I sometimes receive emails from people who are alarmed to find lots of dead bees in the yard. There can be perfectly natural (if unfortunate) reasons for this, or the reason can be pesticide poisoning.
I was sent some photographs of lots of dead honey bees by Teresa Taramasso of Amarillo, Texas (photographs above). My initial reaction was “I think this is pesticide poisoning”.
However, I should state that it is sometimes also normal to see quite
a lot of dead honey bees around a hive or in the yard in winter, or following a
long cold period and possibly snow.
What happens is that on a day when the temperature has warmed slightly (perhaps the sun is shining) honey bees will take the opportunity to remove dead bees that have accumulated over a period, from the hive (the bees may have died for natural reasons, such as old age).
The removing of these dead bees is important in order to preserve hygiene, and although it will seem like many, many bees to you, you have to remember that a colony of bees has thousands of individuals. In addition to this, honey bees may need to take cleansing flights (which means they need to leave the hive to defecate).
They may be encouraged by warm sunshine to take a cleansing flight, only to be caught out by the weather, resulting in people seeing dead honey bees. In addition to this, bees can die during winter due to starvation – the inability to get out and forage, inability to access the food stores, or insufficient food stores in the hive. Where a beekeeper is involved, hopefully he or she will be able to prevent this happening by supplying additional food for the bees. Diseases can also take their toll on bees.
If you find many dead honey bees, and you have not had a very recent cold spell, then it may be poisoning. I recommend you photograph the bees, and contact your local council to ask whether they have been spraying, or consider whether it is possible a local farmer has been spraying their crops.
I also think it would be a good idea to notify your local beekeeping association. They may already have information, or may appreciate a warning. Some countries also have notification schemes whereby inspectors can be informed (ask your local beekeeping association whether this is the case). In such cases, bees can be sent off for testing for pesticide poisoning. If such a scheme exists in your country, gather plenty of samples, give some to the inspector, and retain some (I have heard of samples ‘going missing’!).
Below is the situation described by Teresa, who found lots of dead bees in her yard, and I thank her for permission to use her emails and photographs:
You can read more about finding dead bees here.
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