So, you might see a few bees laying at the base of your hive. You ask: “Why are all my bees dead?”
It’s a beekeeper’s worst nightmare. When they have to ask the big question: “Why are all my bees dead after this winter?”
We’re talking up to 60,000 little bees completely lifeless. How devastating and sad.
However, you haven’t opened the hive yet, so there is hope that the hive can still be saved.
And while bees are very capable of surviving the cold, it is definitely stressful for them and other problems can arise. There’s several reasons why you might find dead bees in your hive during or after winter.
In this post, I’m going to:
– Answer the question: “Why are all my bees dead?”
– Share some tips on what to do if you find your bees dead.
– How to move forward when your hive is not a complete loss.
We’re going to begin with what the culprits maybe could have been. Let’s buzz on in and start there.
1. Bees May Have Starved to Death
You have to be prepared for a long winter. As a beekeeper, you need to be preparing for the long Winter in the Fall by adding a food source, such as a candy board. If they don’t use it, then great! It’s security for them.
As bees cluster together to stay warm, the whole cluster will move together to be near the stored honey and pollen they’ve been working hard to accumulate all Summer and Fall. But, if they can’t get moved towards the food source or if there’s not enough food, they won’t be nourished enough to make it.
You’ll usually know if starvation is the culprit if you see bees placed head first into individual cells. They were attempting to stay warm and eat the last drop of honey out of the bottom of the cells before they tragically died.
Also, the main goal of the cluster is to keep the brood (baby bees) warm as well as themselves. That’s a big job when the queen lays thousands of eggs. And if they don’t feel like they can do both, they will sometimes abandon the brood in order to save the bees in the cluster. And that’s why that security of the candy board is so vital.
If you provide the hives with plenty, they will feel secure and able to protect their space. They will be happy and healthy. However, what goes in, must come out.
When bees are in their hives, they have to get out and fly and do what bees do. And that includes pooping. Let’s talk about that next.
2. They Couldn’t Get Out to Poop
Sometimes, we are blessed with some very nice days and the bees will take cleansing flights. They are leaving the hive to poop and stretch their legs.
Did you know that bees were potty trained? Yes, they will actually hold it in for weeks and sometimes months. But eventually, they have to get out and take a cleansing flight. It’s super vital for the hive to remain healthy.
Of course, the colder the temperatures, the fewer days bees can leave to take a cleansing flight. But they will and some really will make it back. Others will not.
If they leave, they might make a quick flight to do their duty and then return. Others will poop near the entrance of their hive. Please note that if you see bees out or near the hive entrance, it is a good thing. They are getting out for the cleansing flights.
3. They might be old bees.
Do you know how old your bees are? Spring born bees really don’t live very long – Only for about a month.
However, fall born bees can actually live several months through the Winter for a couple of reasons. First, they haven’t worn themselves out foraging like a spring or summer bee. They have more body conditions and are not exhausted.
Still, old age is still a common cause of bee death. You shouldn’t rule that one out.
The most common disease affecting bees in Winter is called Nosema. When the bees are stuck indoors and can’t poop, they are very prone to death by Nosema. What is Nosema?
It is a disease of the gut that causes death during the late winter. The best cure is for the bees to be able to get out and fly. And they can only do that in 60 degree F weather. If the winter is mild, you won’t see this to be much of a problem.
However, if the weather is super cold and the bees can’t get out, Nosema is a very good suspect. So, definitely need to keep that in mind when trying to figure out what went wrong.
Extreme Cold Really was too much for the Cluster
As I mentioned before, bees can withstand the cold if they have a nice strong cluster to keep them warm. The cluster moves together upward into the stored honey and candy board.
If any bees drift away from the cluster, they will likely freeze. They HAVE to have their cluster. If weather is spiratic like it is in Kansas and the temperatures are fluctuating, this can be confusing to the bees and leave the cluster on a warm day that can suddenly turn cold.
Bees can form other clusters but they won’t produce the heat needed to withstand Winter temperatures.
Mites and Other Pests
When bees become weak, they are less able to protect themselves and their hives. This is when pests can become a real problem. And actually Mite problems begin earlier in the Fall.
During the Fall months, bees can start to stress out. It could be a number of things. Low food source, death of the Queen, something causing the hive to be in disarray.
Therefore, the best time to treat for Varroa and Trachea mites is in the Fall and Spring. There’s not much you can do in the Winter time because you don’t want to affect the healthy bees if there are any.
But the stress from the mites can still affect the health of the bees during the winter. Mites are not the only pests that affect honey bee hives.
What to do if you Find Your Bees Dead
So, I’ve covered the reasons why your bees might have died. Now, what should you do if you find them?
First of all, don’t panic. All living things die, including bees. They are not invincible. But more importantly, is there a LOT of bees or just a few dead bees that you are seeing? There’s a big difference.
We all fear the worst when they see dead bees. I’ll go more into the reality of this in a little bit.
You can then provide the hive with some sugar or honey frames you have in storage. You can also check the hive temperature using a digital thermometer.
Really, you won’t know exactly the status of your hive unless you take the inner cover off and look inside. Again, you’ll need to wait for a warmish day for that.
Is it Normal to Find Dead Bees in Winter?
Bees are pretty amazing creatures. You have to understand what is normal and what is not normal behavior.
Dead bees are actually pretty normal. As I mentioned before, bees die for a number of reasons. Old age, natural causes, hunger…you name it.
Bee deaths are more noticeable in the Winter. Even though thousands of bees die in the other seasons of the year, we don’t notice that as much because they are away from the hives. They are foragers or away from the hive for some reason. And we don’t see them as much.
However, in the Winter when there’s snow on the ground, we notice. Bees still die just as much but we notice them around the hive and in the snow. Why are they out of the hive and in the snow? Let’s talk about that?
How Do Bees Handle Their Dead In Winter?
Now, this part is going to knock your socks off.
Bees are so smart that they won’t sleep with other dead bees inside the hives. They actually have undertaker bees that will pick up the dead bodies and remove them from the hives!
They do this on warmer days. But when it’s cold, you’ll find dead bees at the entrance. The undertakers push them out the best they can but if it’s cold, they need to go back in.
This is an example of healthy hive dynamics. So, instead of being stressed by finding dead bees around your hive, you should be more alarmed when you don’t find any dead ones. If the colony is healthy, it’s a good thing to see. It means your colony is just find inside.
A Positive Ending
It’s true that no one wants to be asking the question: “Why are all my bees dead?”
And as long as your bees have plenty to consume, healthy cluster, ventilation and their queen, they will probably be ok. It’s important to understand that bees still do die and to not blame yourself if you did take all the precautions.
I’ve given you a lot to look for today. I hope this post helps you. Please let me know in the comments if this helps you or if there’s anything I have missed.