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Honey bee behavior: the things they do

The following posts relate to various honey bee behaviors. If it’s not what you’re looking for, the Index can help you find something more specific.


  • If your bees want to beard, let them Bearding beesYou have bearding bees, so what should you do? Some people scrape them into a bucket and dump them back in the hive. Some people use smoke to disperse the miscreant mob. And believe it or not, some blast them away with the garden hose. All of these sound uncomfortably like radical SWAT tactics: It’s ...
  • A huddle of drones tries to stay warm Although I’ve seen many evicted drones, I’ve never seen a huddle of drones quite like this. Around here, drones are usually evicted beginning in August. I often see them struggling with workers on the landing board and then, after they lose, they wind up in the grass below the hive. In the following days, I often ...
  • How often do honey bees sleep in the flowers? The honey bee forager shown below was asleep in my garden this morning. Hanging on to a cold and dewy cosmos, she looked dead. But a couple of flashes from my camera brought her around, and after a few minutes, she flew away. Maybe she just wasn’t into boudoir-type photos. Usually it’s the males Wild bees of ...
  • Do honey bees move eggs from cell to cell? Do bees move eggs?The question of whether honey bees move eggs from cell to cell has been a hot topic on forums, blogs, and websites for about three weeks now. The assertion seems to be that honey bee workers will move eggs to where a larva is needed, such as into a queen cup. I don’t know where ...
  • A free-hanging honey bee nest in Minnesota Free-hanging honey bee hive in MinnesotaThis large, free-hanging honey bee nest was discovered by Greg Munson of Rochester, Minnesota. Greg found the nest in February, tucked in the Wiscoy Valley between Rushford and Houston. “It is beautiful bluff country with bald eagles in abundance, as well as occasional rarer golden eagles, along with lots of other wildlife and varied habitat,” ...
  • How the inverse square law governs the distribution of bee poop 500px-inverse_square_law-svgA while back I received an intriguing letter from a homeowner complaining about his neighbor’s beehives. The letter said, in part, “This year the landowner at the rear of my house installed approximately fifteen hives. Consequently, for three months now my house and cars have been smothered in bee poop. The beekeeper has said he ...
  • The 3½ conditions necessary for comb building It is autumn. Your bees are busily backfilling empty brood comb with fall nectar, but you would like them to build more comb so they don’t completely choke the brood nest. So far, the empty frames you provided are being ignored and you see no sign of new comb. How can you get them to ...
  • What is a summer nectar dearth? Bees on dahlia PixabayHoney bee colonies store nectar and pollen to use in times of dearth. To a honey bee, a dearth is a shortage of nectar-producing flowers. The most obvious nectar dearth occurs during the winter, but many places also experience a summer nectar dearth, a hot and dry period between spring flowers and autumn flowers. This time ...
  • Gone! The Oklahoma colonies abscond In an unexpected turn of events, the Oklahoma open-air colony I wrote about last week absconded from its nest. Even more surprising, the parent colony, the one that had lived for many years in the hollow of an oak tree on the far side of the pasture, absconded at roughly the same time. Lorieann Bradley, who ...
  • An open-air colony in Oklahoma Lorieann-bee-colony-close-640Open-air colonies seem to be everywhere these days. The bees living in this particular colony, hanging from a large oak in northeastern Oklahoma, have a history of dwelling in trees. Both the new colony and the parent colony belong to Lorieann Bradley of Kellyville, Oklahoma. The parent colony has lived for many years in the hollow ...
  • Honey bee pheromones: common scents Once you fall in love with honey bees, it is easy to characterize them as intelligent, practical, even prescient. But in fact, honey bees do the things they do in response to pheromones. A pheromone is a chemical or mixture of chemicals that is released by an individual and affects the behavior or physiology of another ...
  • Open-air colonies from coast to coast Twice this week I received photos of open-air honey bee colonies. Open-air colonies in regions with cold winters are not common, so they tend to receive a lot of attention. The first photo is of a colony I wrote about in the fall of 2014. If you recall, the colony was discovered in a cottonwood tree ...
  • Coaxing them through the excluder Landing-pad-with-hinged-cover-door-485px­Last time I promised a list of ways to encourage your bees to travel through an excluder even though I don’t think it’s a great idea. Anyway, your choice. The first point was mentioned several times by readers, and I will repeat it here. Wire excluders seem to work better than plastic ones, probably because of ...
  • My bees won’t go through a queen excluder Why do experienced and commercial beekeepers use queen excluders without hesitation, while newbees insist their bees won’t go through an excluder under any circumstances? Certainly the bees aren’t considering the beekeeper’s experience level, they’re just doing what they need to do on their own schedule. Beekeeper impatience The answer, I think, has more to do with beekeeper ...
  • The Bee Thirsty: a mini shop vac This 13-second clip is probably the cutest bee video I have ever seen, bar none. It was sent to me by Paul Packbier in Guam. He says, “I wanted to share this video my wife took today with her iPhone. I’ve taken photos of our bees enjoying the nectar and pollen of the nearby water ...
  • Smoke and bees: the effect of wildfires To my readers in Australia and New Zealand: I send my heartfelt and sincere thanks to firefighters from your two nations who have come to join the thousands of North American firefighters in their quest to extinguish the wildfires raging across the western United States. Thank you a million times over. My prayers are with ...
  • Packing more than pollen “If it’s not tied down, just take it.” That seems to be the philosophy of this honey bee photographed by Christopher Wren in northern England. In his TrogTrogBlog, Chris wrote that he was watching his bees working astrantia flowers when he noticed something unusual in this bee’s pollen basket. On closer inspection he discovered the ...
  • A beekeeping mystery Mysterious behaviorAbout ten days ago, on a cold and gusty mid-April day, I was making the rounds of my hives. All the colonies were tucked in against the 40-degree mid-morning sunshine. All but one. Inexplicably, one hive had a group of about 200 bees frantically fanning at the opening. Other bees were nearby clutching blades of grass ...
  • Robbing and fighting and falling in clumps Last week, Scott Mathews, who lives in drought-besieged southern California, came home to a hive in turmoil. He writes: I came home today . . . to discover a lot of bees in the air and what looks like combative bearding. clumps of bees falling from the top entrance and what looks like new ...
  • Do honey bees eat fruit? The short answer is yes. Honey bees, especially in a nectar dearth, find ripe fruit very much to their liking. They have been known to feast on plums, peaches, grapes, apples, figs, and pears. But the issue that causes all the disagreement among beekeepers is whether honey bees will actually drill a hole in a ...
  • Favorite watering holes Florence, a beekeeper and blogger in eastern Ontario, sent some photos with a question: Why do her bees return to the same watering holes day after day, even when it is raining and closer-to-home sources abound? My first thought was that the bees want their usual dirty water, the water with a nice green odor and ...
  • How to recognize a nectar dearth “How can I recognize a nectar death?” is a common newbee question and a hard one to answer. I think most experienced beekeepers know which plants are in flower in any season, which bloom follows another, and how long each lasts. They are attuned to variations in the weather from year to year, and they ...
  • Abuzz about you: do bees get angry? I am guilty when it comes to anthropomorphizing bees. I compare bees to humans when I’m trying to illustrate a point or suggest a way of understanding them. I’ve accused worker bees of being neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, and parsimonious. I have compared drones to drunks, state workers, and my brother. So yes, I absolutely understand the ...
  • How to fix a laying worker hive Multiple eggs require laying-worker remediation.from laying workers.Something about laying workers brings out the wizard in us. We think up convoluted ways to rid ourselves of these miscreant creatures, most of which don’t work. Carry the box to the edge of the apiary, turn in a circle with your eyes closed and a drone in your teeth, shake the bees out of ...
  • Honey bees unite! Here’s a new take on package installation—new to me at least. If anyone has heard of this happening, I would sure like to know. Last week Nancy, of Shady Grove Farm in Kentucky, installed two packages of honey bees from an in-state supplier. The bees were placed in used deeps that had been cleaned and prepared ...
  • Drone-laying queen or laying workers? If you have a hive that is producing nothing but drones, one of two things is happening. Either you have a drone-laying queen or you have a bunch of laying workers. Before you can fix it, you need to decide which situation you have. A drone-laying queen arises after a queen has run out of sperm ...
  • Bee ready to bite a nest mate I love drone eviction. I get a vicarious pleasure from watching the little workers take down their lazy male nest mates. In spite of this being a blurry photo, I like the image of the worker mandibles ready to a take a chomp on brother bee. I just don’t see worker mandibles spread and ready ...
  • Robbing bees on a mission After the recent discussion of robbing bees, beekeeper Kenneth Rhodes sent in the following photos of bees from one of his hives attempting to rob the other. They provide an excellent illustration of robbing in action. Because robbing bees are unfamiliar with the hive they are stealing from, they try to enter at the point where ...
  • A September swarm it was Yesterday, shortly after I posted “Bearding or swarming?” and asked for your opinion, Joan wrote back with this photo: I went out to the bee yard Sunday morning at 0600 and those bees were still in the bearding position. I thought then that they must be robbers/visitors. Frantically I tried searching online what to do. I ...
  • Bearding or swarming? I have written before about how bearding and swarming are often confused, but now I’m confused. Normally, at this time of year, I would say these bees were bearding, but that’s not how the story ends. Last week, Joan, a beekeeper in Pennsylvania, said there were many bees aggressively flying around both of her hives and ...
  • Bathing with bees It was day seven without a septic pump. I’ve lived on the same rural property for 20 years, and things happen. Walking around with a shovel is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. If it’s not the septic pump, it’s the house pump. If it’s not the house pump, it’s the well pump. And when ...
  • Weight training for honey bees What an awesome photo! This image by beekeeper Reed Beatse shows honey bees festooning below a comb from his top-bar hive. Festooning is always fun to see, but these bees are amazing. The weight of four bees plus a chunk of comb with honey is all supported by those middle two bees and the tiny ...
  • How long before a new beehive begins to forage? Actually, the beehive stays in one place. I’d love to see a Langstroth flitting among the flowers, but so far no luck. The bees themselves, however, start to forage almost immediately after they are installed in the hive. If it is warm and dry enough to fly, some bees will begin orienting themselves by flying ...
  • Why do my bees turn nasty when I kill them? The short answer is that I, too, would turn nasty if you were trying to kill me. The longer answer is that when you do something that threatens your bees, alarm pheromone is emitted into the air by the endangered bees as they attempt to sting you. The pheromone, which is a mixture of highly volatile ...
  • Housekeeping, honey bee style Bees are very particular about what stays in the hive and what doesn’t. The photo below shows a colony of bees eating a sugar cake that was served on a paper plate. They are happy to have the sugar, but see no use use for the plate. So they chew it into small pieces and ...
  • Why so many wings and legs? A beekeeper living on Vancouver Island is worried about the great number of honey bee wings and legs she is seeing on the Varroa drawer. She just finished treating her hive with formic acid pads and wondered if the accumulation of bee parts was a result of the mites or the mite treatment. I too have ...
  • The mystery of the dead drones I wasn’t going to write about this until I figured it out, but I’m coming up blank. On July 5, I checked my top-bar hive and saw a massive pile of dead bees on the ground just outside the entrance. My first thought: pesticide kill. I’ve seen pesticide kills before and it looked just the ...
  • The hum of the hive After the fireworks last Wednesday evening, at nearly midnight, one of our friends pointed to the top-bar hive and asked if we keep a fan in there. “No,” I said, confused. “No fan.” “So what’s making all that noise?” he asked. I realized then that he was asking about the hum coming from that very busy hive. In ...
  • A hive of a different color When we started our first hive, we read that the bees home-in to certain colors. Having some hobby/craft paint around, I painted the hand-hold on the front of the hive with fluorescent yellow/green paint. “There,” I thought foolishly, “they should be able to find the hive with no trouble.” The bees spent the entire first year ...
  • Update on ants The post titled “Bad-ant ant advice and the ascension of bees” coaxed readers out of the woodwork. Some agreed with me that the ants were not the problem, some thought they were definitely the problem, and others thought there wasn’t enough information. I have to say that I learned a lot from the discussion. As ...
  • Bad ant advice and the ascension of bees You have no idea how terrible I feel about the following turn of events. I feel remorse mixed with guilt. I feel like I should buy the guy a new package of bees. At the same time, I don’t think I was wrong; I gave him solid, well-reasoned advice. Still, the entire incident is heart ...
  • Out for a drink After I wrote about favorite watering holes for bees, several readers wrote to say their bees liked wet potting soil. One reader sent the following photo of four bees in a small plastic pot. Yesterday I was able to capture three bees drinking from some wet woodchips that I had dumped on a woodland path. Another ...
  • A reader’s questions answered To a reader in central Florida, I couldn’t get your e-mail address to work, so I’m putting the answers to your questions right here, front and center. I hope you find this. Questions: I live in central Florida near Ocala forest on a ¾-acre lot that I’m allowing to revert to native growth and I’m planting many types ...
  • Checkerboarding: the X-files of beekeeping A discussion of checkerboarding gets men all riled up. And I don’t mean “men” as a pronoun for all genders, I mean male humans. Come on, you’ve never seen a group of women all vexed and loquacious over checkerboarding. It doesn’t happen. Furthermore, checkerboarding induces these self-same men to deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate. They make up ...
  • Backfilling the brood nest In everyday English, to “backfill” means to refill. So if you want to plant a bush, bury a conduit, or repair a water main, you dig a hole, do what you have to do, and then put the dirt back in. Simple enough. The meaning is only slightly different in beekeeping, but different enough to ...
  • How much honey for a warm winter? Lots of folks want to know if bees consume more food in warm winters or cold winters. I’ve been searching for scientific data on this for quite a while but I haven’t found any. So, for what it’s worth, I hereby offer my opinion. Based on hearsay and my own beekeeping experience, I believe that bees ...
  • Bee season is here! Here in the northern hemisphere your calendar may tell you it’s the first day of winter, but it is actually the first day of spring–at least for honey bees. Like many plants and animals, bees are highly affected by changes in day length. Immediately after the winter solstice, when the hours of daily sunlight start ...
  • Captive robber bees can change allegiance Do you remember the Stockholm Syndrome? It’s a behavior seen in some hostages in which they develop sympathy for their captors, often to the point of defending them. The most famous case in America is Patty Hearst who, after being captured by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, eventually joined them and helped rob a ...
  • Bee abortion When food sources run low, such as during a summer nectar dearth, the workers in a honey bee hive will often expel both drones and drone pupae. Since drones eat plenty of food but don’t collect any, it is a way for the colony to conserve stores for the winter. Later on, in the fall, ...
  • Drone eviction in July? The temperature dropped to 46 degrees F last night. Alder leaves are falling by the bushel. It rained all last week. I wore a sweater all day yesterday. Instead of brown and crispy, my lawn is still green. What is going on? Summer never really started here in the Puget Sound area and I’ve kind of ...
  • Bee sweet and don’t ask me such things! I was hoping no one would ask the unanswerable question, but it just arrived . . . from my daughter, of all people. She wrote, “Why do the bees hang on the outside of the swarm trap? I always envisioned them going inside.” Hmm. When I discovered a swarm hanging from the bottom of trap #1, ...
  • Two queens in one hive Although we are taught that two queens can’t survive in one hive, it happens frequently. It occurs most often when a supersedure cell hatches while the original queen is still alive. The virgin daughter hatches, mates, and begins to lay eggs right alongside her mother. This is usually a temporary situation, but it can persist ...
  • Why do bees collect on the bottom board?
  • One trap catches two swarms . . . at the same time The next morning everything was the same, that is, one swarm in the alder, one in the cypress, and one in each of the two swarm traps. I had other things to do, so I didn’t look again until noon when—you guessed it—more surprises. The cypress swarm was still in place, but very active. The huge ...
  • “A swarm in June . . .” No, make that two The noise got louder as I walked up the hill. It was coming from the vicinity of the middle hive stand, which is on a steep incline. At first I thought the swarm was down the hill from where I stood, so for a few moments I thrashed through the underbrush looking for it. But ...
  • A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon For swarm prevention, I had done everything by the book. I had reversed brood boxes, re-queened, cut swarm cells, split hives, and provided extra supers. Still, since I had come through winter with large populations of clamorous bees, I was expecting swarms. But bees were not on my mind Monday morning when I headed outside to ...
  • Wednesday wordphile: bee space Bee space is a passageway 1/4- to 3/8-inches wide (6-10 mm) that bees use for moving throughout the hive. In 1851 the Reverend L. L. Langstroth realized that spaces narrower than this were treated like cracks and filled with propolis. Spaces wider than this were treated like construction zones–bees donned their hardhats and filled the ...
  • Bees vs. mouse: a skeleton tells the story I love these photos. Yesterday my top-bar hive was bursting at the seams. My husband kept urging me to check it for swarm cells and I kept putting it off. But finally, I dug through an egregious number of bees only to find a skeleton! It is so cool. It was lying on the screened bottom, ...
  • You are a stranger to your bees Last year a beekeeper told me that his bees were getting used to him. He said that as the summer progressed they had “accepted” him as their keeper and they “realized” he was only trying to help. Furthermore, he claimed they became more docile every time he opened the hive. This is a ...
  • Bee with bi-pollen disorder? After I wrote about floral fidelity and the purity of pollen baskets, I received this awesome photo by Chelsea at thehoneybeat.com. Look carefully and you will see the worker in the center of the photo has pollen baskets of two distinctly different colors. So how did this happen? I’ve tried to think this through, but it’s ...
  • Cell phones and bees: hang up and forage! In graduate school I took a class from Gerardo Chin-Leo, a passionate and intelligent faculty member at The Evergreen State College. The class was about harmful algae blooms, but the first assignment was to find articles in the popular press and compare them to the scientific papers they were supposedly based on. OMG. It was ...
  • Floral fidelity yields pure pollen pellets Floral fidelity makes honey bees special. While many pollinators flit from one plant species to another, honey bees doggedly pursue flowers of a certain species. So when the new day dawns, Sue and Marianne, Betsy and Josephine grab their flight plans and wing out the front door. Sue is visiting dandelions, Marianne and Betsy are working ...
  • A great day for bees: down with honey bee dysentery Here in western Washington it is a great day for honey bees. The temperature is hovering around 55° F in the shade and my bees are out in droves. All my hives are misted with bees, but my two nucs—stacked one above the other—really surprised me. The great cloud of bees milling around them is ...
  • Bees and pets: what are the risks? I’ve been very lucky it the past few weeks to have so many questions. This particular one came from a beekeeper in Yakima with a couple of hives and a few acres who is worried about the neighbor dogs who occasionally wander onto his property “doing what dogs do.” He asked what happens if they ...
  • Usurpation: when one colony takes over another In the December 2010 issue of American Bee Journal, Dr. Wyatt A. Mangum describes the phenomenon of honey bee usurpation, which is the taking over of a healthy colony by a summer swarm. Mangum not only describes this unusual behavior in great detail, but provides photographs as well. Until recently, usurpation sightings have been limited to ...
  • Monday morning myth: honey bees hibernate Honey bees do not hibernate. According to Wikipedia, “Hibernation is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in animals, characterized by lower body temperature, slower breathing, and lower metabolic rate. Hibernating animals conserve food, especially during winter when food is short, by tapping energy reserves (body fat) at a slow rate.” Many insects hibernate, especially in ...
  • Shaking the queen into shape Nearly every time I read about honey bees I learn something new and today was no exception. I no sooner started reading Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley (Princeton University Press) when I came across the following little tidbit about swarm preparation. We’ve all heard that the queen honey bee “slims down” prior to swarming so ...
  • One for the road: bees with a buzz You have three or four frames of fermented honey and you hate the idea of wasting it. Should you give it to your bees? Although a honey bee is not old enough for a driver’s license, it does have a pilot’s license. So the short answer is “no.” A bee with a buzz does not a ...
  • A tale of honey bees and barbecue sauce Yesterday was perfect for mixing up a big batch of barbecue sauce. A friend had just given me a jar of her newest creation and I loved it. So after a quick trip to the farmer’s market I was ready to cook. I was stirring away when I noticed a bevy of bees milling around just ...
  • Why do honey bees abscond in the fall? Absconding is the term used when a colony of honey bees leaves its home in search of another. It is not the same as swarming. When a colony swarms, it splits in two parts: one part stays in the old home and one part finds a new home. Swarming is a form of reproduction. When ...
  • How I threw a banquet for yellowjackets Up until this week I hadn’t seen many yellowjackets. Since 2009 seemed to be “the year of the yellowjacket,” I was expecting to see fewer this year. Nevertheless I had yellowjacket pheromone lures hanging nearby and my hive entrances had been reduced for a month. Everything seemed fine. But late last week I decided to stack ...
  • What makes honey bees aggressive? You’ve managed your honey bee colonies all spring and summer with no problem. Now and then an aggressive guard warned you off, but in general the bees were docile. All of a sudden, however, the bees are angry. They fly at you. They form a dark cloud above their hive. They bury themselves in your pet’s ...
  • Do honey bees sleep? Of course they sleep! I often come across lists of honey bee trivia, and one of the most common assertions is that bees never sleep. “That’s so cool!” I hear people say. “Imagine that!” But researchers say otherwise. According to Jürgen Tautz in his book The Buzz About Bees, foragers enter a pronounced state of sleep—largely at night and in ...
  • Washboarding bees arockin’ and alickin’ A strange honey bee behavior known as “washboarding” or “rocking” continues to elude an explanation, but it is fun to watch. Worker bees gather in large groups—either inside the hive or out—and rock back and forth while seeming to lick the surface beneath them. The motion has been likened to that of scrubbing clothes on ...