bee feces

Sticky yellow bee droppings are an excellent thing

Sticky yellow bee droppings are a sign of healty bees.

Yes, they can be irritating, but sticky yellow bee droppings are a sign of colony health.

Inside: The color and matters. Bright yellow bee droppings tell us the bees are healthy and behaving normally.

If you are keeping bees for the first time you may have noticed all the fecal droppings, sometimes called frass, that appear out of nowhere on your cars, porch rails, or lawn furniture. These yellow bee droppings are incredibly sticky and difficult to remove, even modern car washes leave them perfectly intact. They are often round and yellow or, if on a vertical surface, long and yellow.

Since I like to write outside, I’ve had them drop on my keyboard and decorate my screen. The “use and care” instructions that come with laptops warn us to use nothing but a damp cloth on these surfaces, so I know the manufacturers never contemplated living beneath thousands of foraging bees. Water is no match for bee poop. The good news is this: these yellow bee droppings are perfectly normal and a sign that all is well with your colony.

Honey bees keep their home clean

Honey bees work hard to keep their living quarters clean. An individual worker bee will hold her feces until she is well away from the hive. The queen, larvae, and drones have their feces cleaned up by the workers and the result is an amazingly clean area, considering how many individuals live in such a small and confined space.

Winter workers will hold their feces for many weeks until the air is warm enough for a brief cleansing flight. You may see fecal trails on the snow not far from the hive, or sometimes even on the roof of the hive. This is also normal and nothing to worry about. But lots of feces at the entrance or on the frames is a sign of something gone awry.

Beware of dark droppings inside the hive

Fecal accumulation inside the hive occurs when the bees can no longer hold their feces. This may be caused by a poor-quality diet or by a disease organism. For example, honey bee dysentery is a result of a food source with too much indigestible material in it. Dysentery can be confused with Vairimorpha (Nosemaapis, a fungal disease of the honey bee which sometimes causes dysentery-like symptoms.

Many sources equate nosema with dysentery, but they are not the same thing. Bees can have dysentery without having nosema. For example, sometimes bees will consume the sweet juice of overripe fruit. This substance, which is high in fiber, can give bees dysentery. But only the pathogen Vairimorpha (Nosemaapis can give them nosema disease with dysentery-like symptoms. The only way to tell them apart may be a laboratory analysis.

A second type of nosema

To complicate matters, another closely related disease, Vairimorpha (Nosema) ceranae, can kill whole colonies of bees by causing damage to the honey bee gut. But V. ceranae does not cause dysentery-like symptoms.

Many researchers believe that these disease organisms are everywhere, but they take advantage of bees that are stressed or undernourished, whether from other parasites, monocultures, or pesticides. The best way to keep your bees from contracting diseases like nosema is to provide good nutrition, adequate ventilation, and a healthful, low-stress environment.

Bright yellow bee droppings are a good sign

Bright yellow bee droppings sprinkled across your deck and lawn furniture, no matter how annoying, are welcome signs of bee health. As a beekeeper, you will learn to live with them and appreciate the good news.

Honey Bee Suite


    • Anne,

      Yes. The droppings occur when the bees are actively foraging, especially in the spring and early summer when the populations are the highest and the most brood rearing is happening. I suspect that in New Zealand they are at or near their peak right now.

  • In my area, Coromandel Peninsula New Zealand, they seem to prefer my freshly washed white bed linen to leave their poo on. How do I remove it? Washing doesn’t help much and spot cleaning with soft soap and a brush doesn’t work either. I hope you have a solution to the problem.

    • Annemarie,

      That’s a tough one. I find soaking is the best treatment, but I don’t know how well it will work with white fabric. But it’s worth a try. Soak them in plain cool water for a couple of hours before you wash.

      • Thanks for that Rusty but just soaking didn’t help. Found that soaking overnight in a bucket with a de-greaser like Nappysan or Sard did get rid of most of the yellow. Washed the linen again which is now drying in the workshop where the bees can’t find it. All the Manuka trees are in flower at the moment: almost a white Christmas here! Never seen so many flowers on them! The bees are having a ball:>)

        • Annemarie,

          Glad to hear you got it worked out. I will make a mental note of that method for future reference.

          BTW, the Manuka flowers sound beautiful!

    • Hi first timer here, I’ve had my nuc fo about 4 weeks a bear came and knocked it over in the rain. They survived and we still have the queen. But we have been seeing tons of bee poop on our hive and clumps of bees and just random ones outside about 20 feet from the hive not flying just crawling on the ground.

  • It is spring and my bees are just emerging. They have left a lot of fecal material out the back entrance from the inner cover. How do I know if this is normal cleansing or something to worry about?

    • Erica,

      If all the fecal material is outside, I don’t worry about it. The bees were able to wait until they got outside, even if they didn’t drop it very far away. However, if you see feces on the top bars or dripping down between the frames, then there is something to worry about.

      I used to worry about the color, but I notice that the yellow droppings oxidize and eventually turn brown, so I don’t use that as a standard anymore.

  • I live in Malibu, California and my neighbors a honey farmer. My house, patio furniture and car are constantly splashed with bee poop. How can I clean off?

  • Hello, sorry to bother you but I’m pretty sure that I’ve been pooed in the eye by a bee. I was walking my daughters home from school + there were lots of bees in a tree, so we looked up + I think one of them squirted me in the eye! Unlucky. It’s a bit stingy but looks ok. The only place I can go at this time is the hospital emergency department. Should I be worried do you think?

    • Katie,

      You can flush your eye with water, which is probably what they would do at a hospital. I would not be worried at all.

  • I was outside gardening today when a bumble bee landed on my shirt, I said hi to it and asked what it was doing and to go pollinate the flowers! She left me a little poopoo and flew off!! I think it might be the universe telling me everything will bee ok, yes the pun was intended!?

    • Dan,

      It depends on how much solid material is in their food. But if they are eating a very light-colored honey, or plain sucrose, they can go months.

    • Hi rusty

      I’ve been out to the bees today and one was sat on the landing pad and had released a very dark liquid. Quite a lot of it a large ‘drop’ inside there were a couple of further dark spots but dry this time.

      It has been raining torrentially for 5 days and the bees have not been out much if at all despite it being summer

      Does this indicate a disease. The hive seems otherwise active and healthy.

      • Simon,

        Bees have to relieve themselves, just like any other animal, and the color of their feces depends on what they ate. If it’s been raining a lot, they are more apt to defecate close to home. Nothing sounds unusual.

  • I can confirm that this stuff smells musky and tastes bitter. We been lots of bee poo on windows etc and I (stupidly) tasted it to try and figure out what it was.

  • Hi Rusty,
    I had a small colony who died off over the winter. They had a bad mite infestation even though they were treated multiple times and contracted DWV. There are small amounts of bee poop on some of the frames including on some honey. Should I cut those sections out or can I just clean it off? If so, how?
    Thanks, Susan

    • Susan,

      If you are going to use it for bees, I would just leave it. The new bees will clean it up quickly. Recent research says deformed wing virus can live a maximum of 30 days outside of a host bee. So if you can avoid using the frames for that long, you won’t be transmitting it to your new bees.

    • Susan,

      If you are going to use it for bees, I would just leave it. The new bees will clean it up quickly. Recent research says deformed wing virus can live a maximum of 30 days outside of a host bee. So if you can avoid using the frames for that long, you won’t be transmitting it to your new bees.

  • Good to know. It’s been at least that long already and it’ll probably be another month before we have bees that will need it.
    Thanks Rusty.

  • I work at a middle school in NC. Our cars get bombed by bee frass all year long. It’s especially abundant in spring, summer and fall. It is the most frustrating thing to try and keep your car clean. Is there anything we can do to divert their “path in the sky?”

    • April,

      Their flight path is determined by where they are finding forage. It usually changes through the seasons as different things go in and out of bloom.

  • Just put a package of bees into the hive. A day later we opened up the entrance and the day after there was a lot of bee poop on the front and side of the hive. Do you think due to the weather…cold and rainy is why they popped on the hive?

  • Hi Rusty. 2018 was my first year with bees. I live in Northern Michigan and this last week, I’ve noticed my bees out taking their spring bathroom breaks. When I opened the hive to add a pollen patty, I noticed there was a lot of dark brown poop on top of the frames and TONS of dead bees everywhere. The poop being splashed on the tops, sides and around the hive this spring is nice and yellow, not brown. How do I help the bees clean up the mess inside the hive so nothing spreads? Do I let nature take it’s course and see how they do?

    • Amber,

      Yellow is good. Sometimes I just take a wet rag and wipe down the outside of the hive, but I let the bees take care of the inside as long as they seem to be doing well. While it is still cold, you want to make your trips into the hive as short as possible.

      Thousands of dead bees by spring is normal. After all, dozens die everyday. If they can’t be flown out, they accumulate inside the hive.

  • We bought wild jungle honey in Thailand that’s squeezed from the hive. There is about 1″ of “bee-poop” floating on top of the honey in the bottle. It is bitter to taste. The behavior of wild jungle bees and the way they occupy their hives may be different from farm bees…? Anyways, once that residue is removed we have the purest honey I’ve ever tasted.

  • Hi Rusty,
    I am seeing some bright yellow bee poop on top of the hive…in September and now October. It seems all blogs and posts seem to talk about winter and early spring but what about fall? Should I be concerned? My hive is a late starter with a swarm caught late May. There is quite a bit of brood right now that is emerging and therefore lots of orientation flights. Because the weather is sporadic fall weather, I’m assuming it is just the new bees pooping while doing their orientation flights over the hive. Does that sound about right? Thanks so much!

    • Rhonda,

      Sounds right to me. If the bees are staying close to home due to cooler weather, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them poop on the hive.

  • Rusty,

    Enjoy all your articles but have a question on poop. I know it is seldom for nurse bees to leave the hive until it is their time so how do they defecate and where. Do they take cleansing fights also? How about drones, do they defecate in the hive and the workers bees take it out and I’m pretty sure when the queen defecates worker bees take it out but haven’t been able to find anything on the nurse bees. thanks

    • Walter,

      I’ve read that even young nurse bees will take short cleansing flights. Workers generally clean up for both the queen and the drones.

      • I do not see any reference material telling about drone feces and how that is cleaned. Rather many materials talk about queen feces. Would you please suggest me any reference material about drone feces and cleansing?

        • Tewodros,

          I would need to reread some texts to find specific references, but most say that drone feces left in the hive is cleared out by the worker bees in the same way they care for queen feces.

  • I fed some old fondant from an old dead hive to my healthy bees, to then find the following day that there was lots of yellow bee waste on the landing board. I quickly removed it but I wondered what I might have started, and if there’s anything I can do to help them now.

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