feeding bees honey honey bee behavior

One 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 good flier make.

Do bees get drunk?

Under the influence of ethanol, honey bees behave much like humans. In fact, their reaction to ethanol is so human-like that honey bees are constantly being used to study the effects of alcohol consumption on people (and college students). Researchers at Ohio State University have shown that inebriated bees have impaired motor function and difficulty learning. Even their memory goes to hell.

In honey bees the alcohol from the fermented honey is quickly absorbed by the hemolymph. Hemolymph or “bee blood” is the circulatory fluid in insects that performs many of the same functions as mammalian blood. Even small amounts of alcohol have almost immediate effects.

The more they drink, the worse it gets

As in humans, the behaviors are more pronounced as more alcohol is consumed. At low doses, slightly tipsy bees do less flying and grooming. They stagger. They walk into things. Their legs get wobbly. As they consume more, they get worse. Sloshed bees lay on their backs, unable to coordinate a “flip over” because their legs have that “rubbery” feeling. Totally s***-faced bees lie stone-still on their backs or die. Sound familiar?

Of course bees are not the only critters to show the effects of alcohol. Yellowjackets are known to fly erratically after gorging on overripe fruit. And although pigs can’t fly, a stout meal of fermenting apples makes them think they can. Even bears have been seen to stagger and fall after a stolen meal of fermented honey.

Impaired honey bees are not safe

Impaired honey bees are more likely to become prey to birds and other insects or may even lose their way home. If they are lucky enough to reach their landing board, they may be turned away from the hive by guards (bouncer bees) that become suspicious of their erratic behavior.

The moral of the story? Don’t give that fermented honey to your honey bees. A few cells here and there won’t make any difference, but pounds and pounds of the stuff would be bad for the physical health and moral fabric of the colony.

Honey Bee Suite


  • I am considering putting hives by our monstrous fig tree. Will fermented figs cause a problem? Too many drunk bees being turned away at the door?

    • I don’t see a problem. Fermenting honey in the hive is much more of a problem. Although you may see a few bees examining it, honey bees are not often attracted to rotting fruit. The yellowjackets love it, though.

  • Hubby extracted honey tonite and sbh larvae was in 3 frames. It hasn’t gotten to the slime stage, but I could smell the sour smell. He says I’m crazy. My question is he continued to extract another 8 frames which didn’t have larvae. If there was fermentation how can I tell? Is there a way to save the honey?

    • Michelle,

      If the vast majority of cells were capped, and if there was minimal beetle damage, the honey is probably fine. Microbes cannot survive in honey that is fully cured (capped). Sometimes you can smell fermentation that occurred in damaged or open cells, but that odor won’t transfer to the extracted honey as long about 90% of the cells were fully cured.

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