Identifying Asian honey bees

Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) can be easily confused with common European honey bees (Apis mellifera), and other local native bees. Ensure you are able to identify Asian honey bees before organising to have the bees removed, as European honey bees and native bees are important to our environment for pollination and honey production.

Bees most commonly mistaken for the Asian honey bee

Before attempting to have the pest bee swarms or nests destroyed, it is important to ensure that the bees are actually Asian honey bees.

Bee and image Size Colour Leg colour Able to sting Do they swarm? Do they nest inside a cavity?
Asian honey bee Up to 10mm Yellow/dark brown to black stripes Black Yes Yes Yes - bees will quickly fly in and out of the cavity entrance.
European honey bee Up to 15mm Yellow/brown to dark brown stripes Black Yes Yes Yes - bees will be fly into the cavity entrance and crawl into the nest.
Little black bush bee 4mm Black Black No No Yes - bees will loosely fly around the entrance. Entry hole to nest is very small.
Halictidae family 8-12mm Yellow/dark brown stripes Orange to red Yes No No - digs/burrows holes in the ground.
Blue banded bee 11-12mm Golden thorax, iridescent blue or white stripes Grey, furry and black Yes No No - digs/burrows holes in the ground.
Carpenter bee 24mm Bright yellow thorax and black abdomen Black and furry Yes No No - digs/burrows holes in soft timber.

Asian and European honey bee comparison

Asian honey bee European honey bee
The area at the base of the wings is not very hairy and looks black and shiny Appears golden as the light reflects off the many yellow hairs
The alternating brown/black stripes are very even and continue to the end of the abdomen Has blacker stripes that are thinner towards the front and wider towards the back of the abdomen, so that the end of the abdomen looks much darker
Is less hairy Is more hairy, making it look soft and fluffy
the base of the abdomen comes to a defined point The base of the abdomen is more blunt and rounded
Flight is faster and more erratic Flight is slower and more composed
Approach to a flower or entrance hole is erratic Tends to spend more time on each flower

If you have seen an Asian honey bee swarm or nest outside of Far North Queensland, upload a picture using the online reporting form. This information will help Biosecurity Queensland track the spread of the pest bee in Australia. Alternatively, contact the Customer Service Centre to report a sighting of suspected bees.

Further information

Last updated 08 April 2013