Honey Bee, Apis mellifera Click to enlarge image
Honey Bee, Apis mellifera Image: Dave Britton
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Super Family
  • Size Range
    1.3 cm - 1.6 cm
Apis mellifera
Honey Bee, Apis mellifera Image: Andrew Donnelly
© Australian Museum

Australia's early European settlers introduced Honey Bees to ensure a good supply of honey.


Honey Bees are one of the most recognisable insects and are the most commonly domesticated bee species in the world. They are somewhat variable in colour but are usually brown with a banded dull yellow and brown abdomen. The head, thorax and abdomen are densely covered in hair. The legs and around the eyes are also hairy. These highly social insects live in large hives dominated by a single queen. The queen is larger than workers or the male drones, and is responsible for egg laying and for controlling the hive using pheromones. The majority of the hive is made up of worker bees that build and maintain the hive, and collect nectar and pollen to feed the developing bee larvae.

Native bees and wasps and some flies can look superficially similar to honey bees. The only native bees to form large social hives are the stingless bees (Tetragonula and Austroplebia). These bees are very dark coloured, and are much smaller than honey bees (less than 5mm long), and do not sting. Other solitary native bees and wasps may look like honey bees, but are not aggressive, and do not have a barbed sting. Some flies are excellent mimics of honey bees, but have only one pair of wings and not sting.


Honey Bees live in urban areas, forests, woodlands and heath. Honey bees have successfully established feral hives throughout Australia


Honey Bees are found throughout Australia.

Feeding and diet

European Honey Bees can be found foraging on the flowers of many different native and introduced plant species.

Other behaviours and adaptations

Australia's early European settlers introduced Honey Bees to ensure a good supply of honey. Naturally a few escaped and they are now wild throughout most of Australia's southern States. Honey Bees play an important role as pollinators of crops and wild flowers. But some wild flowers have suffered from the presence of Honey Bees as these flowers can only be pollinated by native bees. Some native bees use a special pollination technique required by certain flowers called buzz pollination. Honey Bees do not use this technique and remove pollen without pollinating the flowers.

Honey Bees defend their nest aggressively. If a bee is driven to sting, the action is fatal as it rips out the bee's lower abdomen. The sting, with venom gland pumping, is left in the victim.

Danger to humans

Honey Bee stings are barbed and, when a person is stung, the sting (with venom gland attached) will stick in the skin and tear away from the bee. This injury kills the bee, but the venom gland continues to pump venom through the sting, so it should be removed as soon as possible. Do not squeeze it as this will force more venom into the wound. The sting is best removed by scraping it out with a fingernail.

Most Honey Bee stings cause intense local pain and swelling. However, if a victim is allergic to bee venom, a sting may cause more general symptoms. Most seriously, these can include difficulty breathing and collapse. If a person is known to be allergic to bee venom, the sting should be removed and a pressure immobilisation bandage should be immediately applied. Seek medical attention.

If you find a swarm of bees, do not approach it. Contact your local beekeepers' association or look up under 'Bee and Wasp Removal' in the Yellow Pages.