Last updated on: 25th January, 2023
ICAR-Directorate of Cashew Research

Bees of Apidae


The family Apidae family contains the highly social bees as well as some solitary and communal species. It is the largest family containing around 5,700 species of bees including honeybees, carpenter bees, orchid bees, cuckoo bees and other smaller stingless native bees.


Honey bees 

Honey bees are eusocial insects, have overlapping generations, cooperative brood care and reproductive castes.  


Apis cerana indica (Apidae: Hymenoptera) (Indian hive bee/ Asian bee)

 Indica are the domesticated species and are native of India/Asia, found almost throughout India. Adult bee is black in colour with four yellow abdominal stripes.  Though, various regional strains exist, hill and plain strains are the two recognized ones. Worker bees of the plains are comparatively smaller and yellower, but at high altitudes, larger and darker bees are found. If there is abundant food resources and large colony size, swarming takes place. These bees are larger than A. florea, but smaller than A. mellifera.

It is a common bee species visiting cashew flowers. Its activity can be noticed from early morning (8.00 am onwards depending on sunshine) till 6.00 pm. Its main foraging reward is nectar. It forages more on fresh flowers, but also visit one and two-days old cashew flowers for nectar. When the bees sit on the flower petals, the anthers of long stamen in male flowers come into contact with abdomen of the bees most of the time (Fig. 9), thereby pollen grains get adhered on its body parts which further get transferred to stigma of the hermaphrodite flowers upon subsequent visits by the bees, thus ensuring pollination.

A. cerana indica 



Apis florea (Apidae: Hymenoptera) (Little bee / Dwarf honey bee)

A. florea build a single-comb nest, vertical, usually fairly low down in bushes, or in the open, suspended from a branch. Their nests are small, often not larger than 150-200 cm wide. They also construct comb in branches of bushes, hedges, buildings, caves, empty cases etc. This bee species is not rearable as it frequently changes its nesting place. Bees exhibit frequent foraging and long migration range. They tend to build combs at lower elevations, away from direct sunlight and on the peripheral side of plant branches. This species visits cashew flowers from early morning to afternoon hours, but mainly for nectar.

Colony of A. florea on cashew twig and a worker bee


Apis dorsata Fab. (Apidae: Hymenoptera) (Rock bee/ Giant honey bee)

A. dorsata has a widespread distribution throughout southern Asia, and is not found in North America. These honey bees build a single, large, exposed comb under tree branches, high hedges, under cliffs, rather than in cavities. These bees are highly ferocious and are very difficult to rear. These bees are the largest among the bees described. Compared to A. melliferaworkers, A. dorsata seems to live significantly longer, especially during migration. Some of the major crops thought to be heavily dependent upon A. dorsata pollination include: cotton, mango, coconut, coffee, pepper, star fruit, and macadamia. Its visits are very rare on cashew flowers, hence could not be important pollinators.

Colony of A. dorsata on cashew tree trunk and the worker bee



Apis mellifera (Apidae: Hymenoptera) (European bee / Italian bee/ Western bee)

A. mellifera is indigenous to Africa, Europe, and the Middle East and has largely been introduced into other parts of the world. These bees are bigger than A. cerana but smaller than A. dorsata. A. mellifera are red/brown with black bands and orange-yellow rings on abdomen i.e., three abdominal stripes but comparatively less obvious than A. cerana. There are different races of A. mellifera, varying in size of individual bees and colonies. Like A. cerana, they also build parallel combs. They are less prone to swarming and absconding. This particular species is reported as major bee species visiting cashew in the east coast region of India especially Tamil Nadu and also in Brazil and parts of Africa, but not found in Puttur, Karnataka.

Tetragonula sp. (Apidae: Hymenoptera) (Stingless bees/ Dammer bees)

Tetragonula bees are stingless and harmless to humans. They are the smallest of the honey-yielding bees. The entire body is black to blackish-brown. These bees build irregular combs of wax and resinous substances in crevices and hollow tree trunks. Bees collect nectar and pollen from a number of different flowers. They do not sting but bite their enemies or intruders. It can be domesticated, however, the average honey yield per hive per year is very less and the extraction of honey is difficult. This bee species visits cashew early in the morning and forages till evening. Collects a lot of pollen grains during the early flowering period. Also forage on leaves, inflorescences, developing nuts, and fruits mostly for nectar from flowers as well as extra floral nectarines. During the fruiting season, the bees also collect the juice from the cracks of matured and ripe cashew apples.

Tetragonula sp. 


Braunsapis picitarsis sp. (Apidae: Hymenoptera)

Braunsapis is a genus of tiny bees in the tribe Allodapini. It is the largest genus of the tribe and it is known for its array of social behaviours.  A total of 14 species of Braunsapis have been recorded from India. Braunsapis bees are quite lean and black, and are less than 1 cm in length. There are some species having red abdomen or light colour.  Females have a sting, but they are not aggressive and sting only if handled. These species are solitary and nest in stems and twigs, preferably pithy stems. There is continuous brood production throughout the year, but relatively more broods are present from September to March. These tiny bees forage on cashew flowers with its characteristic short vibrant movements. Many times, bees land on the anther lobes directly and collect pollen grains and then move towards the flower base for collecting nectar.

Ceratina hieroglyphica Smith (Apidae: Hymenoptera): Small carpenter bee

Ceratina hieroglyphica is also a predominant bee species visiting cashew flowers in the Indian subcontinent. It is a stem-nesting bee, exhibiting subsocial nature. No distinct longitudinal impression is seen in the clypeus of C. hieroglyphica. It is commonly seen on cashew flowers at Puttur region. This bee also makes nests in hollow or pithy stems. Nests of these bees can be located in cashew, Mussanda, Ixora etc. The bee collects a lot of pollen grains so as to feed its larva.




Braunsapis picitarsis (Cameron) (Apidae: Hymenoptera)

This is the most common bee species visiting cashew flowers in Puttur region of Karnataka. Male bees are simple, black and usually have yellow or white spot on the clypeus. This is also recorded as the most abundant bee species visiting cashew flowers. The peak bee foraging activity occurs between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm. Nests of B. picitarsis are commonly found in the dry tiny sticks as well as pruned ends of cashew trees and Mussanda sp.




Ceratina binghami Cockerell (Apidae: Hymenoptera)

This species is slightly more bluish than the other closely related species. The female bees resemble that of C. smaragdula so much, but not the males. Bees are bright metallic green in colour, partly slightly golden green; with more bluish sixth abdominal tergite. Yellow spot is present in the clypeus region.  The bees nest in hollow reeds and thatch, excavate tunnels in dried pithy branches of trees. Its nests are also located inside the pruned cut ends of dried cashew stems.





                                                                                                                                                                    Photo credit: Dr. K. Vanitha and Mr. Ravishankar Prasad, ICAR-DCR, Puttur