When i started with beekeeping i had a lot to learn especially what is normal behavior and process in the beehive. First-year i have found few dead bees in front of my hive i did not know what to think and to do. So i called my friend that is an experienced beekeeper to check, and thankfully it was just a natural spring process. I wanted to know more about possible reasons for dead bees around the hive so this is what i found out.
Why are there dead bees in front of my hive? (common reasons)
There are several reasons for honeybees to die and usually, it is a natural process but in some cases, it can point to a much more serious issue where bee-keepers attention is required. Especially when the number of bees is higher, you should make a thorough inspection to find out the cause.
Potential reasons for dead bees in and around the hive
a) Winter season (normal natural process )
b) Pesticide poisoning
c) Blocked entrance/exit
d) Moisture level inside the hive
e) The temperature inside the hive
f) Robbing bees
g) Colony collapse disorder (CCD)
h) Bee disease/pests
Winter season (natural process)
Dead bees in the spring are normal because bees are waiting for the first warm day to do the cleansing flight and they are removing dead bees from the hive. During colder days the colony will just push out dead bees through the entrance so you can find them on the board. And those bees most likely died of old age.
You can expect to lose half or even 2/3 of the colony during winter. For the strong colony that has up to 60000 bees means that you can end up with 15000 to 20000 bees after winter.
Starvation of the honey bees can devastate your hive. You have to make sure your bees have enough food if the colony has not stored enough honey and pollen make sure to provide food for them with candy boards or sugar syrup. That way they will have more chance to survive the winter. Same goes if at the start of the spring you see low storage of food feed them
If the hive is not properly ventilated moisture lever during winter is rising to raise up the hive colling of and turning into cold water drops and it is causing bees to get wet and freeze to death. So always make sure there are enough holes for the proper ventilation or something that will absorb the moisture (newspaper)
Any time it snows outside you should go and check the hives because the snow can block the entrances. If you do not clear them bees will not be able to clean the hive or make a cleansing flight (defecating and debris cleaning). So make sure you keep the entrances clear.
The Temperature Inside the Hive
If the temperature is too low and your hives are not protected from the direct wind it can cause bees to freeze. Some beekeepers insulate their hives to help the bees with temperature regulation.
Dead bees appear also when guard bees are fighting the intruders especially robbing bees. One of the treats for the colony is robbing bees that are trying to get the honey from your hive.
If the colony is weak or weakened by mites or other diseases they will not be able to protect the hive. The number of guard bees will be low at the entrance and robing bees will overpower them. And when robbing starts it is hard to stop it.
Any crack on the hive is allowing robing bees to find their way inside the hive and make a mess. They can either take most of the honey or bring disease to the colony so make sure to prevent this behavior by:
- Repairing all crack and holes on the hive
- Reducing entrance at the ending of the nectar flow
- Avoid entrance feeder when at the end of nectar flow
- Use robbing screen
Different types of the disease are attacking the colonies and if you do not catch the symptoms on time it will lead to colony collapse. So when you are checking the hive especially before winter make sure your colony is healthy or you have to treat it.
Common Pests and Disease
Links for each disease will take you to the web site of Clemson University or Division of Agriculture of Arkansas System that has detailed articles
Links for each disease will take you to the site of Michigan State University or Division of Agriculture of Arkansas System
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)
According to the report that was published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency starting from 2006 – 2007 beekeepers were facing a lot of hives loses that were out of the ordinary.
The symptoms are very strange because all the working bees disappear and there are no dead bees inside and around the hive. The second symptom is that Queen B and brood are still present and the food storage is high like they were left behind and they stand no chance to survive without workers so eventually colony collapse.
First, it was thought that the reason for bees death are pesticides but the symptoms of pesticide poisoning are different so after research scientist agreed that most likely combination of several factors are causing CCD
- Varroa mite are affecting newborns that become weak and not able to do their work
- New diseases Noesema nad Israeli Acute Paralysis virus
- Excess use of pesticide on crops that honeybees pollinate or
- Improper mite control
- Poor nutrition due to low crops diversity
- Movement of bees for pollination different areas cause stress for the bees
- Combination of factor cause stress that affects the bees immune system
What to do With a Dead Beehive?
As soon as you realize that the colony is dead removed the hive from the apiary. You have to do it because unprotected honey will attract robbers and also so you can inspect what caused the colony to die so you can decide what to do next.
In case you determine that the colony died from starvation or Varroa mite you can reuse the hive and frames. You just have to remove dead bees and you can keep the wax and honey. If you plan to use drawn wax when installing a new colony you should protect it from wax moths till you plan to use it. Make sure to protect wax from wax moths till you plan to use it.
In case the colony was affected by American Foulbrood or Nosema experienced beekeepers have different opinions. Some of them suggest burning it all to prevent the spread on the other hives and some of them think that it needs just a thorough cleaning.I would rather burn it all just to be sure.
In the case of mold, you can clean the frames and hard surfaces, when finished dry them and freeze it so you can reuse the comb and storage.If it is black mold you can reuse only frame and the hive that have to be cleaned, frames should be frozen after drying and you are ready to go. Foundation should be discarded (burned, melted)
When the hive is affected by wax moth and you have discovered it on time when the infestation did not make to much damage you can remove larvae, webs and place it in the freezer to make sure they are all dead. After that, you can use it again.