top of page

Pollinators From Around the World: The Himalayan Cliff Honey Bee

[Article written by Manish Koirala]

The act of pollination facilitates the continuation and growth of infinite plant species, both in the natural environment and in agricultural settings, thereby sustaining numerous ecosystems. Research shows that plant species and their respective pollinators have evolved in coexistence over time. Currently, bees are the prime global pollinator species followed by butterflies, moths, birds, bats, etc.

The Himalayas, with the largest mountains, also have the largest bee species pollinating its plants. Apis laboriosa a.k.a The Himalayan Cliff Honey Bee is the only non-tropical bee species of the region with unique nesting habits. Measuring up to 3.0 cm in length, Apis laboriosa nests at altitudes of 2,500 to 3,000 metres, building massive nests that hang on vertical cliff faces facing southwest. They also forage at altitudes of up to 4,000 m. The largest of the Apis Genus, these bees have dark abdomens and long thoracic hairs. Although similar morphologically to their relative, Apis dorsata, the swarming and housekeeping behavior of the Apis laboriosa allows for differentiation between the two species.

Photo Credit: Andrew Newey

During the spring, these cliff bees produce intoxicating red honey, resulting from high grayanotoxin levels. The intoxicating chemical Grayanotoxin is collected from the nectar of the white rhododendron species blooming in the region. Aside from being hallucinogenic, the red honey also has medicinal properties, which is one of the reasons why it is traded to many countries. Indigenous communities of the Himalayas have long practiced the tradition of honey hunting, twice a year, where a group of skilled huntsman from the surrounding community daringly hang on bamboo ladders and harvest the honey from cliff heights. The whole process of honey harvesting is bone-chilling and has started garnering tourist attention as of late. Gurung tribesmen from Nepal, in particular, are famous for their peculiar harvesting methods.

The Himalayas are no exception to bees. In fact, just how robust and magnificent the Himalayas are, that's exactly how their pollinators are!!

Want to Learn More?

Check out this article about the geographical distribution of these giant honey bees to learn more!


Apis Laboriosa, Exotic Bee ID



bottom of page