White comb of the Dwarf Honeybee Apis andreniformis

on 9th December 2013

“My helper was reaching out to a luffa fruit (Luffa aegyptica) that was scrambling over the limau purut tree (Citrus hystrix) the other day when she noticed a small colony of bees attached to a twig nearby (above). She immediately walked away as the bees were about to attack her.

We managed to chase the bees away and were surprised to find a white, more or less flat oval structure attached to a slender twig where the bees were (below left). Curious, I removed the twig to examine it closely.

It is a single honeycomb (above right). The upper portion built around the twig is 33 mm long, 24 mm wide and 10 mm thick. The structure consists of 2 rows of elongated, empty hexagonal cells, each about 10-12 mm long. These cells are apparently used to store honey. The rest of the comb hangs down from the upper portion, 30 mm long and 25 mm wide, with a rounded base. It is 6 mm thick and made up of two layers of smaller normal cells placed back to back. These smaller cells are for brood rearing.

On enlarging the images, I was surprised to find traces of eggs (or are they young larvae?), one to two per cell.

The entire comb is made up of beeswax. Worker bees apparently chew on the waxy secretions from the wax glands found on their abdomen and shape them into these hexagonal cells that make up the honeycomb.

Searching through my photo archive, I located an old image of the dwarf honeybee comb photographed from my garden (left). The entire comb is covered with layers of worker bees, one over the other, that provide an effective shield to the comb and their developing larvae from the rain. The colony is a mass of bees that tapers to a narrow point at the base.

Apparently, dwarf honeybees are less aggressive then their Asian hive bee cousin (Apis cerana), which is a very common honeybee in Singapore. The former is more defensive than offensive but will sting if someone comes too close to the colony. The sting is supposed to be less painful than those of the other honeybees but will cause a more prominent swellings on the skin.

YC Wee
December 2013

Koeniger, N., G. Koeniger & S. Tingek (2010). Honey bees of Borneo: Exploring the centre of Apis diversity. National History Publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu. 262 pp.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. Very interesting. Is this a nest still in construction? Because it seems quite small, and from what you describe, there didn’t seem to be many bees around. Also, will the bees return now that it’s been disturbed?

    1. The honeycomb was fully constructed. This is a small nest, characteristic of the species. I am sure the bees would return. Unfortunately I removed it for examination as the structure appeared unique. I thought it was a wasp nest, as I was stung badly some time ago. Now that I know, I will leave it alone should I come across it the next time.

      1. Talking about wasps, I hope someone can post about hornets in Singapore. I found a local academic paper on hornets but it’s dated 1972! (Link: )

        I saw a hornet the other day and it was enormous – approx 2 inches long! It was flying about haphazardly and I was deathly afraid it would bump into me and sting me! I didn’t know we had hornets that big here!

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