Apis Dorsata /Laboriosa aka the Himalayan giant honey bee is the world’s largest honey bee and can measure up to 30 mm in length.
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Photo: The Mad Honey® | Apis Dorsata in Annapurna, Nepal
The giant honey bees from Nepal are the world's largest of the honey bee species however their color is quite similar to the European honey bee, with golden, black and pale bands on the abdomen and with a hairy thorax. Their forewing length can vary from between 13 to 15 mm for a total length of up to 30 mm.
Their open style of hive has led them to develop aggressive defense tactics and become physically stronger. Around three quarters of a colony is engaged in defense, forming a protective curtain around the nest that is three to four bees thick.
Photo: The Mad Honey® | Gurung hunting mad honey, Dec 2020.
➖ The suspended nests
The Himalayan giant bees build their nests at high altitudes above 1500m in small forested area in the center of the Nepalese Himalayas northwest of Kathmandu.
Their nests are massive single semi-circular combs which can measure up to 1.5 meter in width, 1 meter in depth; weigh up to 60 kg; contain upwards of 60,000 bees and forming clusters of, sometimes up to 50 nests.
Giant honey bee nests are usually built in exposed places far off the ground, on thick branches or on rocky outcrop of cliff face. Unlike dwarf honey bees, the giant honey bee nests hang underneath a structure such as a branch or a rock.
➖ From Grayanotoxin to Mad Honey
The Apis Dorsata feed on the nectar and pollen of rhododendron flowers which contains Grayanotoxins and results in this crazy unique honey called “mad honey”.
Grayanotoxins are neurotoxins that do not affect the bees but affect mammals (incl. Humans) by blocking sodium channels within the phospholipid bilayer of cells. The result is several effects such as euphoria, body heat, dizziness, sedation, heartrate disorder, blurred vision and sometimes hallucinations. Mad honey can also cause vomiting, impaired consciousness and fainting. Even with these side effects, no deaths from ingesting mad honey have been reported and there aren’t any lasting side effects after the Grayanotoxins have left the body.
Photo: The Mad Honey® | mad honey hunt, Dec 2020.
➖ A sweet long love story
The Himalayan wild honey hunters have had a close relationship with the bees since settling in the region in the middle ages. The mad honey harvesting techniques have not changed in hundreds of years.
The Gurungs of Nepal use this honey for medicinal purposes and in certain rituals. It has significant phenolic levels and therefore is an effective and powerful antiradical, antimicrobial and antioxidant.
Despite the nets and clothes protections, on each hunt, the Gurungs endure 20 to 40 stings from these enormous bees!
There are several legends and rituals associated with the hunts. Including animal sacrifices which are made before the climbs to appease the forest spirit. This offering is then eaten by the hunters to make sure they have enough strength for the harvesting.
❓ Did you know
- Himalayan Mad Honey Bees do not have to deal with colder temperatures and therefore don’t need to nest in a cavity like other species
- Each of their semi-circular honeycomb sheets can weigh up to 60 kilograms when full of mad honey
- The colonies are capable of migrating great distances, sometimes up to 200 km and will follow the queen back to a previous nest even after up to 18 months
- Mad honey effects do not affect the bees but only the humans and domesticated animals
- To buy mad honey, certified by Government of Nepal and ethically harvested: CLICK HERE
Photo: The Mad Honey® | Himalayan giant bees and Gurung hunting mad honey, Dec 2020.