Spring had just set in! On a Sunday morning I sat in my drawing room, wondering how hot this summer is going to be. Then my thoughts settled on the different hues of the season, yellow Tabebuia, delicate pink Cassia, brilliant red Gulmohar, purple Jacaranda, fiery orange Palash and more. Suddenly I noticed a swarm of bees forming a honeycomb like structure on the Copper pod tree outside the balcony. On a closer look, I realized that they were a swarm of Apis dorsata. This was a deja vu for me – they had gathered on the neighboring Kadamb tree some time back! The bees did not build a hive last time, they had dispersed after spending a few hours on the tree. So Kannan hurriedly reached out for the camera and clicked a few pictures of the bees.
The bees probably stayed on this particular formation for about an two hours, Then as we were watching them, they started to disperse in an orderly manner. There was some kind of a pattern in the way they dispersed. On checking my clicks of these bees last time, I realized that the earlier one was on 10 March ’13 and the recent one was on 1 March ’15, both in the month of March and they seem to have settled briefly in neighboring trees! I became curious and started to browse for more information on Apis dorsata.
It was amazing to find that these bees migrate from place to place in search of flowers in bloom. According to a detailed scientific study “Giant honey bees (Apis dorsata) of southern Asia are vital honey producers and pollinators of cultivated crops and wild plants. They are known to migrate seasonally up to 200 km. It has been assumed their migrations occur stepwise, with stops for rest and foraging, At stopovers the bees form combless clusters, or bivouacs, and accumulate food reserves for flight and for comb construction upon arrival at nest sites.“
So I gathered that they had rested on the tree before they were moving on to a new destination. Another amazing find was the Waggle dance done by the hunter bees indicating direction of the food source. Honey bee dancing, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of their biology, is also one of the most fascinating behaviors in animal life. Performed by a worker bee that has returned to the honey comb with pollen or nectar, the dances, in essence, constitute a language that “tells” other workers where the food is. By signaling both distance and direction with particular movements, the worker bee uses the dance language to recruit and direct other workers in gathering pollen and nectar. Watch a youtube video below showing a waggle dance.
Scientists have noticed that there is a considerable decline in the population of these bees due to continuous interference from various predators, pests and parasites along with man-made activities. Thus, there is a dire need to conserve Apis dorsata population. Man-made activities namely uprooting of nesting trees, trimming of tree limbs, cultural practices and conventional honey hunting at cultivable lands, bee trees or at nest sites perhaps developed the nuisance to hive bees in Apis dorsata colonies. This might have gradually initiated the colony desertification and finally end up with colony abandonment and that results in decline.
The fact that Giant honey bees are not only a splendid spectacle but are indispensable pollinators of cultivated crops and wild flowering plants clearly deserves conservation attention that is normally reserved for charismatic vertebrates.