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© Eric Guerin
Migrating giant honey bees in the North of Thailand

The Mae Hong Son Agricultural Research and Development Center: a unique refuge for honey bees

All photos taken by W.S. Robinson, unless specified

Why are there bees at the center, but no honey?

Giant honey bees, Indian hive bees, red dwarfs and black dwarfs—from September to November, you may see any of the four native honey bees of Thailand in this orchard. All of these bees are important pollinators of fruits, vegetables, and wild plants. All produce honey at other times of year. All have spiritual and cultural significance to Thai people.

Giant honey bees (Apis dorsata) migrate long distances at the end of the rainy season, pausing here to rest and feed. They are likely moving from a region where plants have stopped flowering, to higher altitude where flowers are still blooming.

Large numbers of giant honey bee swarms come to this orchard every year, a phenomenon not seen by scientists anywhere else in the world. Swarms range from a few hundred bees to more than 100,000, clinging in clusters to tree limbs.

While resting here, normally for a week or two, the giant honey bees forage for nectar from nearby eucalyptus trees and other flowers to fuel their migration. They gather water from the river bank, exposing it on their tongues while they fan their wings to evaporate it and cool the swarm.

During their rest stop, the bees do not build wax comb, raise new bees, or make honey. Without honey or brood to defend, they rarely sting people. But you should not approach closer than about 15 meters.

As the swarm prepares to leave, scout bees perform dances that other bees follow. The dances indicate the direction, and perhaps location, of the bees’ next stop on their migration. After many dances by the scouts, the swarm becomes excited and lifts off, flying in the direction indicated by the dancers. You may even see a swarm fly!

Fighting and escaping hungry hornets!

Two species of hornets attack Indian hive bees (Apis cerana) in northern Thailand.

Greater banded hornets, Vespa tropica, directly attack bees in their hives and exposed swarms, picking off single bees to take back to their nests and to feed their young.

Yellow-legged hornets (Vespa velutina) have a different strategy: they hover in the air at colony entrances, or even surround a swarm, and pick off returning foragers. The hornets make beekeeping with hives difficult in this region.

When hornets are abundant in September through November, Indian hive bees leave their protective cavities to defend themselves more successfully out in the open. Each cluster of bees you see is a single colony with a queen and workers. When a hornet attacks, a group of bees may surround the hunter. By shivering they generate enough heat to kill the hornet.

To lure hornets away from the queen bee and foragers, some bees form hanging “tails,” and “arms” along the branches. The bees shake their bodies, which signals to the hornets that the bees see them and can defend themselves. The whole swarm may take repeated, short flights, gradually leaving the hornets behind

Giant and Dwarfs. 

When not migrating, giant honey bees build wax comb nests on tall trees or even buildings, where they produce honey and young bees, and will fiercely attack predators and honey robbers. When they are nesting they are famous for their defensive behavior.

Two species of dwarf honey bees may occur in the orchard: red dwarfs and black dwarfs. Both may nest here, or pass through in migration. Both build well-concealed, single, small wax combs in which they raise young bees and store honey.

Entire red dwarf (Apis florea) combs can be found for sale in markets around Thailand.

Black dwarf honey bees (Apis andreniformis) are rare. Black dwarfs deserve strong conservation protections. You are lucky if you see these beautiful little, black-striped bees!


The Asian Pollinator Initiatives Alliance

WWF Thailand is a founding member of the Asian Pollinator Initiatives Alliance or APIA. The APIA is a working group that aims to create a network within Thailand and the rest of Asia to raise awareness on the importance of pollinators to the environment and economy, while also taking intervention actions to create change. 

Made of like-minded individuals from different fields, the APIA shares and utilises knowledge and resources from the private, public, and education sectors to maximise impacts 

Through events and workshops, the APIA connects like-minded individuals and organisations in Asia and raises public awareness on pollinator protection. Keep up to date with all of APIA's events here

Network Members

Non-Governmental Organisations 

WWF- Thailand
Earth Net Foundation 

Non Profit Organisations
GO Organics Peace International

Political Foundations 
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Southeast Asia

Researchers/Research Institutions
King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi Native Honeybee and Pollinator Research Centre
Dr Orawan Duangphakdee from King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi 
Dr Alyssa Stewart from Mahidol University 

Business Sector 
Mivana Co.,Ltd
Campaign Timeline
Pollinators and Biodiversity 'Terrace Talk'
WWF Thailand joined forces with, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Go Organics, and local civil groups hosted “Terrace Talk: “Pollinators and Biodiversity in Southeast Asia,” raising awareness on the importance of pollinators. Find out more
Pollinator workshop at Sustainable Brands 2020
As part of Sustainable Brands 2020 event, WWF- Thailand joined forces with Biothai, Go Organics, Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia, Earth Net Foundation, and Thai Pesticide Alerts, to host a workshop on “The importance of pollinators for sustainable food production,” promoting pollinator restoration in nature and within the value chain. The event comprised of honey testing, bee wax soap making, beekeeping techniques, informative talks, and a brainstorming session on how each sector can take an active and important role in pollinator restoration both with value chains (that may supply their materials) and by transforming spaces they manage (such as farms, campuses, factories, gardens) into pollinator-friendly gardens where they can integrate native beekeeping. Local wisdom, good practices, and issues were also exchanged and shared. Find out more
Stingless Bees - Pollinator Restoration in Urban Context
Stingless Bees - Pollinator Restoration in Urban and Peri-Urban Context Workshop with Dr. Orawan Duangphakdee, Associate Professor and Director of Native Hon­eybee Research Laboratory at King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi. Ratchaburi Campus. This workshop is set within the larger context of pollinator restoration in urban and peri-urban context. Participants will have an introductory overview on stingless bees, their roles in the ecosystem, their nature and their needs. There will also practice and observation of how to work with stingless bees including honey harvesting, colony transfer, where colonies can be set up, as well as the different types of hive structures that can be used Find out more
KMUTT Bee Park visit
Members from the Asian Pollinators Initiative Alliance headed to Ratchaburi in the west of Bangkok to visit King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi's Native Honeybee and Pollinator Research Centre or the KMUTT Bee Park. Members of the alliance got to learn about the research centre's various projects including the Smart Hive project and about how the centre helps local small farmers convert to sustainable agriculture through the incorporation of pollinators while also helping them sell bee products.
Introduction to Rafter Beekeeping Online Webinar
On the 21st of January 2021, WWF Thailand in collaboration with GO Organics Peace International hosted an ‘Introduction to Rafter Beekeeping’ online webinar. The webinar had registrants from more than 20 countries around the world, comprising of experts and novices in the pollinators and beekeeping field alike. This webinar was conducted as part of the Asian Pollinator Initiative Alliance’s (APIA) efforts. Lead by Biologist french Eric Guren, the webinar had a primary focus on Rafter beekeeping, a traditional sustainable and safe beekeeping and honey collection technique for Apis dorsata Fabricius or the Asian giant honey bee Find out more
Apis Cerana and Bee Friendly Farming Webinar
On the 18th of February 2021, WWF Thailand in collaboration with GO Organics Peace International hosted the second of our monthly webinars for the APIS. This time we were joined by Dr. Punchihewa (pictured), Dr. Punchihewa has been working with beehives at his home garden in Sri Lanka since childhood. He was a Fullbright fellow in the USA and is the Chairman of the Pollinator Conservation Working Group of Sri Lanka. Throughout his years working with farmers, he saw the detrimental effects of intensive modern farming. Dr Punchihewa, therefore, devised and started promoting a farming system to the farmers, which is “Bee Friendly”. The webinar not only delved into Dr. Punchihewa’s concept of Bee Friendly Farming, but also the importance and relationship between humans and pollinators, Find out more
Community Based Native Beekeeping in Southeastern Thailand
The third of our monthly webinars was on ‘community based native bee conservation in south-eastern Thailand.’the host, Mr Prasit Wongprom, is a local expert on a topic as well as a freelance researcher and professor with a Bachelor’s Degree in Forestry and a Master’s Degree in Entomology from Kasetsart University. Mr. Prasit, who was a professor at Nakhonsawan Rajabhat University and has worked as an Entomology researcher for Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden and the University of Kentucky in addition to being an animal biodiversity expert for the Royal Forestry Department, brings a vast amount of experience and knowledge to this topic. Due to his expertise, the webinar as informative for everyone involved and the Q&A session brought about engaging discussions
Bat Pollination in Thailand, a Decade of Research
The fourth in the series of webinars hosted by the APIA titled ' Bat Pollinators in Thailand, a Decade of Research was the first in the series to cover bat pollinators. When we think of bats, we often think of birds or insects like bees, bats are often overlooked despite the important role they play. Bats are actually responsible for the pollination of several tropical fruits the region is known for, including durian. Hosted by Assistant Professor Dr. Alyssa Stewart of Mahidol University, who has been studying bat pollination in Thailand since 2011, the webinar was insightful from start to finish with a depth of information and data. Attended concurrently by over 40 people, the Q&A session at the end prooved to be a highlight Find out more
Pesticides and Bees Webinar
The fifth of the Asian Pollinator Initiatives Alliance’s (APIA) pollinator series of webinars was the second to be hosted by French biologist Eric Guerin. Eric specializes in Southeast Asian native bee conservation and sustainable beekeeping. Based in Cambodia since 2008, he has been working closely with honey hunters and small-scale beekeepers throughout Southeast Asia. While most of us agree that pesticides have an impact on pollinators in general and bees in particular, our understanding of the subject usually doesn’t go far beyond this general idea. Throughout the webinar Eric expands on this topic giving attendees a better idea of the scope of impact pesticides have on pollinator populations. This includes discussions on the impact of pesticides on beekeeping, wild bee populations and bee products, as well as best pesticides management practices to reduce their effect on bees.
The Forgotten Thai Pollinators Webinar
The sixth webinar in the pollinator series by the APIA was hosted by Dr. Natapot Warrit, a local bee taxonomist based at Chulalongkorn University. Dr. Warrit has been working with non-Apis native bees since his time in graduate school at the University of Kansas. Through studying and researching pollinators through systematics, Dr. Warrit is able to bring a unique perspective to the topic. This is especially the case when applied to ‘solitary bees’ a type of pollinator often overlooked in discussions and research, despite providing large amounts of ecosystem services and making up the majority of pollinator populations. Out of more than 20,000 species of bees, only around 500 are non solitary. this number is staggreing given how little solitary bees are discussed or known about. Through out the webinar Dr. Warrit gave the attendees a better idea on the massive impacts solitary bees have on the economy and environment,
Beekeeping in the 'New Normal' Webinar
The seventh webinar in the pollinator series by the Asian Pollinators Initiatives Alliance (APIA) was hosted by Mr. Tanapong Sampaoloi, an agricultural extension academic who is the Director of the Agriculture Technology Promotion Center (Economic Insects) Chiang Mai Province. With more than 26 years of experience working with bees, Mr. Tannapong has a unique and in-depth perspective on the impacts COVID-19 has had on both beekeeping and the production of bee products, as well as the adaptation measures needed in the new normal. One of the main objectives of the Center is to test the quality of products from economic insects. This includes testing the quality of honey, which Mr. Tannapong is an expert in. With this knowledge, the webinar was a special opportunity to have any queries on the subject matter answered
Campaign Timeline
Last Forest – Indigenous Bees, Honey & Markets Webinar
Last Forest – Indigenous Bees, Honey & Markets was led by Mathew John, the Managing Director of Last Forest Enterprises Private Limited and the Founder-Director of The Keystone Foundation. Mathew is the only Asian on the Board of International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) and is also a member of the Participatory Guarantee Systems Committee. Introducing communities to sustainable beekeeping and honey collecting techniques like we have discussed in previous webinars is only part of the picture. To truly improve their lives, we must also help support the quality products they produce through systems like PGS, and help enter them into the market while ensuring they are able to differentiate themselves from other products. In this webinar, Mathew discussed the work of both of his organisations while also detailing his experiences working with beekeeping and honey hunting communities over the years.
Colonisation Challenges Conservation: Indigenous Groups can Protect the Environment Webinar
Colonisation Challenges Conservation: “Indigenous Groups can Protect the Environment” was led by renowned scientist and activist Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh, who has received many awards through out his years of work. This includes the Peace Seeker of the Year given by the Montana Peace Seekers Network in 2013. Currently he hold positions at Bethlehem, Birzeit, and American Arab Universities. In order to highlight the challenges colonisation imposes on conservation, the webinar discussed the issues that arise when we prevent indigenous communities from having a role in conservation. Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh used examples from Palestine where colonisers have used their power to disentangle the organic relationship between indigenous groups and their native land. To further clarify the impacts contrasting examples were used to show how with the help to indigenous groups we can help ensure sustainable human and natural communities. Attendees received first hand accounts on the impacts colonisation has on indigenous communities and what happens when we do not allow these communities to carry out techniques and cultures they have been practicing for centuries directly from someone who has been fighting for human rights for decades.
From Hive to Home: Sustainable Honey Supply Chains Webinar
After a break we are excited to host another webinar, From Hive to Home: Sustainable Honey Supply Chains The webinar featureed Dr. Orawan Duangphakdee, Associate Professor and the Director of Native honey bee research laboratory at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Thailand who discussed her more than 15 years of research experience including covering Beesac, a model which aims to help smallholder farmers produce, collect, and sell high quality honey and honey products through sustainable microbee keeping. Dr Maria Anastasiadi is a lecturer in bioinformatics at Cranfield University, England. She has an extensive background in Plant and Food Science and Metabolomics. Her research focuses on promoting sustainability across the food supply chain and enhancing health promoting properties of food products. During this webinar, she presented her research activities and provided an overview of Novel Honey Testing Authentication Methods – as a tool to support efforts to ensure quality and increase product value.
Pollinators, Pesticides, and Paths Forward for Community Engagement and Restoration
“Pollinators, pesticides, and paths forward for community engagement and restoration” was the latest event hosted by APIA at Biothai’s Growth Diversity Park in Nonthaburi Province, just outside Bangkok. It was APIA’s first in person even since the pandemic started and provided opportunities for learning and workshops not achievable through the online webinars we hosted previously. In the morning session of the event, researchers from leading universities presented their findings to the attendees. The findings of these researches support the link between a sustainable food system and pollinator conservation Afternoon session included talks and workshops from civilians who are experiences in their own on topics including urban beekeeping, organic agriculture and stingless beekeeping, and honey collection.

Webinar Recordings

APIA Webinar  #1 Introduction to Rafter Beekeeping 



APIA Webinar  #2 Apis Cerana and Bee Friendly Farming



APIA Webinar #3 Community Based Native Bee Conservation in South-eastern Thailand Online Webinar (Thai) 



APIA Webinar #4 Bat Pollination in Thailand: a Decade of Research



APIA Webinar #5 Pesticides and Bees


APIA Webinar #6 The Forgotten Thai Pollinators: the "solitary" bees responsible for the future of Thailand terrestrial ecosystem"



APIA Webinar #7 Beekeeping in the 'New Normal' (Thai)