What are they?
Bees and wasps are flying insects from the order Hymenoptera. They occur naturally in our ecosystem, playing important roles as pollinators of plants and predators of other invertebrates. However, certain species can become potentially dangerous when their hives are disturbed, as they will sting to protect themselves.
Types of Bees
These are the three main types of bees one might encounter in Singapore:
- Honey bees
- Solitary bees
- Stingless bees
1. The Honey Bees
Honey bees are social insects that form large colonies. Honey bees will readily sting to protect their hive when threatened or disturbed. Caution should therefore be taken when a hive is found. However, honey bees are docile and safe when foraging at flowers away from their nests. Honey bees constitute just four of the more than 130 species of bees that can be found in Singapore.
Below are the four species of honey bee (genus Apis) found in Singapore:
Asian Honey Bee
- The most common bee in Singapore, the Asian Honey Bee can be found in urban parks and even roof-top gardens.
- Their hives are often constructed within sheltered spaces, like tree holes but in urban areas, these bees might also use upturned pots and the eaves of roofs. They may sometimes attempt to enter buildings or manmade objects to find nesting sites too.
- An active hive is covered with live bees (photo above). The hive’s structure consists of multiple wax combs arranged parallel to one another.
Giant Honey Bee
- Also referred to locally as the “Malayan Honey Bee”, this bee is often found in forests or densely planted parks, but may stray into urban areas.
- Giant Honey Bees forage actively after dusk and are often attracted to artificial light sources.
- Their hives are a single large comb, usually around 1 metre across, and usually formed underneath a sloping branch of a tall tree.
Red Dwarf Honey Bee
Black Dwarf Honey Bee
- These bees are fairly common in parks and gardens.
- Naturally nomadic, they will often abandon their hive to find a new nesting site within three to six months.
- Both species construct a single, small comb (usually around 30 cm across) that hangs from a thin branch of a shrub or tree.
2. Solitary Bees
Singapore is home to over 100 species of solitary bee, which unlike the honey bees, live singly or in small groups rather than in colonies. Solitary bees therefore do not construct hives like honey bees do. Solitary bees are peaceful and docile, even when their nests are disturbed, and come in a diverse range of colours, shapes and sizes. Nesting sites for solitary bees include dead wood, twigs, and under the soil.
Here are a few examples of solitary bee species that occur in Singapore:
| Large Carpenter Bees
3. Stingless Bees
Stingless bees are tiny insects often no bigger than a pinhead, but are important pollinators of forest trees. Like honey bees, stingless bees live in large colonies. However, they do not possess stings and are harmless to people.
Occasionally, stingless bees may swarm to form a mating cloud outside of their nest entrance. This may alarm people, but it is in fact a natural and harmless event. Swarming occurs irregularly, and generally lasts for only a few hours.
- Stingless bees nest within crevices in trees and rocky walls, but also in manmade structures in parks such as lamp posts.
- The entrance is typically coated with plant resin. Stingless bees will often be seen guarding the entrance from intruders. The entrance is often the size of a 50-cent coin or smaller.
Types of Wasps
These two types of wasps can be found in Singapore:
- Paper wasps
Hornets are large-bodied wasps that live in large colonies that build their nests using plant fibres. Like the honey bees, hornets will readily sting to defend their hives. In natural environments, hornets may build their hives on trees, within low-lying shrubs, and even on the ground. In urban areas, they may also build their hives on building facades or on man-made objects, such as under the eaves of roofs and on fences.
Lesser-banded Hornet (Vespa affinis), Singapore’s most common hornet species.
A typical hornet hive.
2) Paper Wasps
Paper wasps are typically small to medium-sized, most being no larger than a 5-cent coin. Close relatives of the hornets, paper wasps also live in colonies and construct their hives using plant material. Most species of paper wasp become aggressive when defending their nests, and will sting when their hive is disturbed or threatened. These hives may be found among leaves, on tree trunks, or built on man-made structures.
Top row and bottom left: Various kinds of paper wasp hives found in Singapore. Bottom right: Sumatran Paper Wasp (Ropalidia sumatrae).
Bees & Wasps - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What should you do if you see a bee hive in a park?
- Keep your distance and refrain from disturbing the hive
- Notify NParks at 1800-471-7300
What should you do if you have been stung by a bee or wasp?
- If you have been stung by a honey bee, a stinger will be left behind in the wound. There would be no stinger to remove if you have been stung by a wasp.
- Scrape the stinger out using the edge of a card. Do not pull out the stinger with your fingers as you may accidentally squeeze and release more venom into your skin.
- Wash wound with soap and water and apply an ice pack. Monitor for allergic reactions, e.g. rashes, swelling, breathlessness.
- Seek immediate medical attention if allergic reactions occur, or if you have been stung multiple times.
What should you do if you are swarmed by bees or wasps?
- Cover your head and move as far as possible from the hive, being careful to avoid tripping
- Run toward shelter as this disorients chasing the attacking insects
- Do not swat at the insects – this will cause them to become more aggressive
- Do not jump into water – agitated bees may continue to attack after you emerge
What should you do if a bee or wasp lands on you?
Honey bees frequently land on people to drink their sweat.
- Refrain from smacking the insect! Injuring it may cause it to sting or release alarm pheromones that would attract more aggressive bees / wasps.
- Calmly move the part of your body that the insect is resting on. If it still does not move, gently brush it off – it will fly away peacefully.
Why would you find honey bees coming into your home in the evening or early mornings?
- Honey bees that forage in the late evening are often drawn to urban light sources. Installing thick curtains or an insect screen on your windows will usually reduce the likelihood of this occurring
Photos credits: Zestin Soh and Hong Yao Lim