The Japanese honeybee, Apis cerana japonica, is a subspecies of the Eastern honeybee, Apis cerana. The Eastern honeybee is related to the Western, or European honeybee, Apis mellifera, that is common in the United States and Europe. Scientists think the Japanese honeybee originally came from the Asian mainland, possibly from Korea.
The Japanese honeybee is slightly smaller than the European honeybee. There is a slight difference in the veins on the wings, but it is really hard for a casual observer to make this identification.
Like the European honeybee, the Japanese honeybees make a honeycomb and they make honey. The Japanese bee colonies are smaller than the colonies of European honeybees. The Japanese bees can nest in small spaces. The bees often nest in hollow trees, but they will use almost any space that they find.
Japanese beekeepers often make wooden boxes for the honeybees to use when they make their honeycombs. When Japanese honeybees migrate, they often abandon the hive. Beekeepers leave the hive in place until another colony of bees moves into it.
Researchers found that Japanese honeybees are attracted to several varieties of the Cymbidium orchid. By visiting the flowers, the bees pollinate the plants. Researchers also found that drones (male bees) were attracted to the orchids. The drones visited the orchids after they took part in mating flights. The drones did not take the pollen back to the nest as the workers did.
Research suggests that Japanese honeybees are fairly resistant to attack from the varroa mite, Varroa jacobsoni. This mite has become a serious threat to honeybees in many parts of the world, including the United States. The Japanese honeybees seem to have a more thorough grooming process to remove the mites from their nest mates than the European honeybees do.
There are large hornets that attack the Japanese honeybee hives. The honeybees use their body heat to kill the hornet scouts before they can bring reinforcements. This prevents a full-scale hornet attack. Scientists have not seen this defense method used by many other bees.
Researchers have found that the Japanese honeybees have several methods of controlling the temperature in the nest. Like the European bees, they can circulate outside air if the nest gets too warm. If necessary, they drip water on the honeycomb and circulate outside air to make a form of air conditioning. In winter, researchers found that workers use their muscles to generate heat to keep the eggs and larvae warm.