are not highly aggressive at flowers but they can sting fiercely so be careful. 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 mis-identification.
Who to tell
Think you’ve found giant honeybees?
If you detect these bees 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. If you do not receive a satisfactory response within a week email us via our contact form.
European honeybees have enormous wild populations in Australia which compete with native insects and birds for nectar and pollen. They are often the dominant visitors to native flowers, greatly outnumbering all native visitors, suggesting very substantial impacts. In the northern half of Australia the giant honeybee could become another introduced bee that competes with native visitors to flowers.
Giant honeybees are regularly intercepted at Australia’s borders. At an inquiry into biosecurity the interceptions from 2009-2014 there were multiple interceptions each year
It has been intercepted at Australia’s borders on several occasions, including with nests on ships found in 2015 and 2016.
- NSW Government: Giant honey bee
- BeeAware: Giant honey bees
- Exotic Bee ID: Apis dorsata