Apis cerana

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Eastern honey bee
Apis cerana, Asiatic honey bee - Khao Yai National Park.jpg
Asiatic honey bee - Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Family: Apidae
Subfamily: Apinae
Genus: Apis
Subgenus: (Apis)
Species: A. cerana
Binomial name
Apis cerana
Fabricius, 1793
Map showing the range of Apis cerana
Range of Apis cerana

Apis cerana, or the Asiatic honey bee (or the eastern honey bee), is a species of honey bee found in southern and southeastern Asia, such as China, Pakistan, India, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. This species is the sister species of Apis koschevnikovi, and both are in the same subgenus as the western (European) honey bee, Apis mellifera.[1][2][3][4]


(following Engel, 1999).

Eight subspecies of A. cerana are currently recognized. Of these, two subspecies are predominant and used for apiculture in India: A. c. cerana]] and A. c. indica. These species are similar to Apis mellifera except in color. A. c. indica has black stripes on its abdomen and lives close to hilly areas, and is sometimes seen in plains regions. A. c. cerana has yellow stripes on its abdomen and is habituated to plains regions of India. A. mellifera tends to be slightly larger than A. cerana, which can be readily distinguished from A. mellifera.


In the wild, A. cerana bees prefer to nest in small spaces, such as hollowed-out tree trunks. They have a foraging range of about 1 km. Most of their biology is similar to A. mellifera with slight differences in dance language, comb cell size, and honey production. They are similar in size or somewhat smaller than A. mellifera and have smaller comb cells, as well. They also have more prominent abdominal stripes. Their honey yield is smaller, because they form smaller colonies. In folk medicine, their beeswax is used to treat and heal wounds. Like the western honey bee, they are sometimes domesticated and used in apiculture, mostly in wooden boxes with fixed frames. These bees can be adapted to living in cavities in some human structures and in purpose-made hives, and their nesting habit means they can potentially colonize temperate or mountain areas with prolonged winters or cold temperatures.[citation needed]

Absconding behavior[edit]

Apart from reproductive swarming, A. cerana has migration and absconding behavior, abandoning the current nest and building a new nest in a new location where an abundant supply of nectar and pollen is available. These bees usually do not store great amounts of honey, so they are more vulnerable to starvation if a prolonged shortage of nectar and pollen occurs. Absconding will start when not enough pollen and nectar are available. After the last brood emerges, the adult bees fill their honey stomachs from the hive's stores and swarm to establish a new nest at a new location. A. cerana has more absconding behavior than A. mellifera.

Nest defense[edit]

A. cerana is more inclined to retreat inside than to attack an intruder passing near the nest, but any attempt to open the nest, especially if it is done roughly, will cause bees to fly out and sting the intruder.

Nest thermoregulation[edit]

A. cerana maintains internal hive temperatures with a precision similar to that of A. mellifera, using similar mechanisms. A. cerana colonies maintain their body temperature in the range of 33–35.5°C even while ambient temperatures vary between 12 and 36°C. This mechanism clearly shows them to possess effective nest thermoregulation systems. During summer, A. cerana employs evaporative cooling, where the worker bees cluster outside the nest in hot weather and fan their wings, thus removing excess heat and moisture from the nest and decreasing the hive temperature.

  • Thermal defense: When an A. cerana hive is invaded by the Japanese giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), about 500 Japanese honey bees (A. cerana japonica) surround the hornet and vibrate their flight muscles until the temperature is raised to 47°C (117°F), heating the hornet to death, but keeping the temperature still under their own lethal limit (48–50°C).[5]


A. cerana communicates with its nest members about the presence and location of food and water sources by means of waggle dance and round dance languages. These dances are performed in the dark on a vertical comb surface of a multicomb nest, so their wagging motions are conveyed by vibrations. Their dancing cycles are very slightly shorter than those of A. mellifera.

Reproductive swarming[edit]

In A. cerana, reproductive swarming is similar to A. mellifera. A. cerana reproductive swarms settle 20–30 m away from the natal nest (the mother or primary colony) and stay for a few days before departing for a new nest site after getting information from scout bees. Scout bees search for suitable cavities in which to construct the swarm’s home. Successful scouts come back and report the location of suitable nesting sites to the other bees by performing communication dances on the surface of the swarm cluster in the same way as for food sources.

Worker sterility and queen signaling[edit]

Honeybee workers are infertile females and possibility of their reproduction is extremely limited. Their fertility is controlled by queen signals. The queen honeybee informs workers of her presence by pheromones that she secretes from her mandibular glands. These signals are acquired by workers in close vicinity of the queen and then spread to other workers in the colony, mainly by body contacts. In presence of queen pheromone signals, the vast majority of workers refrain from activating their ovaries. In the absence of a queen bee, at least 5%[citation needed] of the worker bees activate their ovaries and start laying eggs, which can lead to multiple eggs in one cell. When this occurs, other workers will attempt to remove the eggs, a phenomenon known as worker policing.


Apis cerana is the natural host to the mite Varroa jacobsoni and the parasite Nosema ceranae, both serious pests of the western honey bee.[6] Having coevolved with these parasites, A. cerana exhibits more careful grooming than A. mellifera, thus has an effective defense mechanism against Varroa that keeps the mite from devastating colonies. Other than defensive behaviors such as these, much of their behavior and biology (at least in the wild) is very similar to that of A. mellifera.

Genetic database[edit]

The Biomodeling Laboratory at Seoul National University has constructed an Asian honey bee transcriptome database using a next-generation sequencing technique (Illumina hiseq2000 and GS-FLX 454 technology). This database interface will support researchers to get the molecular and sequence information about A. cerana more easily.view



  1. ^ BIODIVERSITY OF HONEYBEES, M.R.Srinivasan, Department of Agricultural Entomology - Tamil Nadu Agricultural University accessed Jul 2010
  2. ^ Engel, M.S. (1999) The taxonomy of recent and fossil honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Apis). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 8: pp. 165–196.
  3. ^ Photos of Apis cerana
  4. ^ Oldroyd, Benjamin P.; Wongsiri, Siriwat (2006). Asian Honey Bees (Biology, Conservation, and Human Interactions). Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674021940. 
  5. ^ Apis cerana' "cooking" a hornet to death video
  6. ^ Ritter, Wolfgang Nosema ceranae Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg