10 Biggest Bees on Earth
Bees are already fascinating creatures with a powerful positive impact on the environment and human life. Giant bee species, however, take things to a different level.
Today, we will discuss the largest, most frightening, and most fascinating bees on Earth to highlight the immense variety to expect in the insect kingdom. You’ve most likely never heard or seen many of these species, and you’re also unlikely to meet them in person. Which is what makes this list that much more exhilarating.
Here are the 10 biggest bees on the Globe that you may not have heard of.
1. Wallace’s Giant Bee
There are few bee species on Earth with a more powerful intimidation factor than the Wallace’s giant bee. This insect is obscenely large, black, and looks nothing like a bee. It’s more of a combination between a giant wasp, an ant, and a beetle, as it also displays enormous mandibles.
The bee uses its powerful mandibles to gather resin and wood to build its nest. An interesting aspect about Wallace’s giant bee is that females are larger than males, capable of reaching 1.5 inches as adults, with a wingspan of over 2.5 inches. Males struggle to reach 1 inch in length. To have an idea of the bee’s size, it’s as long as an adult’s thumb, which ranks it as the largest bee species in existence.
The problem is that rumors about the Wallace’s giant bee going extinct have circulated since the 1980s, with the species itself being discovered in 1858. The last time we saw this species in the wild was in 2019 when an insect enthusiast and professional discovered a female in Indonesia.
- A collector sold Wallace’s giant bee specimen on eBay for $9,100, then sold another in 2018 for around $2,000
- The giant bee’s wings produce airwaves that you can feel when flying past you
- The bee only lives in termite nests which it reinforces with resin
2. Orchid Bee
This bee species isn’t particularly large, as it measures around 0.5 inches, much like your typical honeybee. There are, however, other aspects that make it unique in the insect world. First would be the fact that, if you didn’t know how Orchid bees look like beforehand, you wouldn’t recognize the insect as being a bee.
It looks more like a green, oversized fly with iridescent color blends and a somewhat metallic look. The Orchid bee is part of the Euglossini tribe, Apinae family, and displays a variety of mixed colors like green, blue, red, yellow, and orange, all coated with a metallic polish.
Orchid bees are mostly solitary creatures with only minimal eusocial behavior. You can only find them on the American continent, and there are around 200 species in existence, with many others being discovered regularly.
- Orchid bees do not produce honey, although they also feed on pollen and nectar
- The Orchid bee is the only creature, other than humans, that is known to produce perfumes; it does so by gathering essential oils from orchids and mixing them in special leg pouches for weeks or months. Nobody really knows why.
- Orchids have evolved to use the Orchid bee for pollination purposes; the plant traps the insect momentarily, forcing it to exit the trap via a narrow tunnel. When the insect does that, its pollen pouches rub against the orchid, completing the pollination process
3. Tropical Carpenter Bee
This is another black giant, similar in appearance to the Wallace’s giant bee. The Tropical Carpenter bee (Xylocopa latipes) is endemic to Southeast Asia and can reach sizes up to 3 times that of a normal honeybee. The average body length of a Carpenter bee is around 1.2 to 1.4 inches, with a wingspan of 2.4 inches.
But what truly makes this insect stand out is its overall appearance. It is completely black with massive black and green eyes, similar to those of a fly. Its legs are thick, covered with black and rough hairs which also cover its abdomen.
The bee’s wings look like they’ve been doused in petrol. They are thick, opaque, and display changing colors that reflect differently in the sun. These include variations of purple, yellow, green, and shades of dark blue.
- The Carpenter bee is a solitary insect, which is atypical since most bee species display social behavior
- Males and females mate in mid-flight
- The Carpenter bee builds its nest in dead wood like fallen trees, telephone poles, and even wooden porches if given the opportunity
4. Patagonian Bumblebee
If you’ve never heard of a fluffy insect, you will now. The Patagonian Bumblebee (Bombus Dahlbomii) originates from South America, enjoys temperate climates, and is an important pollinator in the local ecosystems.
The Patagonian bumblebee’s appearance is virtually unmistakable. The insect can grow up to 1.6 inches, which already makes it massive compared to other bee species. Its body is fully covered in orange hair, with only its black head and legs popping out. It also has rather short but powerful wings.
The Patagonian bumblebee displays eusocial behavior, living in nests built by queens and continued by the first generation of workers. As the workers take over the task of reinforcing and expanding the nest, the queen will limit its activity to laying eggs and incubating the next generation of workers.
- The Patagonian bumblebee cannot detect the color red, which is why they don’t pollinate red flowers
- This species currently ranks as endangered, primarily due to humans destroying and altering its natural habitat
- The bumblebee’s size and short tongue causes it to spend more time foraging flowers compared to other bee species
- The Patagonian bumblebee is also known as a ‘flying mouse’ due to its fluffy appearance
5. Himalayan Giant Bee
It’s only natural that the largest mountain in the world hosts the largest honey bee species. The Himalayan giant bee (Apis laboriosa) lives around the Himalayas and other mountainous regions around China, Vietnam, Laos, and India.
If you’re really keen on seeing the insect yourself, gear up and climb to its favorite nesting altitude, which varies between 8,200 – 9,800 feet. You might even find it as low as 4,000 feet if you’re lucky.
The insect’s appearance is slightly different than what you would expect from a honeybee. The adult giant bee measures around 1.2 inches and displays a long, bulky, and black abdomen with shades of red and orange. The worker is covered in hair from head to the upper portion of its abdomen and it displays long, wide, and powerful wings.
- Apis laboriosa often builds massive nests, capable of holding up to 130 lbs. or more of honey
- Despite living at around 9,000 feet, this bee species forages flowers located at more than 13,500 feet
- This is the only bee species in the world known to produce red honey, obtained from high-altitude flowers
- Red honey contains grayanotoxin and has intoxicating and relaxing effects which tend to diminish over time, with storage
- Local honey hunters don’t consume red honey but prefer to sell it since it’s 5 times more valuable than regular honey
6. Xenoglossia Squash Bee
The Squash bee is one of the bulkiest bee species there are. Its round and fat body is flanked by thick and hairy legs and wings that appear too small to lift the insect. The bee measures up to 1 inch in length, which is typical for most species of bumblebees.
The bee’s pollinating habits are atypical since the Xenoglossia, and other squash bees, only pollinate plants like zucchini, summer and winter squash, and pumpkin. The bee usually lives in North and South America.
- Male Squash bees have hairless bodies since they do not gather pollen; their only task is to pass on their genes
- Squash bees build underground tunnels and are mostly solitary insects; each female will build a tunnel-like structure to live alone. However, squash bees will form groups at times
- Squash bees are among the few species that are more active during nighttime, thanks to their powerful nighttime vision
7. Swasta Long-Horned Bee
The Long-Horned bee is slightly larger than the regular honeybee, capable of reaching 0.8 inches in length. It has a bulky body with a large thorax, a small and short abdomen, and short wings. The bee’s thorax is covered in yellow hair, while its head displays massive yellow eyes.
Unlike honeybees, the Long-Horned bee displays unusually long pollen-carrying hairs covering its legs, making this insect an effective pollinator. You can mostly find the Long-Horned bee in UK.
- The male is smaller but displays extremely long and black antennae, which are usually longer than its entire body
- Specific species of orchids have evolved to resemble and produce pheromones similar to a Long-Horned female; this tricks the males who come to mate, thus contributing to the pollination process
- They are also called ‘sunflower bees’ for their predilection towards feeding and pollinating sunflower
8. Anthophora Bee
Anthophora bees can be found in a variety of environments, but thrive in East African regions, populating marshes, woody areas, farmlands, and grasslands. This medium-sized bee is rather inconspicuous, displaying bulky bodies and faded coloring. They arrive in shades of yellow and brown with black eyes and legs.
These are solitary insects, used to build their nests in gregarious structures at ground level. They sometimes build them underground and live in groups, although they don’t cooperate much or not at all.
- The Anthophora bee is one of the most agile bees with incredible mid-flight speeds; this makes it difficult to investigate the insects in its natural habitat
- These bees do not produce honey, but they make for important pollinators nonetheless
- Not many people know about the Anthophora bees, as they tend to mistake them for regular honeybees
9. Polyester Bee
Typical to North American areas, the Polyester bee is not quite as large as other bee species we’ve mentioned. It’s roughly the size of a regular honeybee, maybe slightly larger in some cases. The bee displays a yellow and hair-covered thorax with a black and white abdomen and small wings.
This bee species doesn’t produce honey, but it stores food reserves for its grubs anyway. As a solitary insect, it doesn’t need the help of other bees to build its nest or care for the offspring. The female will lay its eggs into an underground nest that she will fill with pollen and a nectar-like substance resulting from mixing pollen with saliva. The bee prefers to dig the nest in sandy areas.
- The bee’s name comes from its polyester substance that females produce to line the burrows; it’s also called the ‘cellophane bee’
- Polyester bees can live in groups but without performing common tasks
- This bee species displays little-to-no nest protecting behavior; it won’t attack if you get close to its burrow and lacks the attack pheromones that regular honeybees possess
- The insect is shy and will only sting if you hold it or step onto it by mistake
10. European Honeybee
The European honeybee or the Western honeybee (Apis mellifera) is the most widespread bee species in the world. This insect displays a powerful eusocial behavior, capable of organizing in immense groups, containing thousands of members. The honeybee is relatively small, around 0.5 inches, and displays a well-structured hierarchy comprising a queen, workers, grubs, and males.
Its body is generally black with yellow and brown stripes, black eyes, and long wings. The workers possess pollen pouches on their hind legs and rank as nature’s most reliable pollinators.
Honeybees have been domesticated all over the world and are prized for their environmental benefits and products. They produce honey, propolis, wax, beebread, and bee brood.
- Contrary to popular belief, honeybees are mediocre pollinators on their own due to the workers’ poor scopa hairs. It’s their numbers that make the difference
- Humans have crossbred bees to obtain special features like resistance to disease, reduced aggressiveness, reduced swarming tendencies, improved honey production, and resistance to cold weather, among other things
- Honeybees use pheromones to communicate and coordinate inside the nest; their pheromones can transmit information relating to mating, alarm, orientation, food production, and various other colony activities
- Drones (males) do not collect pollen or nectar and lack stingers; their only purpose is to mate with the queen, after which they die
Bees are fascinating insects displaying impressive variation in terms of looks, behavior, nesting, and social hierarchy. However, despite their differences, all bees are beneficial to their environment thanks to their pollinating effects.
Even the most exotic bee species, only found in certain parts of the Globe, play vital roles in their local environment.
Here are some fast facts to consider about bees:
- Bees visit at least 2 million flowers to make 1 lb. of honey
- These insects date back 30 million years and have remained virtually the same through the ages
- A bee queen is capable of laying up to 2,000 eggs per day
- A medium-sized beehive can shelter around 50,000 bees
- Natural bee pollination adds $14 billion annually to the quality of crops around the world