honey bee behavior

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 carry it out, or if the weather is too cold, they leave the scraps on the bottom board until later. This group of bees is just getting started. I’ve recovered paper plates where nothing was left but the outer ring.

Bees starting to dismantle a paper plate.

In the second photo you can see what I call “hop fluff.” This is the stuff left over after the bees have taken the cardboard HopGuard strips out of the hive. These particles are quite small and have fallen through the screened bottom board to the varroa drawer underneath. A modern shredder couldn’t begin to compete.

Hop fluff.

It seems that removing foreign objects from the hive is related to hygienic behavior. Anything the bees didn’t put in the hive—such as paper plates, newspaper, cardboard, wood chips, hive beetles, wax moths, etc—they will remove if they can. Similarly, diseased pupae, deformed adults, and dead bees are all removed to limit the spread of disease and avoid wasting resources on non-productive members. In addition, moldy combs are scrubbed clean, and used brood cells are polished and prepped.

Now, if I could only get them to work my garage.



  • Hi Rusty,

    I’ve noticed the bees leaving a small pile of Candy Crumbs (from the Candy Board) , at the entrance to the hive. Is this just a matter of kids playing with their food? Based on how much they have actually consumed, it’s minuscule in comparison. It’s just strange they don’t use these very small pieces.


    • Bruce,

      I don’t know for sure but here is my guess. We know the bees dissolve hard candy with saliva before they can eat it. I think some crystals are harder to dissolve than others, but why I don’t know. Maybe they have impurities or maybe they are just built differently. You have probably noticed that when you dissolve sugar in water, there are always a few crystals that take forever to dissolve, despite heat and vigorous stirring. I think the bees also run into crystals that are hard to dissolve, and when they do, they just cart them outside like trash. But, like a said, just a theory . . .

  • I once accidentally dropped a queen marking cage into my hive and forgot. It was one of the circular ‘crown of thorn’ type ones with fine thread criss-crossing the top. When I came back the next week the bees had completely unravelled the string! They obviously objected to their queen being marked in fancy non-bee colours.

  • Rusty – and readers – there were aluminum pie plates, 3/$1, at our local grocery. The candy cakes pop out of these much better than those cheap paper plates. And they are equally reusable if not more. The bees in the top picture had reduced that plate to a sort of paper jellyfish by the time they finished the sugar.

    About hygiene – helping a friend with her hive, we found dead hive beetles propolized together in little balls of 5 or 6. Seems the bees can just roll them over to drop off the bars, and out! I thought bees couldn’t kill them, but these bees had!

    Thanks as always,

  • Rusty,

    I wonder if this cleaning behaviour could be used as a poor man’s simple test for hygienic behaviour? Perhaps equal portions of paper plate being placed in hives of equal strength, then measuring how long it takes to completely remove from the hive?


    • Morris,

      What a great idea! I wonder how closely related paper-plate behavior and hygienic behavior really are. Interesting experiment.

    • Don,

      I have a post on these two products in the works. But just briefly, HopGuard works if you can read between the lines of the instructions. If you haven’t already, please read “Hopping mad at HopGuard” which explains the problem. When it works, I prefer it to thymol because I don’t have to seal the hives into a fumigation chamber and the smell is less drastic.

  • I put my apiguard gel on cut-out pieces of cereal box and then put them into the hive. I know they have had their treatment by the little pile of detritus they leave in front of the hive, and they have a little project during the slow-down in fall. So, it’s win-win.

    • That seems much better than the little foil containers ApiGuard sometimes comes in. The foil gets propolized to the top bars and leaves a mess.

  • We use Chux wipes for SHB traps. While they work really well the bees chew them up and chuck them out which is no problem but interesting.

  • Chux wipes aren’t so easy to find in the US. This week I bought a 4-roll pack of “Scotch-Brite Reusable Wipes” at Costco, and found that they are effective trapping SHB after the bees fluff them up.
    ~4¢ per hive if you use half a sheet per hive stapled to the top bars of the top-most box. (UPC 0-76308-87327-1)
    Randy Olive says Swiffer pads work too. I haven’t tried them.

  • Hi,
    I’m trying to find answers to a problem I’m seeing at this moment. My husband and I are new beekeepers – 2 hives, one survived last winter & a new hive we started this spring which seems to be healthy. The older hive is demonstrating strange (to me) behavior. This morning I noticed a lot of white blobs outside the hive on the ground & some on the hive porch. On closer inspection, I see it is discarded pupae. There are probably 100 so far & still happening. We inspected the hive a few days ago, and there were NO – 0 drone brood. I thought that was odd, & now I am really puzzled because from all I read, its drone pupae which the bees discard when we start to have cooler weather. Any idea what is happening? Any advice?

    • Ann,

      Look closely to see whether the pupae are drones or workers. If they are drones, that is normal for this time of year. On the other hand, if they are workers it could be a sign of varroa mites. The worker pupae could be infected with deformed wing virus and they are being weeded out. Or it could be that there is too much brood for the number of nurses, in which case they get rid of some. One hundred isn’t many, so I wouldn’t be too worried yet.

  • Thank you so much for responding! As it is, when we inspected the hive this week & 1 & 1/2 weeks ago, there was no drone brood & we saw no drones – which I thought was odd, that is why we inspected again so soon. We did a mite check and found only 2 possible mites, but since we had no drones & no drone brood, I assumed that would be normal.

    We saw single eggs in cells, larvae, & capped worker brood. However, we also saw a few cells in the bottom box with multiple eggs. I thought I may have seen the queen as well. This hive hasn’t appeared to be as active as our other hive. I’m completely puzzled, but I think you may be corrrct about too much brood & not enough nurse bees. Possibly it had swarmed & is starting over – does that sound logical? Does that happen?
    Thank you again so much.

    • Ann,

      Based on your description, I don’t know what is going on. Sometimes new queens lay multiple eggs, but established queens usually do not. I would say wait a week or so, and then have another look.

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