During a routine inspection, new beekeepers may be alarmed when finding many dead bees outside the hive.
In some cases, this is a cause for concern and requires further investigation. But in other instances, it’s a part of the natural life cycle of the colony.
However, certain clues about the deaths will help you figure out what kind of issue you are facing.
Time to launch an inquiry!
Dead Bees In Front Of Hive
Dead bees outside the hive can be evidence of the natural progression of life in the bee colony. Or it can indicate a problem that the beekeeper needs to address. By investigating the circumstances around the bee deaths, you should be able to establish the cause and what action to take.
Bees are insects, and as such, they have a relatively short lifespan. But it can still be a surprising event to find dead bees surrounding the hive.
A few dead bees are not usually a cause for alarm, but hundreds of dead bees around the hive can be disconcerting.
How do you know what is going on in the colony, and is it something you should investigate further?
Or is it simply a part of the natural life expectancy of your bees?
If you discover hundreds of bees dead outside the hive, you need to look for some clues that will allow you to determine the cause of the sudden deaths!
How Many Bees Die Per Day?
The different castes in the colony, workers, drones, and queens, have different lifespans. For example, the average lifespan of a queen bee is 3 to 5 years, but she can live up to 8 years in some circumstances.
The most numerous bees in the colony are drones and workers. Drones typically live between 21 and 32 days, while workers’ lifespans can vary from only a few days to almost a year, depending on the season and the climate.
You will find worker bee deaths every day in a colony, but most you will not see. Many field bees out foraging for food will not make it back due to predators, accidents, or bad weather.
A healthy colony would experience a natural die-off rate of about 100 worker bees daily. This is the number that would typically die in and around the hive. The actual losses out in the field could be double this number, but of course, the bees that die in the field will not be scattered around the hive.
How Many Dead Bees In Front Of Hive Is Normal?
When bees die in the hive, it’s the responsibility of the housekeeping worker bees to dispose of the corpses.
I know! It sounds like grim work :-/
The housekeeping bees typically clean house in the early morning, drag the dead bees out of the hive and let them fall to the ground.
Checking your hives in the early morning will reveal more dead bodies around the hive than at most other times of the day.
The dead bees expelled from the hive are often carried away and eaten by ants, or even birds, which is why there may be fewer bodies around the hive later on.
So how many dead bees in front of the hive is normal? This number varies from colony to colony, depending on their size:
Larger colonies will have more significant numbers of dead bees outside the hive than smaller colonies. Large populations should not have more than roughly 100 dead bees in front of the hive, and in smaller beehives, about 50 bodies.
These bees should mostly be worker bees, with the odd dead drone throne in the mix.
Lots Of Dead Bees Outside The Hive In The Fall
The time of year you discover dead bees outside the hive is crucial to determining the cause.
Suppose you find a more significant number of dead bees around the hive in the fall. In that case, the likely explanation is that they are primarily drones from the colony.
Hives produce many drones in the summer months to continue the genetic line of the colony. The summer months are the peak breeding months for queens and drones.
Drones do not contribute to the day-to-day work and functioning of the colony and are a drain on the colony’s resources.
Consequently, as the fall season comes around and the bees begin preparing for winter, the drones are expelled from the colony. They are dragged out to die to extend the colony’s resources for the dearth period.
Depending on the prevailing climate and the colony’s resources, not all drones may be kicked out in the fall, and some may be allowed to overwinter in the hive.
Dead Bees Outside The Hive In Winter
The worker bees’ duties slow down in the wintertime, and little to no foraging is done. This is due to the low winter temperatures or the lack of available resources in the field.
In some mild winter climates, the bees will forage for food, but on a smaller scale than in other periods of the year.
The lifespan of worker bees is extended in the winter because they do not wear themselves out working and foraging far afield to collect resources for the colony.
Winter bees are also physically different from summer bees. The larvae of winter bees are fed a pollen-free diet, making them develop fatter bodies, better suited to the long winter months.
Further investigation is needed if you find many dead bees outside your hive in the winter months. The dead bees may be surplus drones expelled from the hive due to dwindling resources. They could also be worker bees that have died of starvation or freezing temperatures.
How Many Dead Bees Are Normal In Winter?
The number of dead worker bees outside the hive in winter should diminish significantly due to the longer lives of the workers during this season.
There will be the occasional deaths that the housekeeping bees will clean out, but you should see not more than 10 to 20 dead bees outside the hive.
If you see more than this, it could be expelled drones or workers dying of hunger. Either way, you need to take action!
This means you must feed your bees for the remainder of the winter months.
This will keep the colony healthy and maintain their numbers, so they start the spring season as a robust colony rather than a weakened one.
Taking action too late or not feeding the bees when you see many dead bees outside a winter beehive may result in losing the entire colony.
Many Dead Bees At the Hive in Summer
Multiple dead bees outside or around the hive in summer are a cause for immediate concern. You should investigate the reason to try and save the colony.
There are several possible causes for numerous dead bees around the hive in summer, including the following:
Bees Dying From Pesticide Exposure
Suppose your bees have been foraging in locations where pesticides have been used, such as farms where fruit or nut trees are grown commercially. In that case, they can be exposed to deadly toxins.
This can even occur with bees foraging in suburban gardens where homeowners have used toxic chemicals to spray their plants.
The bees will return, carrying the toxins to the colony, and many bees will die. Evidence of pesticide poisoning will include both dead and dying bees outside the hive rather than only dead bees.
Open the hive to inspect inside; if you find a lot of bee corpses inside as well, it’s likely pesticide poisoning.
The best action is to relocate the colony to a safer foraging area to save them. If you have arrived too late, unfortunately, there may be little you can do.
Large quantities of inert bee bodies outside the hive need some investigation. First, try to determine the cause and whether action is required.
Or maybe it’s a natural part of the colony’s life span.
As beekeepers, we must diligently monitor our bee colonies to ensure they stay strong and healthy!