Apis laboriosa


Family: Apidae
Subfamily: Apinae
Tribe: Apini Latreille, 1802
Genus: Apis Linnaeus, 1758
Subgenus: Apis (Megapis) Ashmead, 1904
Species: Apis laboriosa Smith, 1871
Common names: Himalayan honey bee or cliff bee honey bee


Apis laboriosa is the largest species of honey bee known at present. Its distribution is restricted, and some of its nesting behaviors are unique.

Diagnostic characteristics

Specimens of A. laboriosa can be differentiated from other species of honey bees by the following combination of characters:

  • Forewings fuscous and over 12 mm in length (Fig 2 and 7).
  • Distal abscissa of vein M in hind wing present (Fig 7).
  • Nest composed of single comb built under overhangs on vertical cliffs.
  • Nests are common in high altitudes above 1200 m (Underwood 1986).
  • Nests consist of a single large comb.

It can be differentiated from the other species in the subgenus A. (Megapis) (i.e. Apis dorsata) by the following combination of characters:

  • Workers with scutellum black (Fig 5) and metasomal T3T4 reddish-brown (Fig 3, 6, and 8).
  • Distribution restricted to the Himalayas.
  • Found at altitudes from 2500 m up to 4000 m above sea level (Roubik et al. 1985).
  • Colonies usually nest under cliffs and never in aggregations.
  • Foragers don’t produce sound during waggle dance.

Host associations

As all species of honey bees, A. laboriosa is polylectic and visits a broad range of plants for food.

Nesting behavior

Nests are constructed in the open and consist of a single comb that almost always hangs from rock cliffs at high altitudes. In contrast with Apis dorsata, there are no reports of nest aggregations for this species.


There are no races or variations reported for this species. Apis laboriosa was previously thought to be a subspecies of Apis dorsata.


This bee occurs in mountainous areas of Nepal, Bhutan, India, and the province of Yunnan in China (Batra 1995, Ahmad and Roy 2000).

​Distribution map generated by Discover Life -- click on map for details, credits, and terms of use.

<p>Fig 1, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> female face, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 1, Apis laboriosa female face, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 2, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> female lateral habitus, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 2, Apis laboriosa female lateral habitus, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 3, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> female abdomen, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 3, Apis laboriosa female abdomen, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 4, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> female malar space, photo: T. Brady</p>
Fig 4, Apis laboriosa female malar space, photo: T. Brady
<p>Fig 5, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> worker scutellum black, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo</p>
Fig 5, Apis laboriosa worker scutellum black, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo
<p>Fig 6, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> female abdomen, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo</p>
Fig 6, Apis laboriosa female abdomen, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo
<p>Fig 7, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> worker wings fuscous, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo</p>
Fig 7, Apis laboriosa worker wings fuscous, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo
<p>Fig 8, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> female, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo</p>
Fig 8, Apis laboriosa female, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo
<p>Fig 9, <em>Apis laboriosa</em> female terminalia, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo</p>
Fig 9, Apis laboriosa female terminalia, photo: A.H. Smith-Pardo