honey bee behavior predators

Bee abortion

When food sources run low, such as during a summer nectar dearth, the workers in a honey bee hive will often expel both drones and drone pupae. Since drones eat plenty of food but don’t collect any, it is a way for the colony to conserve stores for the winter. Later on, in the fall, nearly all the drones will be removed from the hive. In warmer climates a few may be allowed to remain throughout the winter, but in cold latitudes every last drone will be discarded.

A small percentage of worker bees in every colony are known as undertaker bees. Their job is to remove the corpses from the hive. They usually fly the bodies several meters away from the hive before dropping them, and sometimes two bees can be seen carrying one body. If the bodies are dropped close to the hive, predators may be seen working over the meat. Sometimes those predators, like the bald-faced hornet shown below, get bold enough to eat corpses right on the landing board.

The landing board shown below held a hornet eating a drone pupa. Because I think like a beekeeper and not a photographer, I killed it before I remembered to take a picture. Sorry. These photos were taken in the morning when the landing board was damp with dew and bodies had accumulated overnight. About an hour later, the board was cleared of all carnage.

 

Undertaker bee working among dead drone pupae

 

Bald-faced hornet (Vespula maculata) in a mason jar

5 Comments

  • Hello Rusty, I’ve seen recently some instances where the bees seem to be eating larvae (admittedly only one). The larvae didn’t appear to be fully formed. Is this normal behavior? I have a photograph but couldn’t see where/how to upload.

    By the way, I tried to donate by credit card but your site had me stuck at “Post Code” (we don’t have a post code) and it also had me stuck on the UK for the telephone number. I’m located in Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago. Can you help? Is there another way I can contact you when issues such as these arise?

    Rikhi

    • Rikhi,

      Honey bee workers often eat eggs or larvae when they detect that something is wrong with it. That way, the problem is cleared out of the hive, but the protein contained in the deformed individual is not wasted. This is completely normal and common.

      A photo would be cool to post. You can always attach a photo to an email and send it to rusty@honeybeesuite.com. For other questions, you can use that same email or you can use the Contact Me page.

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