White comb of the Dwarf Honeybee Apis andreniformis

posted in: Bees and wasps, Fauna | 3

“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.

3 Responses

  1. Am

    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?

    • BESG

      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.

      • Am

        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: http://smj.sma.org.sg/1304/1304smj3.pdf )

        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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