Ecology of the Ansalonian Giant Honeybee

Animal Bee Blur
Image courtesy of Pixabay.

The scream was heard all the way to the ground and the guards came running. What they found amazed the eyes.

“Stand away from there, master Fireforge!” Shouted the young man as he loaded his crossbow. So frightened was he that several quarrels slipped from his fingers before he had one secured. The grizzled old dwarf was trying to fend off the creature, but it seemed mostly to ignore him, being quite out of his reach. “Well hurry up, you doorknob! It’s eating the house!” Around him, other townsfolk fell back, afraid.

The young guard finally had the bow loaded and aimed carefully at the creature. Just as he pulled the trigger, a strong hand grabbed the bow and redirected the shot up and into the foliage of the mighty vallenwood, “Stop!”

“Tanis!! What are you doing? I know you don’t like to kill and all, being half elven, but, by Reorx, it’s eating my house!”

“That’s enough, Flint. It’s only dangerous if threatened.” The young half elf walked up to the house, appraising the three foot long bee which, sure enough, was chewing on the thatched roof.

He pulled a hand full of brown sugar from his pouch held it up as high as he could reach. The bee paused, considering him with huge, multi-facetted eyes. It crawled from its high perch. People gasped, some covering their eyes, as the huge insect reached out a long, sticky tongue and took the gift.

Peering at Tanis expectantly, it soon decided no more was forthcoming and returned to its work. “Torch, and a bucket!” The flustered dwarf turned red with rage, “What now? You’re going to burn down my house?” Tanis smiled, shaking his head, “I’m going to convince her to move on.” Taking the torch and bucket, he filled the bucket with straw from the roof and poured in some water. Soon he had a small but very smoky fire. Climbing up after the bee, he wafted the smoke into her face. Soon the bee started to look drowsy and stopped chewing. Then, without preamble, it flew away, headed south.

“There, you see? No need to hurt her at all.” Tanis climbed up to the hole in the roof. “And this is what she was after. Reaching in, he drew out an old squirrel nest, full of stored nuts and seeds. “Never have I seen the like,” breathed the guard.

“Nothing to be worried about. They’re perfectly gentle and quite common in Qualinesti. They can fly a hundred miles in search of food. This one could have come from the Kharolas Mountains, or maybe the New Coast. The elves learned long ago, don’t bother them and they won’t bother you, just like Farmer Brant’s bee hives.”

The Giant Honeybee

In the unknown past, magic worked in Krynn to cause many strange creatures and races upon the world. One such creature was the Giant Honeybees of Ansalon. With few appropriate habitats, these creatures are rare and wondrous. Few have seen them, and fewer still know much about them. As a few hives are to be found in the elven kingdom of Qualinesti, they are perhaps the true experts on these creatures.

Giant Honeybees, like their smaller kin, are inherently gentle. They are only dangerous when threatened or when their hive has been invaded. They pay little attention to the other creatures with whom they share their world.

As social insects, they live in large communities which can number in the hundreds. Larger hives of several thousand have been said to exist. While these insects live and work together, they are not at all like a human community. The bees do not have an individual life. They have a purpose in the hive which they carry out. Some gather food, some raise young, some guard the entrance, some lay eggs. Their short lives are dedicated to the next generation. Anything else is not important to them.

Keeping this in mind, there are four distinct types of bees in any given community. Each has a specific role to play in the life of the community and are different physically and in temperament to meet the demands of their duties.


Worker bees make up most of the hive’s population and, as their name implies, do most of the work. They gather food, feed the hive, create honey and royal jelly, and carry out construction of the hive. A mature worker is about three feet long and in every way save size resembles its smaller kin.

All workers are sexually immature females. A worker larvae which is fed royal jelly throughout development will emerge from its chamber a queen.

Generally, worker bees are gentle and non-offensive. They will attack only to defend themselves or the hive, in which case they will gang up on enemies, biting, grasping, and using their powerful stings. The sting of these creatures is rarely fatal, though exceptions do occur. When the bee stings, the poison sacks and stinger pull free from the bee, which will die within an hour. The poison sacks continue to pump poison after the bee flies away, so it is important to remove them quickly, being careful not to crush them as this will only inject more venom.


Somewhat larger than the workers are the drones, about 5 feet. These are the male bees and they lack stingers. They spend their time lounging about the hive being cared for by the workers. They have no duties whatsoever within the hive. The drones exist for one purpose only, to fertilize the young queen. When a new queen is ready, she will take flight and the drones will follow. Then, hundreds or even thousands of feet up in the air, the drones will mate with the queen, who will store the sperm form the drone and use it to fertilize her eggs for the next three to five years. The drone dies after mating to much the same fate as the stinging worker.

The life of a drone may sound easy, but in times of shortage, the drones are cast from the hive by the workers to save food. Drones are docile and without stingers, so they are mostly harmless. They make up about 10% of the bee population.


Each hive has a single queen. The queen is simply a sexually mature female. Her sole duty is to lays eggs, thousands of them over her life-time. She mates once with several drones to ensure genetic diversity and then uses the stored sperm to fertilize her eggs.

She is the largest bee in the hive, often eight or nine feet in length, and black. The queen is hostile to any intruders. As she rarely leaves the hive except to mate or swarm, any stranger is an invader by definition. She has a powerful bite and sting, and she is able to sting repeatedly without losing her stinger.

The origins of the queen are mundane. The workers prepare special, extra large chambers for the queen. If the hive gets too big, or the current queen’s fertility has dropped to an unacceptable level or the queen dies, the workers will begin feeding a group of worker larvae a steady diet of royal jelly. This extra rich food changes the development of the bee and a queen will be born. A newly born queen will immediately kill any other queen larvae, and should another queen mature at the same time, they will battle to the death. The original queen will take half the hive, and depart to find a new location to start a hive.


This large, aggressive bee has no analogy in the normal honeybee hive and is unique to the giant honeybee. A small number of drones are fed royal jelly and mature into a large, six to seven feet, armored, dark gray bee with a powerful sting. It is the duty of these bees to defend the hive from invaders. They challenge all who enter the hive, even workers. Anyone who doesn’t belong is attacked and driven out or killed. Like the queen, they do not lose their stingers and can sting multiple times.

The Life Cycle

Bees are generally short lived. Drones and workers have a lifespan of only weeks, while a queen or soldier can live up to five years (though the queen generally loses fertility after three to four years). All bees start out as eggs in wax chambers. After hatching all are fed a diet of royal jelly, but after a few days, most are weaned off onto normal honey and a sort of bread the workers make. Only the queens and soldiers are fed royal jelly for their full development, and, in fact, throughout their lives.

The life of a Queen, Drone, or Soldier is pretty well set, but the workers go through different stages as they mature. The worker’s first job is cleaning, starting with their own cell. After about a week, they are transferred to the nursery where they take care of the young, maintaining the cells, feeding, cleaning, etc. After two more weeks, they move again, this time to food processing. They meet returning bees and take the gathered food from them, storing it in the hive and processing it into honey. They also make the “bread” which the adults eat and take care of the needs of the drones, soldiers and queens. The next week sees them backing up the soldiers on guard duty, clearing refuse from the hive, and standing around beating their wings to keep the hive cool. This is also when they work on perfecting flying. The last stage are the bees who actually fly out and gather food and water for the hive.


There are three main foods consumed by bees, honey, royal jelly, and a sort of bread that they make. Honey is the best known of the three. A normal bee takes nectar from a flower and through an internal process distills in down into a sugar rich, easily stored substance we know as honey. Well, even in Krynn, there are few flowers which can support a three foot honeybee. Instead of nectar, the giant honeybee uses the sap of trees. Maples, some pines, and especially Vallenwoods are rich with a sugar water substance not too different from the nectar of flowers. Just as men have learned to boil off the sap to make syrup, the bees use it for honey. The bees chew small holes in the bark of the tree and then drain out some of the sap. The trees make plenty extra and take advantage of the bees to spread pollen and seeds over vast distances.

Contrary to popular belief, the queen does not make royal jelly, nor is there any great store of it in the hive. Royal Jelly is created by the workers to feed the larva, the queen, and the soldiers. The workers have glands in their mouths which produce the royal jelly. The jelly is excreted from these glands and fed to the young, etc. To collect the jelly, one can either extract the glands, thus killing the bee, or a skilled handler can encourage the bee to give up it’s precious jelly voluntarily. The jelly has amazing restorative powers if eaten, as a Potion of Restoration.

Bees need more than just sugar. Like any other animal, they need protein and other essential nutrients. For this they rely on a sort of bread they make in the hive. Normal bees use pollen to produce this bread, but again, the giant bee’s size prohibits this. Instead, they collect nuts and seeds. These are stored in the hive until needed. They are then chewed with water to make the bread. This bread is then consumed by the other bees in the hive.

Bee Behavior

Swarming is perhaps the most obvious and frightening behavior seen in the giant honeybee. It is in fact normal and not dangerous. When a second queen is produced in a hive, the original queen will take half of the population (usually hundreds of bees) and leave. These bees will travel in a huge swarm, finding someplace safe to stay. A small number of workers will search for a good location for a new hive. Once found, the swarm will travel there, build the new hive and move in. There is nothing inherently dangerous about a swarm of bees.

The Waggle Dance is how bees communicate. When a bee returns to the hive and it has news, such as a source of food, it will perform a dance on the “Waggle Dance Floor.” The dance will include direction, distance, and the nature of the news. The information provided is accurate enough to lead bees dozens of miles around mountainous terrain to a food source.

Bee Handling

As has been noted, for the most part the giant honeybee is a docile and inoffensive creature. Just big and scary. Of course there may be “Africanized” giant honeybees which would be more dangerous and aggressive. If you run into those, just run and hide.

As for the handling of the common variety, this can be done easily. In the case of the giant honeybee, they will attack to defend themselves or their hive, and once angered can be dangerous, but so long as they are approached carefully and their territory is not threatened, they can be approached, touched, herded, etc. They are, unfortunately, too small to carry the weight of a man, though a kender might be able to ride one. A bee in its hive is likely to be much more aggressive and dangerous, so entry into a hive is not recommended without planning.

Smoking the bees is an option. Bees have an instinctive reaction to smoke. In case of fire, the bees all move to the upper part of the hive and gorge themselves on honey. If the hive is endangered, they can then swarm, taking most of the stored food with them, and find a new home. By using smoke, the bee handler can trigger this reaction, causing bees to return to their hive and move into the upper most part of it, too busy eating to bother anyone.

The Hive

Giant bees, of course, build giant hives. Hives are created during swarming. Scouts for the colony search for an appropriate space. They prefer that the space be of sufficient size, about 100ft across by maybe 150ft high. The space should be easy to secure, and preferably it should face north. If the bees find the site of a previous hive, they will often reoccupy it, making the bees very difficult to get rid of.

The hive itself is made up of mostly bee wax. Extending down from the ceiling, the bees will typically build six honey combs. These are sheets of cells suspended from the ceiling, about ten feet thick. Sufficient space is left between the cells for the bees to move and work easily. The cells themselves serve a variety of purposes, storage, the raising of young, etc.

A beneath the comb is a large open space. This is the “Waggle Dance Floor.” Bees returning from foraging are met here by other bees to pass on what they have found. This is also where they dance to communicate the locations of new resources.

At the lowest point in the hive is the entrance. The entrance is kept small to restrict passage and guarded by soldiers. All other openings are sealed with a thick layer of wax. Indeed, the entire interior of the space will be coated with wax to insulate and protect the hive.

The honeycomb is divided into different sections, roughly thirds. The lowest third is the nursery. The larvae are sealed into cells down here and cared for until they mature and can begin their life as part of the colony. With a peak colony size of 3-4000 and a lifespan of little more than a month, this is a busy place.

A small part of the nursery is dedicated to the drones and soldiers. Another section, often in a small side chamber is very different. The cells here are large and oriented vertically instead of the usual horizontal cells of the combs. This is where the queens are raised. The queen spends her life in the nursery, laying eggs. Only in the winter months does this activity cease, waiting for warmer weather.

Above the nursery is the larder. Taking up another third of the hive, this area is filled with seeds, nuts, grain, and anything else the bees have collected for food. Bread production takes place up here as well, though only as needed. No bread is stored.

At the top of the hive are cells bulging with stored honey, far more than the bees themselves need. This vast supply of food is used to last the few bees who hold out through the winter months when food cannot be gathered.

Sample Hive

Krynn’s first introduction to giant honeybees was in “Dragons of Hope.” While searching for the gates of Thorbardin, the heroes have the opportunity to explore a giant beehive in search of food. The original encounter was a mere couple of paragraphs which left the hive largely unknown and unexplored. Below is an expanded version of that same encounter. It can be inserted back into DL3, or modified to be set in a different adventure or setting.

While the 3rd Edition Monster Manual does provide a write-up of the giant honeybee in the vermin listing, these ½ CR creatures are far smaller and weaker than their 1st edition counterparts. It also only portrays the worker bees, ignoring the other types which exist in previous works. The official version may be used or I have provided below alternative write-ups which more closely represent the bees as they existed when DL3 was originally published. Have fun and prepare lots of neutralize poison Spells!

Worker Honeybees: CR 2; Small Vermin; hit dice 2d8+4; hp 12; Init -; Spd 20 ft, fly 80ft; AC 16 (+1 Size, +2 Dex, +3 Natural,); Atks +3 melee (1d4 bite, 1d4 Sting); SA Poison Sting, Immune to mind-influencing effects; AL N; SV Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +2; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 14, Int -, Wis 12, Cha 9

SA Poison Sting: 1d4 Dex DC 12, 1d4 Con DC 15, may sting only once, dieing one hour after sting
Skills and Feats: Climb +10, Intuit Direction +6, Spot +6, Multiattack, Blindsight
Possessions: none

Drone Honeybees: CR 1; Small Vermin; hit dice 2d8+4; hp 12; Init -; Spd 20 ft, fly 80ft; AC 16 (+1 Size, +2 Dex, +3 Natural,); Atks +3 melee (1d4 bite); SA Immune to mind-influencing effects; AL N; SV Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +2; Str 12, Dex 16, Con 14, Int -, Wis 12, Cha 9

Skills and Feats: Climb +10, Spot +6, Multiattack, Blindsight
Possessions: none

Queen Honeybees: CR 8; large Vermin; hit dice 6d8+30; hp 78; Init -; Spd 15 ft, fly 40ft (clumbsy); AC 18 (-2 size, +10 Natural,); Atks +3 melee (1d8+3 bite, 1d12+3 sting); SA Poison Sting; AL N; SV Fort +6, Ref +1, Will +2; Str 16, Dex 11, Con 20, Int -, Wis 12, Cha 9

SA Poison Sting: 2d6 Dex, DC 19, 2d6 Con DC 22
Skills and Feats: Climb +10, Intuit Direction +6, Spot +8, Hover, Blindsight
Possessions: none

Soldier Honeybees: CR 5; medium Vermin; hit dice 4d8+16; hp 32; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Spd 20ft, fly 60ft; AC 25 (+3 Dex, +12 Natural); Atks +3 melee (1d6+2 bite, 1d8+2 sting); SA Poison Sting, Immune to mind-influencing effects; AL N; SV Fort +5, Ref +4, Will +2; Str 14, Dex 16, Con 18, Int -, Wis 12, Cha 9

SA Poison Sting: 1d6 Dex DC15, 1d6 Con DC 18
Skills and Feats: Climb +10, Intuit Direction +6, Spot +8, Multiattack, Blindsight
Possessions: none

Changing Seasons

The lives of the bees are greatly affected by the change of seasons. Differences in weather and food supplies cause large changes in the bee population and behavior.

The spring is the start of the bee cycle. The bees, who have remained active all winter need to begin rebuilding the colony. Food is scarce, and the bees are prone to unusual behavior. They may collect piles of coal or rocks due to the lack of real food. The larvae which have been cared for all winter finally mature from their extended incubation and life in the hive begins again. Also, the queen resumes her routine of laying eggs. The hive is greatly depleted from its summer peak with only a few hundred bees remaining.

Summer is the boom time for the bees. As nature reaches full bloom, food supplies also increase. The size of the hive has increased as well as the new brood have continued to hatch. Swarms are most common in the mid to late summer as hive populations exceed the capacity of the hive to hold them.

During the Autumn, the hive goes into decline. Food gathering continues and the bees work hard to fill the larders for the winter which is soon to come, but egg laying eases off and the population begins to decrease. In the late fall, the last groups of eggs are laid. First is a number of long lived workers who can survive the long winter. Second is a brood which will mature the next spring. With the trees laden with sap and seeds, this is the most likely time to encounter foraging bees in the forests near Solace.

Unlike most insects, bees do not die or hibernate in the winter. They remain active, huddled in a giant buzzing mass in the center of the hive. The queen remains in the center of this mass. The bees continually flap their wings to maintain a constant temperature against the cold. The food supplies are gradually consumed, the mass of bees moving upward as they empty the lower cells. Of course, there is still work to do. The young must be fed and the hive must be kept in order.

DL3 Dragons of Hope Encounter 10

10. Honeycomb

Sheer cliffs lead into a beautiful valley. The cliff face to the south is pockmarked with hundreds of caves. At the cliff base, mounds of snow rise over hundreds of large buried objects, perhaps stone fallen from the cliff face over decades.

With a Listen Check, DC 18, characters may hear a deep buzzing sound coming from the cliff face above. The mounds are the bodies of bees, discarded from the hive as they have died of natural causes. Little remains but dried husks. The bodies of three soldiers may be found Search DC 20, which could be used for breast plates by a skilled armorer.

If the heroes enter the bees’ hive cave, they find a swarm of giant honeybees working inside a vast complex of honeycomb. In the lair are hundreds of giant worker honeybees, 4 giant soldier honeybees, and 1 giant queen honeybee.

Worker bees will ignore intruders unless attacked, but soldiers will attack any intruder on sight. Once battle begins, the bees will attempt to swarm the party, using numbers to defeat the more powerful heroes. Bees will grapple and interfere and assist to allow others to successfully attack.

Uneven and sometimes unsolid footing in the hive makes running impossible and characters making more than a standard move in a round must make a DC 10 Dex Check or suffer a -3 to AC and attack rolls due to the unsure footing.

No matter how many bees the party kills, there are always more, so every time the party moves into a new area of the hive, they will find worker bees busy with their duties.

Be aware that the primary material of the hive is wax and fires can easily and catastrophically get out of hand. Using fire in the hive against the bees is not a recommended strategy for this reason. Torches and fire spells should also be watched closely.

10a. Hall of Wax

This narrow passage winds deep into the cliff face. From the depths of the cave, an angry buzzing can be clearly heard. The walls are smooth and covered completely by some waxy resin.

This narrow entry can only be managed on hands and knees, with even the kender having to stoop low. Winding some 50ft into the cliff face, it opens into area 10b, where the bees have gathered to winter.

10b. The Waggle Dance Floor

The entrance way finally opens up into a large chamber. The buzzing is now deafening, making normal speech impossible. The dark cavern beyond is filled with movement, and a warm breeze wafts over you.

This vast open camber, at the very base of the hive, is directly below the swarm of wintering bees. The ceiling is covered with the huge insects and soldier bees are alert for intruders.

The floor and walls of the chamber are covered with the hexagonal cell pattern of the bees’ resin. Footing on this squishy surface is treacherous.

If the heroes enter the chamber, a pair of soldier bees will immediately attack the party unless they can determine some way to get through without being detected. If the party retreats or is killed, that is the end of it, but if they should kill or seriously injure the soldiers, a chemical signal will drive the entire hive to attack en masse.

Above the heroes are the great honeycombs of the bees. Six mighty wax structures ascending in the heights of the cavern. Between the combs are approximately 3 ft of space.

EL 13
40 Worker Honeybees
2 Soldier Honeybees
Queen Honeybee

10c. Nursery

As you climb the honeycomb structure, you can see movement in the hundreds of cells. Worker bees busy themselves cleaning the area of refuse, feeding the larvae, and resealing the cells.

Directly over the Dance Floor, this is where the future workers of the hive are kept and cared for. No matter how bitter the battle in the dance floor, a few workers will always remain in this and other parts of the hive, performing their normal duties.

The climb is not difficult. The characters can chimney climb or use tools to dig into the thick wax covering the cells. Again, the bees will not welcome intruders. If the heroes intrusion into the hive has been detected, the bees will aggressively defend against them.

Should the heroes open a cell, they will find a larval honeybee. Quite helpless. Should the heroes venture to the far back of the nursery, at the west corner, they will find the entrance to another chamber containing the queen larvae. The Eastern most chamber formed by the combs is the Drone Nursery.

EL 8
8 Worker Honeybees

10d. Royal Brood

These chambers are empty, but the cells are unlike those in the main nursery. They extend downward into the floor, rather than horizontally. Also they are much larger.

This is where the next generation of queens will be raised. If the hive becomes too crowded, or if the old queen stops being productive, or dies, larvae raised here will be fed royal jelly by the workers and become queens.

If the party can coax some workers into this chamber, the chemical signals in the place will cause the workers to produce royal jelly. Give Knowledge: Nature Checks, DC 18, or if any characters have bee husbandry as a Profession, DC 10, to know this.

The jelly can then be taken from the workers, either through coaxing Handle Animal DC 22, or killing the bee and taking the glands in which the royal jelly is produced.

10e. Drone Brood

The cells in this part of the nursery are larger, and the larvae within different in color and size. Two menacing black bees stand guard while workers tend the young. Most are fed a pasty mush, but a few are being fed a milky liquid.

Here is where the males are raised. Most will be drones, and they will live a life of leisure, cared for by the workers until it comes time to mate with a new queen. A few though, will grow to be the menacing soldier bees.

Glands in the mouth of the workers produce the royal jelly, which is fed to the queen, and future queens and soldiers. It is also fed to the very young worker larvae, but none in the hive are that young at this point in winter. This royal jelly is quite valuable if it can be recovered from the bee, DC 22 Handle Animal, or by removing the glands after the death of the bee.

EL 9
8 Worker Honeybees
2 Soldier Honeybees

10f. Larder

Having climbed up into the comb, you come to a division where the cells of the developing larvae give way to cells of a somewhat different design. The lowest cells are open, and empty. Farther up, workers dig into these cells revealing vast stores of seeds, acorns, pinecones, and grain. Chewing the seed and mixing it with water, they produce a paste and then move down into the nursery below.

This huge store of food, while impressive, is largely useless to the refugees. The bees have been storing it here all summer and it is largely contaminated, though some good food could be found with a thorough search. DC 12 Wilderness Lore Check will allow a character to recover 10 food units in about an hour.

EL 8
8 Worker Honeybees

10e. The Honey Galleries

Still higher in the comb, the cells take on an orange hue. A large number of the lower cells are again empty, but above you more bees work, drawing honey from these huge, natural vats, which rise up to the very roof of this cavern, more honey than could ever be hauled away.

Here is what the party seeks, but how to remove it? Many tons of honey fill the store, enough to see the hive through till warmer weather again permits the search for food, or to feed many refugees for a long time.

A single party member can remove approximately 100 food units per hour. Doing so will require the party to kill the bees, or figure out a reasonable means of circumventing them. Smoking the bees out will gain mixed results.

The reaction of bees to smoke is to move up to the top of the hive and gorge on as much honey as possible. The idea is that if the hive is destroyed, the bees can swarm and find a new home, taking most of their honey with them. It is true that the bees will be too busy eating to bother the PCs, but they will also all be congregating where the PCs don’t want them to be.

EL 8
8 Worker Honeybees

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