Why are my bees dying in the grass?

It seems we become more aware of dead bees in the fall. I think this is partially due to the environment—the grass is not so lush so they are clearly visible and fewer scavengers are around to pick up the dead bodies. We are also more concerned about the health of our bees because the winter looms ahead, so the sight of dead ones makes us anxious. Add to that an accumulation of dead drones near the hive and the number of bodies seems unreal.

Here is a sample question:

Why are there a dozen worker bees, with pollen-laden baskets, dying in the grass in front of the hive? They acted like they were too tired to make it into the hive. Most bees were flying into the hive, but some were just falling into the grass in front of the hive and staying there. They are dying. It was the very end of the day. Maybe the grass was wet or the temperature suddenly got too cold?

The thing to remember is that foraging bees work themselves to death. They just keep foraging until they drop, and that moment may occur out in the field, over your patio (where I always see them), or right in front of the hive. Some die in the hive, some on their way out the door, some take off and fall flat, and some keel over from the sheer weight of the pollen they just collected. Life is not easy for a honey bee.

But here is something to put the numbers in perspective. According to Bees of the World (O’Toole & Raw, 1999) a single honey bee colony will lose about 1000 foraging workers per day in the summer. This makes sense when you realize a queen may lay nearly 2000 eggs in a day. A great number of young is required to replace all those deaths in the field and to expand the hive population as well.

But 1000 dead bees makes a big pile, and remember, that number is per day. Multiply that by the days in a week or month. And how many hives do you have? Two? Three? Twenty-five? What you get is truckloads of natural fertilizer, pre-spread for your convenience.

So relax. As you can see, it is not at all surprising to see dead bees near the hive or anywhere else. And, as I mentioned earlier, the drones are evicted in the fall as well, which increases the body count even further. Pick out a few for a closer look. Although some will be young, most will look worn with bald spots and tattered wings—it’s all part of the natural process.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Even tiny native bees wear out their wings. This bee is fertilizer in the rough.
Even tiny native bees wear out their wings. This bee is fertilizer in the rough.

Comments

Jane Peters
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Phew!!! I am so happy that I decided to read my e-mails before checking the bee yard this morning. For the past few days I have been wondering and anxious why there are so many dead bees in front of most of the hives . . . Of course I thought the worse things possible!!! How were they going to survive the long winter months with so few bees in the hive now that they are ‘all’ dead outside? Before feeding them I had to go inside and check out what was going on . . .With a my heart in my mouth, I opened hive after hive and found all of them to be doing what they should be doing, working and preparing food for the long winter months ahead.

Thank you for this Rusty.

Regards, Jane

phil gladding
Reply

I really enjoy your website. I get up every morning, make coffee, and go to the pc to look for and read any new information from honey bee suite. It makes my day start out right.

A first year bee keeper. Thank you. Phil

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Phil. You just made my day, too.

Greg
Reply

Hi Rusty, The description of dead piles is so timely. I was a little concerned about the amount of dead on my hive platform. Your explanation makes a lot of sense and right on time!!! Thanks again, Greg

dany
Reply

Robbing will also result in dead bees. I just lost my hive to them!! I’m a rookie at this but, in looking back, I missed the warning signs. Dead bees being one of them.

Rusty
Reply

Dead bees can also be the result of yellowjackets.

ครีมพิษผึ้ง
Reply

This is my first time visit at here and I am genuinely happy to read everything at single place.

Kathleen
Reply

Thank you so much for creating this website. I have learned so much from reading the conversations around the various topics. I look forward to continuing my education from all levels of bee keepers who share their knowledge with us.

Kim
Reply

I think I know the answer to this question but I want to get another opinion. I captured a swarm this spring and placed them into the hive, I am not going to say it was a HUGE swarm but it was decent sized and I was happy with it.

Well the bees stayed in the hive and all seemed well, but about a week after they were moved there were tons of bees just ‘walking in the grass’. It looked like they were trying to fly but just couldn’t do it. And as I watched more were coming out of the hive and just falling off the edge and into the grass. Is this what you are talking about? They are just too tired to continue?

I have gone from having a full hive of bees to having less than a handful. What can I do? I have already put sugar water in the hive and have pollen on the way to help them out in that manner. Is there anything else I can do? I don’t want to lose this hive if I can prevent it.

Rusty
Reply

Kim,

Sounds to me like a pesticide kill. I imagine they got into something–a tree or bush or field–that was recently sprayed. Piles of dead bees in front of the hive just after they were doing fine is usually what you see. And falling off the edge into the grass? I’d put money on poison.

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