Why are my bees dying in the grass?

It seems we become more aware of dead bees in the fall. I think this is partially due to the environment—the grass is not so lush so they are clearly visible and fewer scavengers are around to pick up the dead bodies. We are also more concerned about the health of our bees because the winter looms ahead, so the sight of dead ones makes us anxious. Add to that an accumulation of dead drones near the hive and the number of bodies seems unreal.

Here is a sample question:

Why are there a dozen worker bees, with pollen-laden baskets, dying in the grass in front of the hive? They acted like they were too tired to make it into the hive. Most bees were flying into the hive, but some were just falling into the grass in front of the hive and staying there. They are dying. It was the very end of the day. Maybe the grass was wet or the temperature suddenly got too cold?

The thing to remember is that foraging bees work themselves to death. They just keep foraging until they drop, and that moment may occur out in the field, over your patio (where I always see them), or right in front of the hive. Some die in the hive, some on their way out the door, some take off and fall flat, and some keel over from the sheer weight of the pollen they just collected. Life is not easy for a honey bee.

But here is something to put the numbers in perspective. According to Bees of the World (O’Toole & Raw, 1999) a single honey bee colony will lose about 1000 foraging workers per day in the summer. This makes sense when you realize a queen may lay nearly 2000 eggs in a day. A great number of young is required to replace all those deaths in the field and to expand the hive population as well.

But 1000 dead bees makes a big pile, and remember, that number is per day. Multiply that by the days in a week or month. And how many hives do you have? Two? Three? Twenty-five? What you get is truckloads of natural fertilizer, pre-spread for your convenience.

So relax. As you can see, it is not at all surprising to see dead bees near the hive or anywhere else. And, as I mentioned earlier, the drones are evicted in the fall as well, which increases the body count even further. Pick out a few for a closer look. Although some will be young, most will look worn with bald spots and tattered wings—it’s all part of the natural process.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Even tiny native bees wear out their wings. This bee is fertilizer in the rough.

Comments

Jane Peters
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Phew!!! I am so happy that I decided to read my e-mails before checking the bee yard this morning. For the past few days I have been wondering and anxious why there are so many dead bees in front of most of the hives . . . Of course I thought the worse things possible!!! How were they going to survive the long winter months with so few bees in the hive now that they are ‘all’ dead outside? Before feeding them I had to go inside and check out what was going on . . .With a my heart in my mouth, I opened hive after hive and found all of them to be doing what they should be doing, working and preparing food for the long winter months ahead.

Thank you for this Rusty.

Regards, Jane

phil gladding
Reply

I really enjoy your website. I get up every morning, make coffee, and go to the pc to look for and read any new information from honey bee suite. It makes my day start out right.

A first year bee keeper. Thank you. Phil

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Phil. You just made my day, too.

Greg
Reply

Hi Rusty, The description of dead piles is so timely. I was a little concerned about the amount of dead on my hive platform. Your explanation makes a lot of sense and right on time!!! Thanks again, Greg

dany
Reply

Robbing will also result in dead bees. I just lost my hive to them!! I’m a rookie at this but, in looking back, I missed the warning signs. Dead bees being one of them.

Rusty
Reply

Dead bees can also be the result of yellowjackets.

ครีมพิษผึ้ง
Reply

This is my first time visit at here and I am genuinely happy to read everything at single place.

Kathleen
Reply

Thank you so much for creating this website. I have learned so much from reading the conversations around the various topics. I look forward to continuing my education from all levels of bee keepers who share their knowledge with us.

Kim
Reply

I think I know the answer to this question but I want to get another opinion. I captured a swarm this spring and placed them into the hive, I am not going to say it was a HUGE swarm but it was decent sized and I was happy with it.

Well the bees stayed in the hive and all seemed well, but about a week after they were moved there were tons of bees just ‘walking in the grass’. It looked like they were trying to fly but just couldn’t do it. And as I watched more were coming out of the hive and just falling off the edge and into the grass. Is this what you are talking about? They are just too tired to continue?

I have gone from having a full hive of bees to having less than a handful. What can I do? I have already put sugar water in the hive and have pollen on the way to help them out in that manner. Is there anything else I can do? I don’t want to lose this hive if I can prevent it.

Rusty
Reply

Kim,

Sounds to me like a pesticide kill. I imagine they got into something–a tree or bush or field–that was recently sprayed. Piles of dead bees in front of the hive just after they were doing fine is usually what you see. And falling off the edge into the grass? I’d put money on poison.

jack spencer
Reply

Just found your site while looking for an answer as to ‘where did all these bees come from?’ Woke up this morning to find 1000’s of bees on my lawn. not swarming just hovering. I’m not familiar with bees (only negatives) so I was amazed by how many and calm. I mean I went out there and was puttering around and couldn’t believe my eyes. WHERE DID THEY COME FROM AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

Rusty
Reply

Jack,

There is so much I don’t know from your description that I can only guess. But I assume it is a swarm of honey bees that has settled in your yard while the “scout bees” go in search of a permanent home. Swarming bees settle in a place for just a few minutes to several days, depending on how long it takes to find a suitable location for a new hive. Usually they are docile and non-threatening during this period. The bulk stay in place while a few go searching.

A second possibility is that it is a large community of ground-dwelling solitary bees that hatched all of sudden, but I think this is less likely. A lot depends on where you live because different species live in different places and different climates.

If you can send a photo, I might be able to tell you more. If so, send to rusty[at]honeybeesuite[dot]com.

jane
Reply

Ok so its March 8 temp 77 degrees made it through the winter and the bees were out like crazy today as early as 10:30am.. its now about 4:30 and there are incredible amount of bees still out bringing pollen back but instead of flying right into the hive they are landing on the front of the cinder block and walking into the hive……never saw this before….thanks for any help….

Rusty
Reply

Jane,

I don’t know why they are doing that, but it certainly isn’t unusual. Maybe they like the heat from the cinder block?

Paula
Reply

Hi rusty, I live in Vacaville California San Francisco Bay Area. I just got my back lawn and an hour later there was a pile of bees sitting on the lawn. They had been in the tree above the lawn maybe a couple of hours before and then they all left swarmed out and all landed on the lawn. Overnight they were really quiet I thought they had died but this morning with the sun they are swarming and moving a little bit. Do you think they’re just looking for a new place? I won’t touch them and I’m keeping my pets away from them thank you for any advice on this Paula

Melissa
Reply

Help. I just got package bees over the weekend. They appear to be eating the sugar nectar from feeder, but I’m seeing lots outside the hive on the ground, walking/stumbling around. I think they are dying! Theres activity in the hive, and the bees appear to be drawing comb. Is this normal behavior outside the hive normal?

Rusty
Reply

Melissa,

Walking and stumbling is not a good sign, but some of those may just be at the end of their adult life, which in a honey bee in spring is 4 to 6 weeks. If the majority of the colony seems normal, and they are building a nest, I wouldn’t worry just yet.

Jennifer
Reply

My question is slightly different. I have 3 hives, all seemingly doing well, that are located about 20 steps (as the crow flies) away from my concrete-floored carport. And every day I’m sweeping up anywhere from 5 to 15 dead bees every other day. I haven’t noticed any out in front of the hives, or on the landing board, nor that many on the screened bottom board. This morning it was 17 dead workers and 1 dying drone. I’m greatly puzzled. Is this the normal attrition you’re talking about?

Rusty
Reply

Jennifer,

Have you read my most recent post? Your 1000 dead bees per day per hive—or 3000 dead bees total per day in your case—have to land somewhere, so the carport won’t be spared.

Jennifer
Reply

Hi, Rusty. Yes, of course I read the most recent post, and I understand that bees die by the thousand per day, but as I stated, my situation is a little different in that I’ve been a beekeeper for 4 years now and this is the FIRST time I’ve ever had this situation on the carport. When I go to do my next hive inspection I’m definitely going to check around the hives themselves to see if there are any bee bodies laying around out there, it’s just strange that after 4 years, I’m sweeping away so many of them from that one area. It’s okay. There’s probably no answer for this particular phenomena, I just thought it strange and a bit unnerving. Thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Jennifer,

It’s interesting to note we assume different things. You assume the bees will do the same thing year after year, while I assume they will do something different every year. For example, some years I see many dead in my driveway, some years I see none. The bees you have this year are not the same as the bees you had last year, and they may simply be taking a different flight pattern as they leave the hive. It’s been my experience that honey bees often do the unexpected, and so the unexpected becomes the expected.

Mylinda
Reply

Rusty, I have 13 hives. In front of all but 4 a lot of dead bees. My husband had checked three by the house this morning. They are one swarm hive and two russian. They kind of let us know when something is wrong. After checking these three which were doing fine went to store and saw a farmer who is commercial spraying soybean field. When he arrived home he noticed a lot of dead bees in front of hives, some circling out side of hive. Hive seems to still be going but slowly many at feeding station we have scattered to help. We are in a dearth.

Rusty
Reply

Mylinda,

It’s hard to say from here, but it is possible that they got into insecticide. Lots of dead bees in front of a hive is a common sign. Also, the fact that some of the hives didn’t have dead bees means those colonies were probably foraging in different areas and didn’t come into contact with the poison. If you want to know for sure, perhaps you can send samples of the dead bees into a lab to be analyzed. Be aware, though, it can be expensive.

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