Whilst out on game drive at JAWAI you can be sure to see some odd looking structures built precariously on the cliffs of the numerous rocky outcrops. A closer inspection will reveal these to be bees!
There are four species of honey bee in India with this, the Giant Rock Bee being the largest. They build a massive single open comb that can be up to 3 meters wide. These combs sit exposed to the elements, with layers of bees on the outside. The bees choose areas that are near inaccessible ensuring that the comb is protected.
These bees produce a large yield of honey with a single colony able to produce 30 kg in a single year. The high productivity makes them highly sort after by locals. Each year the local council holds an auction in which individuals bid for who will get to share in the spoils of nature. Due to the fact that the bees do not use enclosed cavities for nesting, caution must be taken, as they will attack if disturbed. The same species is harvested very successfully throughout other parts of India, Cambodia and Nepal.
Quite extraordinarily these bees are migratory, returning to the exact same location every year even though most, if not all, of the original workers might be replaced in the process. The mechanism of memory retention and how they are able to do this is still being studied.
Now for the cool part…
The Giant Rock Bee practices something known as ‘heat-balling’. When a predator, who is attempting to rob and kill the brood, arrives at the hive, the guard bees will react by surrounding the predator. They instantly create a large ball around the danger, for example a wasp. Once balled up the Giant Rock Bees will raise their body temperatures both cooking and cutting off all the oxygen to the wasp, thereby killing it.
Written, photographed and filmed by Adam Bannister