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Himalayan Giant Honey Bee (Apis laboriosa)

a person on a ladder with a long stick and a beehive at the end of it hanging on the side of a cliff

Himalayan giant honey bees are one of the few remaining mysteries in the insect world. These magnificent insects are considered the biggest bee species in the world, and they occupy Himalayan mountainous areas. Besides their size, Himalayan bees have become popular because of their “mad honey,” a strong psychoactive substance that can completely alter your senses.

In this article, we’ll talk more about the species, its habitat, and its characteristics.

Himalayan giant honey bee basics

The Himalayan giant honey bee, or Apis laboriosa, is the biggest bee species in the world. Despite its magnificence, we know very little about this beautiful insect. This is because the species only nets on high Himalayan cliffs, which are extremely hard to access for the scientists.

As a result, there are only a handful of people who had the opportunity to study the Himalayan giant honey bee. For the most part, scientists rely on the locals to gather these insects and help them with research.

Aside from its size, the species is world-renowned for the “mad honey” that it produces. This is a psychoactive substance that can cause dizziness, smooth relaxation, and a few other sensations. The honey is also popular for its medicinal properties, alleviating symptoms of cough inflammation, and even healing wounds.

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Himalayan cliff honey bee misconceptions

The Himalayan honey bee size is noteworthy, as adults can reach up to 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) in length. This unique characteristic makes them one of the most substantial species in the insect realm.

The species belongs to the subgenus Megapis (large bees) alongside Apis dorsata. In fact, for the longest time, scientists thought that the incredible insect is a subcategory of Apis dorsata. This all changed in 1980 when Apis laboriosa was classified as a separate species with its set of characteristics.

We also know little about their byproduct – Himalayan mad honey. The product is somewhat unregulated, and you can experience different sensations depending on where you’re buying it. This is why we always recommend that you buy it from reputable shops such as Real Mad Honey.

Apis laboriosa habitat

These beautiful insects nest in Himalayan mountainous areas around the Hindu Kush. Besides this region, you might also find them in certain areas of China, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos. Nevertheless, scientists usually focus on the ones in the Himalayas as the best representative of the species.

Apis laboriosa is, for all intended purposes, a secluded species. Although it interacts with its environment and nearby flora, like all bees, its hives are extremely hard to reach. They are positioned at 2,500 to 3,000 meters above sea level, which makes them unique in the bee world.

Himalayan honey bees experienced a few evolutionary modifications over time, helping them to survive in such a harsh environment. Unlike other bee species, they can nest in high altitudes, which allows them to avoid natural predators.

How big are Himalayan honey bees?

The thing that distinguishes these bees is their size. Adults are 3 centimeters long, making them one of the biggest species in the insect world.

They are also very different from your usual bees in terms of appearance. They are much darker, with dark brown thorax and small hairs protruding from their legs, thorax, and other regions. Another interesting tidbit in regards to Himalayan honey bees is that they don’t have the usual bee striping.

As you probably know, all bees fulfill certain roles within the colony, receiving tasks based on their size and other characteristics. In the case of other species, drones are always larger than workers. However, this isn’t the case with Himalayan honey cliff bee, where workers and drones are of the same size.

What is the lifecycle of the Himalayan honey bee?

Like moths, wasps, butterflies, and a few other insects, Apis alboriosa goes through holometabolous (complete) metamorphosis. Its lifecycle starts from an egg and transitions into a larva, pupa, and finally, an adult insect. Unfortunately, we don’t have complete data about the process, given that scientists couldn’t fully research this specific metamorphosis.

Still, this is what experts speculate that the Himalayan honey’s lifecycle looks like:

  • It takes three days for a bee to progress from the egg to the larva state. As with other bees, eggs are laid by the queens within the hive’s confines
  • While more mature, the larva is still defenseless. The future bee relies on workers for care and food. A healthy insect’s body will form a C shape, storing food in the cell’s bottom. When the larva is old enough, it will send out a chemical signal to workers, notifying them that the insect is ready for the next phase
  • During the pupa stage, the bee doesn’t need food for development. It will remain in this state for 11 days, during which it will slowly lose previous larval features and will start resembling a mature insect
  • After this short period, a bee will pop out of its cell and become a valuable member of the colony

For the most part, workers and drones within the Apis laboriosa colony perform the same tasks as in other bee species. Unfortunately, Himalayan bee queens are still a mystery. It’s safe to guess they perform the same function as that in other bee species, but we don’t know much about their morphology.

How do Himalayan honey bees behave?

Himalayan honey bees had to evolve so they could live and forage at high altitudes. Living at 3,000 meters, this species can climb another 1,000 meters upward, to 4,100 meter altitudes, to collect pollen and nectar. Himalaya bees make psychedelic honey from these substances and use it to feed the colony.

While endemic to the Himalayan Mountains, this species isn’t static, as it tends to move to different altitudes throughout the year. Basically, they will relocate from May to October when the weather is warm enough. As the winter comes along and temperatures drop, they will go all the way down to the forest floor. During this period, they don’t necessarily nest and live under trees and rocks for warmth.

Giant honey bees have another distinguishing characteristic in “shimmering.” While grouped together on the hive’s exterior, they flap their wings in a synchronized fashion, making them look like a single, large organism. As a result, they look much more intimidating, effectively fending potential attackers from the nest.

What do Apis laboriosa hives look like?

Himalayan honey bees have a completely different approach to nesting compared to other bee species. Besides creating hives on cliffs high above sea level, they are also careful as to how they position them. They create colonies on the southeastern or southeastern side of the cliffs, avoiding potential elemental threats.

These bee hives are much larger than average bee hives, being 100 centimeters wide and 150 centimeters long. Given the hive size, a colony can store much more honey than the average bee species (almost 60 kilograms).

Himalayan bees’ hive structure is also interesting. They don’t have the usual net of combs like other bee species, and instead, they create a hive with a large open area. One of their priorities is building close to a water source, as this allows them to create honey. Scientists have also noticed that Himalayan bees prefer building colonies on light-colored rocks.

What is hallucinogenic honey from the Himalayan bees?

The reason why Himalayan giant bees became popular is because they produce psychoactive honey, also known as “mad honey.” This type of food creates an effect similar to that of marijuana, having a major impact on users’ basic functions. After eating mad honey, you might feel drowsy and calm, which is sometimes followed by hallucinations.

Rhododendron flowers are the secret behind mad honey. The plant is full of grayanotoxin, a psychoactive substance that carries over to the bees’ honey. Interestingly enough, it seems that bees are more than capable of digesting the substance.

Is Himalayan bees’ hallucinogenic honey dangerous?

Like any other psychoactive substance, mad honey carries certain dangers. The substance can cause unconsciousness and paralysis when used in higher quantities, which is why moderation is paramount. Ideally, you should always buy the product from reputable sources and consume it according to the sellers’ instructions.

Keep in mind that different types of mad honey can pack a different punch, which is another thing to be mindful of. If you’re a first-time user, the best course of action is to take just one teaspoon of the product. Mad honey doesn’t kick in right away, so you’ll have to be patient and wait for at least 30 minutes.

Conclusion

Himalayan giant honey bees are a peculiar species that we, unfortunately, don’t know much about. In a way, we can say that this insect is the pinnacle of bee evolution, being much larger than other species from the family. They are much more resilient than the other species and have intriguing nesting habits.

Among others, these wonderful insects became popular because of their unique byproduct – mad honey. This substance is extremely yummy and packs quite a punch. Aside from its psychoactive traits, the food can also provide relief to your digestive tract, help with inflammations and infections, and improve your overall well-being.

FAQ

What is the primary diet of the Himalayan cliff bee?

The Himalayan cliff bee primarily feeds on the nectar of various high-altitude flowers, including rhododendrons, which are abundant in their mountainous habitat.

Do Himalayan bees sting?

Yes, Himalayan bees, like most bee species, can sting.

What are the unique challenges in harvesting honey from Himalayan cliff bees?

Harvesting this honey is extremely challenging and dangerous due to the bees’ nesting on sheer cliff faces at high altitudes. Harvesters must use traditional methods, such as handmade rope ladders and long bamboo poles, to access the hives, often risking their lives.

How do Himalayan cliff bees adapt to the high-altitude environment?

These bees have adapted to the thin air and cooler temperatures of high altitudes through behavioral and physiological adaptations.

What is the role of the Himalayan cliff bee in local ecosystems?

The Himalayan cliff bee plays a crucial role in pollinating the high-altitude flora of the Himalayas, aiding in the biodiversity and sustenance of the ecosystem. They are essential for the reproduction of various plant species, including many that are unique to this region.

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