Beekeeping is a fascinating activity with new aspects to learn about your bees’ behavior every day! One aspect of the colony’s behavior that may be a little disconcerting is observing the worker bees carrying larvae out of the hive’s front door and discarding them. What is going on inside the bee colony for larvae to be ejected from the beehive?
Bees removing larvae from a hive can be an indication of a pest infestation in the colony, disease control, or the removal of larvae that have died from extreme weather changes.
Observing your bees ejecting larvae from the hive may be concerning for beekeepers, particularly if you do not know why the larvae are being removed. Sometimes this action by your bees requires an inspection to investigate the cause, but at other times it is simply normal housekeeping for the worker bees.
Other reasons include larvae injured during hive inspections can result in the larvae being removed. Drone larvae can also be ejected.
Bees are industrious insects that are fastidious about cleanliness and hygiene in the confines of the beehive. If the bees neglect the state of the hive, it could lead to decay, disease, and pest infestation that could threaten the colony’s existence.
You may see some larvae on the ground in front of the beehive from time to time, which would be a normal part of the housekeeping in the hive.
Observing many larvae ejected from the hive may be a normal outcome depending on seasonal conditions, but it may also warrant closer inspection inside the hive to check for issues in the colony.
The Bees Are Removing Diseased Larvae
One reason bees may remove larvae from the hive is to control disease in the colony. Several bee-related diseases and pest infestations can be problematic for the colony if not dealt with timeously.
If the diseased or parasite-ridden larvae are left in the colony, it can spread the disease or parasites to the surrounding larvae, resulting in a problem that gets out of control.
Larvae infected with varroa mites can be ejected from the beehive to prevent the varroa mites from becoming an infestation in the colony.
The varroa mite is a small parasitic pest that can live on adult bees and bee larvae. The mites live on the exterior of their bee host and suck the blood of the larvae or adult bees. The parasite load can kill the host, or the mites can transmit a variety of viral and bacterial diseases that can run rampant through the colony.
The Bees Are Removing Dead Larvae
Larvae can die in the comb before reaching full development into adult bees. The larvae can die off due to several factors.
A sudden temperature change can result in larval deaths within the hive if the bees cannot maintain ideal temperatures within the hive interior.
An example of this can be a sudden cold front moving in before the bees have fully prepared the hive for winter. An extended wet and cooler period in summer can also result in temperature or weather-related deaths among the larvae.
These dead larvae will be removed from the colony before they begin to rot and become a source of bacteria growth and contamination in the beehive.
Larvae can also die from diseases, such as chalkbrood, American Foul Brood (AFB), or any number of bee-specific viral and bacterial infections that can attack bee larvae.
These dead larvae are often ejected from the beehive in significant numbers. If you see large numbers of larvae outside the hive, it may be worthwhile to perform an internal inspection of the hive to establish the extent of the disease within the colony.
Damaged Or Injured Larvae Are Removed
Sometimes, the death of larvae is an unintended consequence of activities by the beekeeper during an inspection of the brood frames in the beehive.
Working in the brood chamber wearing all your necessary personal protective equipment, especially gloves, can reduce the dexterity and sensitivity of your hands and fingers.
Removing brood frames for inspections while wearing gloves can result in inadvertent pressure being placed on certain sections of the brood comb resulting in damage to the larvae.
Brood cells can also be damaged when extracting the brood frames from the hive or re-inserting them into the brood box if sufficient care is not taken to avoid damage from adjacent frames or hive tools.
If you check your beehive the morning after your inspection and notice larvae that have been ejected from the hive, the inspection likely caused some damage.
While working in the brood chamber without gloves is not advised, if you notice larvae being removed from the hive after an inspection, it is an indicator that more care should be taken with these invasive activities in the beehive.
Reducing The Drone Quota In The Colony
Male bees or drones are produced in numbers during certain seasons in the lifecycle of the bee colony. Drone bees have a singular purpose in the colony; mating with virgin queens from a different colony.
A drone bee does not contribute to the upkeep, maintenance, defense, or food production for the colony, but they take many hive resources to produce and sustain.
During certain seasons too many drones in the beehive can significantly drain the colony’s resources. If the summer season has not been productive due to drought, or unusually wet conditions, the hive’s resources will be low, and there may be less swarming activity.
In these instances, drones place a strain on the colony and are no longer required. Adult drones will be expelled from the hive, and drone larvae will be carried out of the beehive and discarded.
These actions will lower the drone resource-hungry drone population in the beehive and make more resources available to other colony members that contribute to the colony’s survival.
The Bees May Eject Pest Larvae
Sometimes, the larvae you see being ejected from the beehive may not be bee larvae. Some pests, such as large and small hive beetles, and wax moths, lay their eggs inside the beehive.
Should the bees become aware of these intruders, they may remove the offending larvae to reduce the number of pests in the hive.
There are several reasons that bees will remove larvae from the beehive. In the majority of cases, it is simply hygienic activities to remove dead larvae from the brood comb.
In some cases, particularly with the removal of large numbers of larvae, it could indicate disease or pest infestations have taken hold in the colony and would warrant closer investigation.
A poor production season or the approach of winter can also result in the ejection of drone larvae to reduce the resource drain on the colony in dearth periods.