Just like any other living creature, bees do poop!
But what does bee poop look like anyway?
As a beekeeper, should you be worried about bee droppings? And is that yellow color normal!?
In the summer, when honey bees are most active, you may notice a large quantity of yellow dots on your car, windows, or maybe on your clothes.
If you see a lot of bees buzzing around, these stains are probably bee poop!
This is particularly true if you find yourself on the bees’ flight path from the hive.
Far from being just a juvenile topic of discussion, bee poop can actually be a helpful indicator of the colony’s condition or state of health.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know…
What does bee poop look like?
Bee excrement looks like small spots or splatters that are yellow and sticky. Depending on the angle of impact, they can be oval or almost round on a flat horizontal surface. They look like long vertical streaks if they land on a wall or window (or if you’re unlucky, on the clean sheets you left out to dry!)
Because the bee droppings are slightly liquid when bees defecate, the resulting shape of the droppings works similarly to drops or splatters of paint.
What color is bee poop?
Bee droppings are yellow or yellow-orange in color. This is a healthy and normal color for bee feces. However, keep in mind that the color can change after a while.
Yellow droppings oxidize over time and become darker.
Some beekeepers wonder about the color of their bee’s fecal matter, thinking this could be an indication of the colony’s health. But this isn’t a very reliable standard for judging bees’ well-being.
So don’t worry about the color of droppings you might find around your hives.
But Why is bee poop yellow?
The color of honey bee droppings is a direct result of their diet. Bees collect nectar from the flowers they visit. This nectar also includes traces of pollen.
Bees mostly eat pollen by filtering it out of the nectar. As a result, a small amount of nectar is also consumed.
The pollen provides bees with a precious source of protein, whereas nectar supplies carbohydrates for energy.
Bee droppings comprise partially digested pollen grains, pollen husks, and a few other substances. There are thousands of different shapes and types of pollen grains, but they generally consist of flavonoids and carotenoids that are yellow and orange in color.
Hence the color of bee poop is yellow, just like the pollen they ingest.
You may have seen honey bee pollen sold in health food stores as a food supplement. It is said to contain beneficial antioxidants and over 200 other substances. You’ll see that it looks like a collection of tiny yellow-orange balls.
What is bee poop called – what’s the technical term?
Just like any other hobby, beekeeping has its unique jargon and vocabulary! So if you want to get a bit technical, beekeepers often use the word “frass” to refer to bee poop.
Bee frass is the undigested fecal matter, but in the insect world, it can also mean other organic leftovers.
Wondering How often bees poop?
During the active summer season, bees relieve themselves several times a week. But they can also go for months without defecating.
For example, in the winter, bees remain clustered inside the hive for long periods. During this time, they will hold their excrement until exterior conditions allow them to fly and leave their droppings outside.
Note that the bees’ diet can also influence the regularity that bees need to poop. For example, if they are being fed sucrose, this is easily digested. But solid food will make them need to defecate more often.
Bees maintain very hygienic conditions inside the beehive. Keeping things clean helps the colony remain sanitary and reduces diseases. For example, the queen bee and drones leave their feces inside, but the worker bees clean up after them and take the excrement outside.
When bees leave the hive to “poop,” this action is known as “cleansing flight.”
Bee cleansing flights
Bees tend to make their first cleansing flights in the early spring when temperatures are warm enough.
But during the winter, if the sun comes out and temperatures increase a little, honey bees will take advantage of leaving the hive for brief cleaning flights.
At what temperature can bees take a cleansing flight?
Low temperatures drastically reduce honey bees’ flying capabilities. Anything below 59°F (15°C), they can only fly pretty short distances. Studies have found this to be limited to around 300 feet at this kind of temperature.
Anything lower such as during winter, and you shouldn’t be surprised to find bee frass on and around the exterior of the hives!
The areas where you discover bee excrement can also give clues to the colony’s overall health.
Where do bees usually poop?
Bees leave droppings outside, not inside the hive. Therefore, any droppings inside the beehive get cleaned up by the worker bees—the queen and drones poop inside the beehive, and it’s removed later by the workers.
Bees should always leave their droppings outside the hive – this is normal even if you find stains close to the beehive or on the hive itself. It just means they weren’t able to make a long cleansing flight.
But any feces inside the hive could indicate poor health or disease.
This is where the yellow stains of frass can give beekeepers a clue to what’s happening within the colony.
A lot of poop inside the hive or on the frames could signify a condition such as bee dysentery. Or, in worse cases, it could be a disease like Nosema.
Bee dysentery (or bee diarrhea) can happen when the honey bee’s diet contains substances difficult for them to ingest (fermenting fruit or fermenting honey, for example). Or during the cold months when it becomes impossible for bees to make cleansing flights.
Dysentery is likely following a period of two or three weeks when outside temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C).
This is not a disease (unlike human dysentery) but a question of circumstances where bees can no longer hold their waste.
Bee dysentery isn’t a long-term problem, but a pathogen like Nosema apis is. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell which it is quickly. Only a lab test will help determine if your colony is suffering a disease.
Consider the circumstances first if you notice large amounts of fecal matter inside the hive. For example, has it been raining a lot, or has the weather prevented bees from leaving the hive to relieve themselves? Any confinement forces honey bees to leave droppings inside.
If so, any signs of fecal matter are to be expected, and the worker bees will tidy things up over time. Otherwise, you might need to take a closer look at the possibility of an infection of some kind.
How do you clean up bee poop?
As useful as it is to keep an eye on your bee’s digestive habits, it also becomes a bit of a problem when your car and your sheets get splattered with bee droppings!
And they can be pretty tough to wash off!
On clothing, try treating the stains before you wash them. Dishwashing liquid is a favorite remedy for most beekeepers! However, I know some folks who also use white vinegar.
Soaking the stains seems to be a standard solution for removing bee poop. This goes for car paintwork as well as cloth. If you soak the car before cleaning, the bee splatter should soften, making it easier to eliminate.
Oh, and try washing your car when the bees aren’t buzzing around in the evening. Otherwise, you might get the impression the bees are watching and laughing at your hard work as they dive-bomb your paintwork with fresh frass 🙂
Good luck 🙂