While there are over 20,000 species of bees in the world, when most people think of bees, honey bees come to mind. However, many do not know that there are actually eight different species of honey bees. They range in size, colouring, and behaviour.
These bees are essential factors in the pollination cycle and are the only insect that produces a food edible to humans: honey.
Here are the eight types of honey bees in an overview chart. Take a look and then read below for details on what makes them distinguishable.
Red Dwarf Honey Bee
Also known as the red dwarf honey bee, the Apis florea bee is native to India and parts of Southeast Asia. These bees are reddish-brown in colour and have white and black bands stretching across their abdomens.
The fronts of their bodies are covered in black and white hairs. They are incredibly small, ranging from seven to ten millimeters in body length, and have six to seven-millimeter forewings.
These bees live in small colonies in nests built on the edges of tree branches. Their nests are very small – usually around 25 centimeters. In addition, they are exposed to the wilderness.
Giant Honey Bee
The Apis dorsata, also known as the giant honey bee, can be found in most of Southeast Asia. This bee has gold, black, and white bands stretching across its abdomen, and an extremely hairy thorax.
Its most distinguishable feature is its large size, ranging from 17 to 20 millimeters in worker bees. One of the largest types of honey bees, the giant honey bee also has a forewing length of up to 14.5 millimeters.
Giant honey bee nests can hold over 60,000 bees, and measure one-and-a-half meters in length and one meter in width. The nests are often clustered together in trees, with some trees containing up to 15 colonies.
Cavity Nesting Asian Honey Bee
Scientifically known as the Apis cerana, these bees are native to regions of eastern and southern Asia as well as parts of Russia. Worker bees have black bodies with four pronounced yellow stripes across their abdomens and are covered in small hairs that help them collect pollen and transport it to different plants.
They are slightly smaller than traditional honey bees, but specific body measurements vary greatly from colony to colony. These bees live in colonies of around 7,000. Also, their nests consist of many combs with small entrances that provide an extra layer of defense against outside predators.
Himalayan Giant Honey Bee
The Apis laboriosa, also known as the Himalayan giant honey bee, is the largest honey bee in the entire world. These bees can reach lengths of up to three centimeters long, which is larger than a quarter!
Native to southern Asia, the Himalayan giant honey bee can be found living in large, open nests on the sides of cliffs at high altitudes. These nests are usually around one-and-a-half meters long and one meter wide.
They have brown or black abdomens and a dark brown thorax that is covered in long yellow hairs. These bees have no stripes or markings, unlike many other types of honey bees.
Koschevnikov’s Honey Bee
Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, the Apis koschevnikovi bee is distinguished by its reddish colouring. Bees found in Malaysia have a more pale red colour, while those found in Indonesia have much darker, coppery colouring on their bodies.
The worker bees of this species are average-sized, with a forewing length of between seven-and-a-half and nine millimeters.
Workers have light orange bands stretching across their abdomens in contrast with their reddish-coloured bodies. These bees live in very small colonies, building combed nests within tree cavities in the rainforests that they inhabit.
Black Dwarf Honey Bee
The smallest honey bee species, the black swarf honey bee, also known as the Apis andreniformis, measures between six-and-a-half to ten millimeters in length.
These bees are identifiable by their mainly black colouring, with some yellow hairs on their thorax, and fluorescent-looking bands that stretch across their abdomen.
Black dwarf honey bees can be found in lowland areas throughout southern Asia and also the Islands off of its coast. Their nests consist of a singular comb and hang on the edges of twigs and branches low to the ground, housing very small colonies.
Western Honey Bee
Found naturally in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the Apis mellifera species is the most commonly known type of honey bee. These bees have dark brown or black coloured bodies and hairy thoraxes covered in black bands.
Their abdomen is much less hairy than their thorax covered in orange and yellow bands. Western honey bees range in size from ten to 20 millimeters in length and have eight-millimeter-long forewings.
Their nests are built within tree cavities and can also have entrances as small as ten millimeters that open up to expansive nests with many combs and thousands of worker bees.
Philippine Honey Bee
Native to the Phillippines and Indonesia, the Apis nigrocincta have moderately sized bodies that are predominately covered in reddish-tan hairs.
The hairs on the undersides of their abdomens are used to carry pollen from plants as they feed. They have a forewing length of around six millimeters.
Also, they are comparable in body length to the Western honey bee. They build nests close to the ground in tree cavities and also caves with multiple combs that house worker colonies and store honey.
While all of these species are identified as honey bees, they vary greatly in size and nest style. This shows how broad the term “honey bee” really is. These bees spread across many continents and ecosystems.
Additionally, they fulfill a variety of different roles within their ecosystems. However, they distinguish themselves from one another in appearance, behaviour, and job distribution.