Honey Bee Behavior

Honey bee behavior: the things they do

The following posts relate to various honey bee behaviors. If it’s not what you’re looking for, the Index can help you find something more specific.


  • Bottom line: bees are so cautious, they often don’t flyBottom line: bees are so cautious, they often don't fly
    To us, it may seem like bees fly all the time. Instead, they are quite cautious, limiting their flights to ideal conditions whenever possible.
  • 3 simple ways to recognize a honey bee scout3 simple ways to recognize a honey bee scout
    No matter what a scout bee is looking for, she shows particular behaviors that set her apart from the rest of the foragers.
  • Why do bees visit latrines as they make honey?Why do bees visit latrines as they make honey?
    People naturally get concerned when they see honey bees visiting unsavory places. When we see bees visiting animal urine, dung piles, and outhouses, it’s natural to wonder why.
  • The remarkable distance honey bees actually flyThe remarkable distance honey bees actually fly
    Honey bees fly as little as possible but as far as necessary to find the supplies they need, including nectar, pollen, water, and plant resins.
  • The winter solstice: day one of bee seasonThe winter solstice: day one of bee season
    Discover why bees begin their seasonal activity after the winter solstice & how day length plays a crucial role in their lives. Learn why the worker bees slowly increase the nest temperature to spur the queen to lay eggs.
  • Bearding bees are common in late summerBearding bees are common in late summer
    Huge colonies are an impressive sight! These photos were taken by Debbie Fyda in Ohio. She says she already removed three supers of honey, and those that remain are full of not-yet-capped nectar. Debbie was surprised the colony took off, especially after bad weather in spring was followed by June rains. But once July heat arrived, ...
  • If your bees actually want to beard, let themIf your bees actually want to beard, let them
    Bearding bees are no cause for alarm. It’s a natural, healthy way for the colony to keep the brood nest cool on hot days.
  • A huddle of drones tries to stay warmA huddle of drones tries to stay warm
    Although I’ve seen many evicted drones, I’ve never seen a huddle of drones quite like this. Around here, drones are usually evicted beginning in August. I often see them struggling with workers on the landing board and then, after they lose, they wind up in the grass below the hive. In the following days, I often ...
  • How often do honey bees sleep in the flowers?How often do honey bees sleep in the flowers?
    The honey bee forager shown below was asleep in my garden this morning. Hanging on to a cold and dewy cosmos, she looked dead. But a couple of flashes from my camera brought her around, and after a few minutes, she flew away. Maybe she just wasn’t into boudoir-type photos. Usually, it’s the males Wild bees of ...
  • Do honey bees move eggs from cell to cell?Do honey bees move eggs from cell to cell?
    The question of whether honey bees move eggs from cell to cell has been a hot topic on forums, blogs, and websites for about three weeks now. The assertion seems to be that honey bee workers will move eggs to where a larva is needed, such as into a queen cup. I don’t know where ...
  • A free-hanging honey bee nest in MinnesotaA free-hanging honey bee nest in Minnesota
    This large, free-hanging honey bee nest was discovered by Greg Munson of Rochester, Minnesota. Greg found the nest in February, tucked in the Wiscoy Valley between Rushford and Houston. “It is beautiful bluff country with bald eagles in abundance, as well as occasional rarer golden eagles, along with lots of other wildlife and varied habitat,” ...
  • How the inverse square law governs the distribution of bee poopHow the inverse square law governs the distribution of bee poop
    Science and math govern everything, even the location of the next glob of honey bee poop. Well, sort of.
  • The 3½ conditions your bees need for strong comb buildingThe 3½ conditions your bees need for strong comb building
    Bees will only build comb when all the conditions are right. Comb building in the fall is rare and you cannot force it to happen.
  • What is a summer nectar dearth?What is a summer nectar dearth?
    Honey bee colonies store nectar and pollen to use in times of dearth. To a honey bee, a dearth is a shortage of nectar-producing flowers. The most obvious nectar dearth occurs during the winter, but many places also experience a summer nectar dearth, a hot and dry period between spring flowers and autumn flowers. This time ...
  • Gone! The Oklahoma colonies abscondGone! The Oklahoma colonies abscond
    In an unexpected turn of events, the Oklahoma open-air colony I wrote about last week absconded from its nest. Even more surprising, the parent colony, the one that had lived for many years in the hollow of an oak tree on the far side of the pasture, absconded at roughly the same time. Lorieann Bradley, who ...
  • An open-air colony in OklahomaAn open-air colony in Oklahoma
    Open-air colonies seem to be everywhere these days. The bees living in this particular colony, hanging from a large oak in northeastern Oklahoma, have a history of dwelling in trees. Both the new colony and the parent colony belong to Lorieann Bradley of Kellyville, Oklahoma. The parent colony has lived for many years in the hollow ...
  • Honey bee pheromones: common scents
    Once you fall in love with honey bees, it is easy to characterize them as intelligent, practical, even prescient. But in fact, honey bees do the things they do in response to pheromones. A pheromone is a chemical or mixture of chemicals that is released by an individual and affects the behavior or physiology of another ...
  • Open-air colonies from coast to coastOpen-air colonies from coast to coast
    Twice this week I received photos of open-air honey bee colonies. Open-air colonies in regions with cold winters are not common, so they tend to receive a lot of attention. The first photo is of a colony I wrote about in the fall of 2014. If you recall, the colony was discovered in a cottonwood tree ...
  • Coaxing them through the excluderCoaxing them through the excluder
    ­Last time I promised a list of ways to encourage your bees to travel through an excluder even though I don’t think it’s a great idea. Anyway, your choice. The first point was mentioned several times by readers, and I will repeat it here. Wire excluders seem to work better than plastic ones, probably because of ...
  • My bees won’t go through a queen excluder
    Why do experienced and commercial beekeepers use queen excluders without hesitation, while newbees insist their bees won’t go through an excluder under any circumstances? Certainly the bees aren’t considering the beekeeper’s experience level, they’re just doing what they need to do on their own schedule. Beekeeper impatience The answer, I think, has more to do with beekeeper ...
  • Smoke and bees: the effect of wildfires on bee populationsSmoke and bees: the effect of wildfires on bee populations
    To my readers in Australia and New Zealand: I send my heartfelt and sincere thanks to firefighters from your two nations who have come to join the thousands of North American firefighters in their quest to extinguish the wildfires raging across the western United States. Thank you a million times over. My prayers are with ...
  • Packing more than pollen
    “If it’s not tied down, just take it.” That seems to be the philosophy of this honey bee photographed by Christopher Wren in northern England. In his TrogTrogBlog, Chris wrote that he was watching his bees working astrantia flowers when he noticed something unusual in this bee’s pollen basket. On closer inspection he discovered the ...
  • A beekeeping mysteryA beekeeping mystery
    About ten days ago, on a cold and gusty mid-April day, I was making the rounds of my hives. All the colonies were tucked in against the 40-degree mid-morning sunshine. All but one. Inexplicably, one hive had a group of about 200 bees frantically fanning at the opening. Other bees were nearby clutching blades of grass ...
  • Robbing and fighting and falling in clumps
    Last week, Scott Mathews, who lives in drought-besieged southern California, came home to a hive in turmoil. He writes: I came home today . . . to discover a lot of bees in the air and what looks like combative bearding. clumps of bees falling from the top entrance and what looks like new ...
  • Do honey bees eat fruit?Do honey bees eat fruit?
    The short answer is yes. Honey bees, especially in a nectar dearth, find ripe fruit very much to their liking. They have been known to feast on plums, peaches, grapes, apples, figs, and pears. But the issue that causes all the disagreement among beekeepers is whether honey bees will actually drill a hole in a ...
  • Favorite watering holes
    Florence, a beekeeper and blogger in eastern Ontario, sent some photos with a question: Why do her bees return to the same watering holes day after day, even when it is raining and closer-to-home sources abound? My first thought was that the bees want their usual dirty water, the water with a nice green odor and ...
  • How to recognize a nectar dearth & safeguard your beesHow to recognize a nectar dearth & safeguard your bees
    Before you can help your bees through a nectar dearth, you must be able to recognize a dearth in progress. Watch your bees carefully for signs of a nectar shortage.
  • Abuzz about you: do bees get angry?Abuzz about you: do bees get angry?
    I am guilty when it comes to anthropomorphizing bees. I compare bees to humans when I’m trying to illustrate a point or suggest a way of understanding them. I’ve accused worker bees of being neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, and parsimonious. I have compared drones to drunks, state workers, and my brother. So yes, I absolutely understand the ...
  • Honey bees unite!
    Here’s a new take on package installation, new to me at least. If anyone has heard of this happening, I would sure like to know. Last week Nancy, of Shady Grove Farm in Kentucky, installed two packages of honey bees from an in-state supplier. The bees were placed in used deeps that had been cleaned and ...
  • Drone-laying queen or laying workers?Drone-laying queen or laying workers?
    If you have a drone-laying queen with plenty of workers, you can easily replace the queen. Laying workers are much more difficult to handle.
  • Bee ready to bite a nest mate
    I love drone eviction. I get a vicarious pleasure from watching the little workers take down their lazy male nest mates. In spite of this being a blurry photo, I like the image of the worker mandibles ready to a take a chomp on brother bee. I just don’t see worker mandibles spread and ready ...
  • Robbing bees on a missionRobbing bees on a mission
    After the recent discussion of robbing bees, beekeeper Kenneth Rhodes sent in the following photos of bees from one of his hives attempting to rob the other. They provide an excellent illustration of robbing in action. Because robbing bees are unfamiliar with the hive they are stealing from, they try to enter at the point where ...
  • A September swarm it wasA September swarm it was
    Yesterday, shortly after I posted “Bearding or swarming?” and asked for your opinion, Joan wrote back with this photo: I went out to the bee yard Sunday morning at 0600 and those bees were still in the bearding position. I thought then that they must be robbers/visitors. Frantically I tried searching online what to do. I ...
  • Bearding or swarming?Bearding or swarming?
    Even when you know the difference between bearding and swarming, telling them apart can be tricky.
  • Bathing with beesBathing with bees
    It was day seven without a septic pump. I’ve lived on the same rural property for 20 years, and things happen. Walking around with a shovel is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. If it’s not the septic pump, it’s the house pump. If it’s not the house pump, it’s the well pump. And when ...
  • Weight training for honey bees
    What an awesome photo! This image by beekeeper Reed Beatse shows honey bees festooning below a comb from his top-bar hive. Festooning is always fun to see, but these bees are amazing. The weight of four bees plus a chunk of comb with honey is all supported by those middle two bees and the tiny ...
  • How long before a new beehive begins to forage?
    Actually, the beehive stays in one place. I’d love to see a Langstroth flitting among the flowers, but so far no luck. The bees themselves, however, start to forage almost immediately after they are installed in the hive. If it is warm and dry enough to fly, some bees will begin orienting themselves by flying ...
  • Why do my bees turn nasty when I kill them?
    The short answer is that I, too, would turn nasty if you were trying to kill me. The longer answer is that when you do something that threatens your bees, alarm pheromone is emitted into the air by the endangered bees as they attempt to sting you. The pheromone, which is a mixture of highly volatile ...
  • Housekeeping, honey bee style
    Bees are very particular about what stays in the hive and what doesn’t. The photo below shows a colony of bees eating a sugar cake that was served on a paper plate. They are happy to have the sugar, but see no use use for the plate. So they chew it into small pieces and ...
  • Why so many wings and legs?
    A beekeeper living on Vancouver Island is worried about the great number of honey bee wings and legs she is seeing on the Varroa drawer. She just finished treating her hive with formic acid pads and wondered if the accumulation of bee parts was a result of the mites or the mite treatment. I too have ...
  • The mystery of the dead drones
    I wasn’t going to write about this until I figured it out, but I’m coming up blank. On July 5, I checked my top-bar hive and saw a massive pile of dead bees on the ground just outside the entrance. My first thought: pesticide kill. I’ve seen pesticide kills before and it looked just the ...
  • The hum of a happy hive: nothing sounds betterThe hum of a happy hive: nothing sounds better
    Like us, honey bees can be affected by many different aspects of their environment, including loud noises.
  • A hive of a different color
    When we started our first hive, we read that the bees home-in to certain colors. Having some hobby/craft paint around, I painted the hand-hold on the front of the hive with fluorescent yellow/green paint. “There,” I thought foolishly, “they should be able to find the hive with no trouble.” The bees spent the entire first year ...
  • Update on ants
    The post titled “Bad-ant ant advice and the ascension of bees” coaxed readers out of the woodwork. Some agreed with me that the ants were not the problem, some thought they were definitely the problem, and others thought there wasn’t enough information. I have to say that I learned a lot from the discussion. As ...
  • Bad ant advice and the ascension of beesBad ant advice and the ascension of bees
    You have no idea how terrible I feel about the following turn of events. I feel remorse mixed with guilt. I feel like I should buy the guy a new package of bees. At the same time, I don’t think I was wrong; I gave him solid, well-reasoned advice. Still, the entire incident is heart ...
  • Out for a drink
    After I wrote about favorite watering holes for bees, several readers wrote to say their bees liked wet potting soil. One reader sent the following photo of four bees in a small plastic pot. Yesterday I was able to capture three bees drinking from some wet woodchips that I had dumped on a woodland path. Another ...
  • A reader’s questions answered
    To a reader in central Florida, I couldn’t get your e-mail address to work, so I’m putting the answers to your questions right here, front and center. I hope you find this. Questions: I live in central Florida near Ocala forest on a ¾-acre lot that I’m allowing to revert to native growth and I’m planting many types ...
  • Checkerboarding: the X-files of beekeepingCheckerboarding: the X-files of beekeeping
    A discussion of checkerboarding gets men all riled up. And I don’t mean “men” as a pronoun for all genders, I mean male humans. Come on, you’ve never seen a group of women all vexed and loquacious over checkerboarding. It doesn’t happen. Furthermore, checkerboarding induces these self-same men to deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate. They make up ...
  • Backfilling the brood nest
    In everyday English, to “backfill” means to refill. So if you want to plant a bush, bury a conduit, or repair a water main, you dig a hole, do what you have to do, and then put the dirt back in. Simple enough. The meaning is only slightly different in beekeeping, but different enough to ...
  • How much honey for a warm winter?
    Lots of folks want to know if bees consume more food in warm winters or cold winters. I’ve been searching for scientific data on this for quite a while but I haven’t found any. So, for what it’s worth, I hereby offer my opinion. Based on hearsay and my own beekeeping experience, I believe that bees ...
  • The solstice is here and so is bee season!The solstice is here and so is bee season!
    Here in the northern hemisphere, your calendar may tell you it’s the first day of winter, but from the bee’s perspective, it’s actually the first day of spring. Like many plants and animals, bees are highly affected by changes in day length. Immediately after the winter solstice, when the hours of daily sunlight start to ...
  • Captive robber bees can change allegianceCaptive robber bees can change allegiance
    Do you remember the Stockholm Syndrome? It’s a behavior seen in some hostages in which they develop sympathy for their captors, often to the point of defending them. The most famous case in America is Patty Hearst who, after being captured by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, eventually joined them and helped rob a ...
  • 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, ...
  • Drone eviction in July?
    The temperature dropped to 46 degrees F last night. Alder leaves are falling by the bushel. It rained all last week. I wore a sweater all day yesterday. Instead of brown and crispy, my lawn is still green. What is going on? Summer never really started here in the Puget Sound area and I’ve kind of ...
  • Bee sweet and don’t ask me such things!
    I was hoping no one would ask the unanswerable question, but it just arrived . . . from my daughter, of all people. She wrote, “Why do the bees hang on the outside of the swarm trap? I always envisioned them going inside.” Hmm. When I discovered a swarm hanging from the bottom of trap #1, ...
  • Two queens in one hive
    Although we are taught that two queens can’t survive in one hive, it happens frequently. It occurs most often when a supersedure cell hatches while the original queen is still alive. The virgin daughter hatches, mates, and begins to lay eggs right alongside her mother. This is usually a temporary situation, but it can persist ...
  • Why do bees collect on the bottom board?
  • One trap catches two swarms . . . at the same timeOne trap catches two swarms . . . at the same time
    The next morning everything was the same, that is, one swarm in the alder, one in the cypress, and one in each of the two swarm traps. I had other things to do, so I didn’t look again until noon when—you guessed it—more surprises. The cypress swarm was still in place, but very active. The huge ...
  • “A swarm in June . . .” No, make that two
    The noise got louder as I walked up the hill. It was coming from the vicinity of the middle hive stand, which is on a steep incline. At first I thought the swarm was down the hill from where I stood, so for a few moments I thrashed through the underbrush looking for it. But ...
  • A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
    For swarm prevention, I had done everything by the book. I had reversed brood boxes, re-queened, cut swarm cells, split hives, and provided extra supers. Still, since I had come through winter with large populations of clamorous bees, I was expecting swarms. But bees were not on my mind Monday morning when I headed outside to ...
  • Wednesday wordphile: bee space
    Bee space is a passageway 1/4- to 3/8-inches wide (6-10 mm) that bees use for moving throughout the hive. In 1851 the Reverend L. L. Langstroth realized that spaces narrower than this were treated like cracks and filled with propolis. Spaces wider than this were treated like construction zones–bees donned their hardhats and filled the ...
  • Bees vs. mouse: a skeleton tells the story
    I love these photos. Yesterday my top-bar hive was bursting at the seams. My husband kept urging me to check it for swarm cells and I kept putting it off. But finally, I dug through an egregious number of bees only to find a skeleton! It is so cool. It was lying on the screened bottom, ...
  • You are a stranger to your bees
    Last year a beekeeper told me that his bees were getting used to him. He said that as the summer progressed they had “accepted” him as their keeper and they “realized” he was only trying to help. Furthermore, he claimed they became more docile every time he opened the hive. This is a ...
  • Bee with bi-pollen disorder?
    After I wrote about floral fidelity and the purity of pollen baskets, I received this awesome photo by Chelsea at thehoneybeat.com. Look carefully and you will see the worker in the center of the photo has pollen baskets of two distinctly different colors. So how did this happen? I’ve tried to think this through, but it’s ...
  • Cell phones and bees: hang up and forage!
    In graduate school I took a class from Gerardo Chin-Leo, a passionate and intelligent faculty member at The Evergreen State College. The class was about harmful algae blooms, but the first assignment was to find articles in the popular press and compare them to the scientific papers they were supposedly based on. OMG. It was ...
  • Reasons floral fidelity is important for bees and plantsReasons floral fidelity is important for bees and plants
    Honey bees have strong floral fidelity, meaning each bee forages on one species of plant at a time. This is good for the plants and good for the bees, but not all bee species have this characteristic.
  • A great day for bees: down with honey bee dysentery
    Here in western Washington it is a great day for honey bees. The temperature is hovering around 55° F in the shade and my bees are out in droves. All my hives are misted with bees, but my two nucs—stacked one above the other—really surprised me. The great cloud of bees milling around them is ...
  • Bees and pets: what are the risks?
    I’ve been very lucky it the past few weeks to have so many questions. This particular one came from a beekeeper in Yakima with a couple of hives and a few acres who is worried about the neighbor dogs who occasionally wander onto his property “doing what dogs do.” He asked what happens if they ...
  • Usurpation: when one colony takes over another
    In the December 2010 issue of American Bee Journal, Dr. Wyatt A. Mangum describes the phenomenon of honey bee usurpation, which is the taking over of a healthy colony by a summer swarm. Mangum not only describes this unusual behavior in great detail, but provides photographs as well. Until recently, usurpation sightings have been limited to ...
  • Honey bees do not hibernate any time of yearHoney bees do not hibernate any time of year
    Although we don’t see our bees during the winter, they are not hibernating. They maintain an active winter colony feeding themselves and keeping warm.
  • Shaking the queen into shape
    Nearly every time I read about honey bees I learn something new and today was no exception. I no sooner started reading Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley (Princeton University Press) when I came across the following little tidbit about swarm preparation. We’ve all heard that the queen honey bee “slims down” prior to swarming so ...
  • One for the road: bees with a buzzOne for the road: bees with a buzz
    You have three or four frames of fermented honey and you hate the idea of wasting it. Should you give it to your bees? Although a honey bee is not old enough for a driver’s license, it does have a pilot’s license. So the short answer is “no.” A bee with a buzz does not a ...
  • A tale of honey bees and barbecue sauce
    Yesterday was perfect for mixing up a big batch of barbecue sauce. A friend had just given me a jar of her newest creation and I loved it. So after a quick trip to the farmer’s market I was ready to cook. I was stirring away when I noticed a bevy of bees milling around just ...
  • Why do honey bees swarm (or abscond) in the fall?Why do honey bees swarm (or abscond) in the fall?
    While swarming is a form of reproduction, absconding results from colony stress. In the fall, what appears to be swarming is often absconding.
  • How I threw a banquet for yellowjackets
    Up until this week I hadn’t seen many yellowjackets. Since 2009 seemed to be “the year of the yellowjacket,” I was expecting to see fewer this year. Nevertheless I had yellowjacket pheromone lures hanging nearby and my hive entrances had been reduced for a month. Everything seemed fine. But late last week I decided to stack ...
  • What makes honey bees aggressive: things you need to knowWhat makes honey bees aggressive: things you need to know
    Lots of things can cause hostile bees, including robbing by other bees, yellowjackets, or hornets.
  • Do honey bees sleep? Of course they sleep!
    Like many animals, honey bees have prolonged periods of inactivity we call sleep.
  • Washboarding bees arockin’ and alickin’Washboarding bees arockin' and alickin'
    A hive covered with washboarding bees can mesmerize you. Spread apart. rocking back and forth, licking the surface, the bees work hard. But what are they doing?
  • Drone eviction: it’s not a good time to be maleDrone eviction: it's not a good time to be male
    When you see drones and workers fighting at the entrance, it usually means drone eviction has begun. The ousted drones will soon die of exposure or starvation.
  • Massive pollen collection is vital for raising strong baby beesMassive pollen collection is vital for raising strong baby bees
    For honey bees, collecting pollen is just as important as collecting nectar. While nectar provides carbohydrates to bees, pollen supplies amino acids, protein, fat, and micronutrients to developing larvae.

Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.