It seems we become more aware of dead bees in the fall. I think this is partially due to the environment—the grass is not so lush so they are clearly visible and fewer scavengers are around to pick up the dead bodies. We are also more concerned about the health of our bees because the winter looms ahead, so the sight of dead ones makes us anxious. Add to that an accumulation of dead drones near the hive and the number of bodies seems unreal.
Here is a sample question:
Why are there a dozen worker bees, with pollen-laden baskets, dying in the grass in front of the hive? They acted like they were too tired to make it into the hive. Most bees were flying into the hive, but some were just falling into the grass in front of the hive and staying there. They are dying. It was the very end of the day. Maybe the grass was wet or the temperature suddenly got too cold?
The thing to remember is that foraging bees work themselves to death. They just keep foraging until they drop, and that moment may occur out in the field, over your patio (where I always see them), or right in front of the hive. Some die in the hive, some on their way out the door, some take off and fall flat, and some keel over from the sheer weight of the pollen they just collected. Life is not easy for a honey bee.
But here is something to put the numbers in perspective. According to Bees of the World (O’Toole & Raw, 1999) a single honey bee colony will lose about 1000 foraging workers per day in the summer. This makes sense when you realize a queen may lay nearly 2000 eggs in a day. A great number of young is required to replace all those deaths in the field and to expand the hive population as well.
Many bees die every day
But 1000 dead bees makes a big pile, and remember, that number is per day. Multiply that by the days in a week or month. And how many hives do you have? Two? Three? Twenty-five? What you get is truckloads of natural fertilizer, pre-spread for your convenience.
So relax. As you can see, it is not at all surprising to see dead bees near the hive or anywhere else. And, as I mentioned earlier, the drones are evicted in the fall as well, which increases the body count even further. Pick out a few for a closer look. Although some will be young, most will look worn with bald spots and tattered wings—it’s all part of the natural process.