Dead Honey Bees In The Yard Or Around The Hive - What's The Cause?

I sometimes receive emails from people who are alarmed to find a mass of dead honey bees in the yard.  I am asked how this has happened - were the bees poisoned or sick, and why were they out and about in cold weather in the first place?

So here are some general reasons for loss of honey bees - and why in some cases, you might actually come across the dead specimens in your local environment.

Reasons For Loss Of Honey Bees 

1. Winter clear out

Firstly, beekeepers may see dead honey bees when the colony is having a clear out and the workers are busy removing dead bees from the hive.   

On a day when the temperature has warmed somewhat, the bees might take the opportunity to remove dead individuals from the hive that have accumulated over a period (the bees may have died for natural reasons).  In these scenarios, the bees may be strewn around the hive entrance and immediate area.

The removal of these dead bees is important in order to preserve hygiene, and although it will seem like many, many bees, it should be remembered that a colony of honey bees has thousands of individuals.  

2. Caught out during cleansing flights

In addition to this, honey bees may need to take cleansing flights (which means they need to leave the hive to defecate) - perhaps they are enticed out of the hive by warm sunshine.  Unfortunately however, during the cleansing flight, it's possible for them to be caught out by the weather, resulting in dead honey bees being seen in the local environment. 

3. Starvation

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. 

4. Diseases, parasites and predators

Diseases, parasites such as Varroa, dysentry and other problems can also take their toll on bees resulting in losses. Also see colony collapse disorder.

Several dead honey bees.

Two dead honey bees on the ground

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leafcutter bee on sweet pea plant sweet peas for bees