The incredible honey hunters of the Himalayan foothills


Image: Andrew Newey
Twice a year, locals in central Nepal risk their lives high up in the Himalayan foothills to harvest honey produced by the world’s largest honeybee.

By Bec CrewScience alert

Growing up to 3 centimetres (1.2 inches) in length, the Himalayan cliff honey bee of Nepal is the world’s largest honeybee.

Found only in the foothills of the Himalayas, building their homes at altitudes of between 2,500 and 3,000 metres (8,200 and 9,800 feet) and foraging as high up as 4,100 metres (13,500 feet) above the ground, these insects have a unique ability to thrive at incredible heights. They’re so good at it, that the rest of the Himalayan honey bee population, called Apis dorsata, has stayed down in the lowlands of Nepal, and the lack of breeding between the two has seen the Himalayan cliff honey bee population classified into its own subspecies, Apis dorsata laboriosa.

The Himalayan cliff honey bee is the only species in the world to produce a type of honey called red spring honey, and it cannot be reproduced by commerical beekeepers due to the high altitudes that give it its unique properties. Said to be „intoxicating and relaxing“, red spring honey is understandably very valuable, and twice a year, honey hunters from the Gurung population of Nepal risk their lives to harvest it up in the foothills.

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