- Size: Japanese honey bees are similar in size to the more familiar European (or Western) honey bee. Queens are larger than workers.
- Color: Like European honey bees, Japanese honey bees also have characteristic bands of gold and black on their abdomens. However, Japanese honey bees have four bands (compared to three on the European honey bee) and they are more pronounced.
Like with all honey bee species, worker bees have a pollen basket, scientifally name "corbiculum," on their hind legs and a stinger. Queens are typically a darker color than other bees.
- Behavior: Japanese honey bees are known for a unique behavior called “bee balling.” The much larger Japanese giant hornet preys on honey bees and feeds its larvae with other insects. Hornets are aggressive and efficient killers capable of decimating honey bee colonies. In order to combat this predator, Japanese honey bees have evolved a highly effective swarming behavior. When a hornet enters a Japanese honey bee hive, the worker bees surround it. They then vibrate their flight muscles, raising the temperature around the hornet to about 117 degrees Fahrenheit, a level lethal to the hornet but not harmful to the bees. However, if their colony is attacked by an Asian giant hornet, then they can’t defend against it.
Bee balling is a common behavior among honey bees and it typically has to do with killing an old queen. It happens when the workers go "rogue." It's also a common behavior for many species that are attacked by wasps.
Like European honey bees, Japanese honey bees undergo full metamorphosis with four life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Japanese honey bees live in colonies similar to, but smaller than, European honey bee colonies. Typically, a Japanese honey bee colony numbers around 34,000.
These bees will usually nest in cavernous areas, like hollow trees. Queens are reproductive females, and they lay a single egg in each brood cell. Worker bees are non-reproductive females, and they are responsible for several tasks within the colony, including guarding eggs, cleaning the hive and producing honey. All male bees are drones, and they are created to mate with the queen.
Similar to other honey bee species, the Japanese honey bee will swarm, sending a small offshoot of the colony to another location to establish a new colony. Japanese honey bees may swarm more frequently than other species.
Japanese honey bees are a subspecies of the Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) and are native to Japan. They are more resistant to cold than European honey bees and are able to harvest pollen in temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although they produce less honey than European honey bees, they are more efficient. They have a smaller range and a longer foraging period, allowing them to visit many of the same plants. Japanese honey bees are pollinators of several plants, including fruits, nuts, cauliflower, okra and onion. They are kept for honey in the mountainous regions of Japan, where they have adapted to the terrain and climate.
Tips for Control
Homeowners in the United States won’t have to worry about these honey bees as they’re not found in the country. Asian honey bees, including the Japanese honey bee, have fallen victim to deforestation and loss of nest sites within their native areas. Additionally, the introduction of the Western honey bee to Japan has contributed to a decline in the species’ numbers. Because of this, control is generally only recommended as a last resort.
However, in some parts of the world, including Australia, the Japanese honey bee may be considered an invasive species. Further research is required to determine what, if any, effect these bees will have on native populations in these areas. A primary concern is the introduction of pests carried by the Japanese honey bee that Australian honey bees have not been exposed to.