ClimateWatch

An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

  1. 73 Photo by Peter Houghton
  2. 73 Honey bee by Rich Weatherill

Honey Bee

Apis mellifera

Appearance

  • Colour: its head, upper body and legs are black, and its hairy abdomen is striped black and brown (or yellow or orange). It is pale when it first emerges from the nest, but soon develops a darker colouring.
  • Size: 1.2 – 1.6 cm long (the queen bee is slightly longer). 

Behaviour

  • Diet: nectar and pollen from most flowering plants, which it collects using its tongue-like mouthparts.
  • Movement: it lives in large colonies, usually occupying large hollows in trees. The worker bees forage for food and aggressively defend the hive. They can also been seen fanning their wings at the hive entrance to regulate its temperature and expel its scent to help other worker bees find their way home.
  • A new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee and about half the worker bees leave the hive. This is called swarming and it usually occurs from early spring to the start of summer. After leaving the original colony, the swarm will cluster on a tree branch or fallen log until scout bees from the cluster find a suitable cavity in which to set up a new hive.
  • Breeding: the worker bees (females that cannot mate) build the nest and maintain it. The drones (males) mate with queen bees, usually from other hives, who then lay eggs in the cells of their own hive. The worker bees look after the eggs and larvae, and forage for all the food. The drones live for only eight weeks and their only function is to mate with queen bees. 

What to Observe

  • Presence of individual bees (to establish the first and last sighting for the season)
  • Presence of a swarm

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

Honey Bees have a threshold temperature below which they cannot forage. Warmer temperatures would probably increase the amount of time during the day when they can forage. However, warmer temperatures may also affect the amount of nectar and pollen available for harvesting from their food plants. This could have either positive or negative effects and will require careful study by scientists.

When To Look

  • From early spring until the weather is too cold for bees to fly regularly (below about 13°C).
  • Swarming, when mating occurs and new hives are established, occurs from early spring to early summer

Where To Look

  • Throughout Australia.
  • In a wide variety of habitats including urban areas, forests and woodlands, heath and desert.
  • Look in tree hollows for hives and around flowering plants for individual Honey Bees. In dry regions, they often crowd around water sources.

Honey Bee Occurrence Map ALA

References

CSIRO 1991. The Insects of Australia. CSIRO Publishing.

Hadlington PW & Johnston JA 1998. An Introduction to Australian Insects. Revised Edition. UNSW Press, Sydney.

Ruttner F 1987. Biogeography and Taxonomy of Honeybees. Springer, Berlin.

  1. Search Species

  1. What Else?

    • A wasp: has yellow legs, brighter yellow bands on its abdomen and lacks the hairiness of the Honey Bee.
    • Native Australian Bee: while it is difficult to see, the native bee doesn’t have hairy eyes like the Honey Bee.
    • Also a Honey Bee usually has obvious “baskets” full of pollen on its legs. 
  1. Did You Know?

    Honey Bees were introduced into Australia to ensure the early European settlers had a good supply of honey.

    Honey Bees impact on native bee species by competing for tree hollows and flower resources. They also impact on some wildflowers which need to be pollinated by a special technique called buzz pollination, which only some native bees use. Some flowers miss out on being pollinated, which means they are unable to reproduce.

    A Honey Bee dies after stinging because its sting remains in the victim, who brushes the bee away, ripping out its lower abdomen. It is not advisable to approach Honey Bees as some people are allergic to their sting which causes local pain and swelling, and can even cause breathing difficulties and collapse.