Precocious foraging describes a situation where “underage” bees are required to take up foraging duty. Precocious foraging may result from any situation that causes a large percentage of the field force to die, including pesticide kills, disease, predation, or shortened lifespans due to chemical exposure.
When large number of nurse bees are re-assigned to the field force, the effect on the colony can be devastating. The loss means fewer bees are available to feed the larvae, process and store food, moderate the hive temperature, care for the queen, remove dead and diseased bees, and build comb. In short, the balance of colony activity is disrupted and the orderly progression of bee “employment” is broken.
If the situation persists for more than a few days, the entire population may spiral out of control. With a shortage of nurses, the colony cannot raise enough bees to replace the losses. And if even more precocious foragers are pulled from the hive, the colony may soon dwindle and die.