bee biology

Why are my bees dying in the grass?

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.


Bees dying from worn wings is not uncommon

Even tiny native bees wear out their wings. This bee is fertilizer in the rough.

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  • Hi Rusty,

    Phew!!! I am so happy that I decided to read my e-mails before checking the bee yard this morning. For the past few days I have been wondering and anxious why there are so many dead bees in front of most of the hives . . . Of course I thought the worse things possible!!! How were they going to survive the long winter months with so few bees in the hive now that they are ‘all’ dead outside? Before feeding them I had to go inside and check out what was going on . . .With a my heart in my mouth, I opened hive after hive and found all of them to be doing what they should be doing, working and preparing food for the long winter months ahead.

    Thank you for this Rusty.

    Regards, Jane

  • I really enjoy your website. I get up every morning, make coffee, and go to the pc to look for and read any new information from honey bee suite. It makes my day start out right.

    A first year bee keeper. Thank you. Phil

  • Hi Rusty, The description of dead piles is so timely. I was a little concerned about the amount of dead on my hive platform. Your explanation makes a lot of sense and right on time!!! Thanks again, Greg

  • Robbing will also result in dead bees. I just lost my hive to them!! I’m a rookie at this but, in looking back, I missed the warning signs. Dead bees being one of them.

  • This is my first time visit at here and I am genuinely happy to read everything at single place.

  • Thank you so much for creating this website. I have learned so much from reading the conversations around the various topics. I look forward to continuing my education from all levels of bee keepers who share their knowledge with us.

  • I think I know the answer to this question but I want to get another opinion. I captured a swarm this spring and placed them into the hive, I am not going to say it was a HUGE swarm but it was decent sized and I was happy with it.

    Well the bees stayed in the hive and all seemed well, but about a week after they were moved there were tons of bees just ‘walking in the grass’. It looked like they were trying to fly but just couldn’t do it. And as I watched more were coming out of the hive and just falling off the edge and into the grass. Is this what you are talking about? They are just too tired to continue?

    I have gone from having a full hive of bees to having less than a handful. What can I do? I have already put sugar water in the hive and have pollen on the way to help them out in that manner. Is there anything else I can do? I don’t want to lose this hive if I can prevent it.

    • Kim,

      Sounds to me like a pesticide kill. I imagine they got into something–a tree or bush or field–that was recently sprayed. Piles of dead bees in front of the hive just after they were doing fine is usually what you see. And falling off the edge into the grass? I’d put money on poison.

  • Just found your site while looking for an answer as to ‘where did all these bees come from?’ Woke up this morning to find 1000’s of bees on my lawn. not swarming just hovering. I’m not familiar with bees (only negatives) so I was amazed by how many and calm. I mean I went out there and was puttering around and couldn’t believe my eyes. WHERE DID THEY COME FROM AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

    • Jack,

      There is so much I don’t know from your description that I can only guess. But I assume it is a swarm of honey bees that has settled in your yard while the “scout bees” go in search of a permanent home. Swarming bees settle in a place for just a few minutes to several days, depending on how long it takes to find a suitable location for a new hive. Usually they are docile and non-threatening during this period. The bulk stay in place while a few go searching.

      A second possibility is that it is a large community of ground-dwelling solitary bees that hatched all of sudden, but I think this is less likely. A lot depends on where you live because different species live in different places and different climates.

      If you can send a photo, I might be able to tell you more. If so, send to rusty[at]honeybeesuite[dot]com.

  • Ok so its March 8 temp 77 degrees made it through the winter and the bees were out like crazy today as early as 10:30am.. its now about 4:30 and there are incredible amount of bees still out bringing pollen back but instead of flying right into the hive they are landing on the front of the cinder block and walking into the hive……never saw this before….thanks for any help….

    • Jane,

      I don’t know why they are doing that, but it certainly isn’t unusual. Maybe they like the heat from the cinder block?

  • Hi rusty, I live in Vacaville California San Francisco Bay Area. I just got my back lawn and an hour later there was a pile of bees sitting on the lawn. They had been in the tree above the lawn maybe a couple of hours before and then they all left swarmed out and all landed on the lawn. Overnight they were really quiet I thought they had died but this morning with the sun they are swarming and moving a little bit. Do you think they’re just looking for a new place? I won’t touch them and I’m keeping my pets away from them thank you for any advice on this Paula

  • Help. I just got package bees over the weekend. They appear to be eating the sugar nectar from feeder, but I’m seeing lots outside the hive on the ground, walking/stumbling around. I think they are dying! Theres activity in the hive, and the bees appear to be drawing comb. Is this normal behavior outside the hive normal?

    • Melissa,

      Walking and stumbling is not a good sign, but some of those may just be at the end of their adult life, which in a honey bee in spring is 4 to 6 weeks. If the majority of the colony seems normal, and they are building a nest, I wouldn’t worry just yet.

  • My question is slightly different. I have 3 hives, all seemingly doing well, that are located about 20 steps (as the crow flies) away from my concrete-floored carport. And every day I’m sweeping up anywhere from 5 to 15 dead bees every other day. I haven’t noticed any out in front of the hives, or on the landing board, nor that many on the screened bottom board. This morning it was 17 dead workers and 1 dying drone. I’m greatly puzzled. Is this the normal attrition you’re talking about?

    • Jennifer,

      Have you read my most recent post? Your 1000 dead bees per day per hive—or 3000 dead bees total per day in your case—have to land somewhere, so the carport won’t be spared.

  • Hi, Rusty. Yes, of course I read the most recent post, and I understand that bees die by the thousand per day, but as I stated, my situation is a little different in that I’ve been a beekeeper for 4 years now and this is the FIRST time I’ve ever had this situation on the carport. When I go to do my next hive inspection I’m definitely going to check around the hives themselves to see if there are any bee bodies laying around out there, it’s just strange that after 4 years, I’m sweeping away so many of them from that one area. It’s okay. There’s probably no answer for this particular phenomena, I just thought it strange and a bit unnerving. Thanks.

    • Jennifer,

      It’s interesting to note we assume different things. You assume the bees will do the same thing year after year, while I assume they will do something different every year. For example, some years I see many dead in my driveway, some years I see none. The bees you have this year are not the same as the bees you had last year, and they may simply be taking a different flight pattern as they leave the hive. It’s been my experience that honey bees often do the unexpected, and so the unexpected becomes the expected.

  • Rusty, I have 13 hives. In front of all but 4 a lot of dead bees. My husband had checked three by the house this morning. They are one swarm hive and two russian. They kind of let us know when something is wrong. After checking these three which were doing fine went to store and saw a farmer who is commercial spraying soybean field. When he arrived home he noticed a lot of dead bees in front of hives, some circling out side of hive. Hive seems to still be going but slowly many at feeding station we have scattered to help. We are in a dearth.

    • Mylinda,

      It’s hard to say from here, but it is possible that they got into insecticide. Lots of dead bees in front of a hive is a common sign. Also, the fact that some of the hives didn’t have dead bees means those colonies were probably foraging in different areas and didn’t come into contact with the poison. If you want to know for sure, perhaps you can send samples of the dead bees into a lab to be analyzed. Be aware, though, it can be expensive.

  • I have a situation where I am finding very small/young/just hatched bees dead outside the hive?

    • Paul,

      It could be a number of things, but often bees that are not right in some way, for instance they are sick or have a “birth defect” are eliminated by the colony. Offhand I can’t remember what percentages are usually hauled away, but there are always some. If it’s a lot more than average, it could be a virus such as one transmitted by mites.

  • Hi,

    I live in Australia and this time every year without fail i have a swarm of bees and they some how get into my toilet and bathroom area its all fully enclosed so not sure how they get in there def would be about 100 of them all i do is is shut the door and say good luck you found your way in now find your way out. Once its dark i go back in and usually about 50 are dead or slow moving i sweep up and put them outside.

    Any insights why they think my bathroom is a great spot to enter and die thanks.

    • Megan,

      It would help to know what kind of bees they are but it sounds like some kind of cavity-nester. I have these come into my house all the time. It took me years to find out how they were getting in, but it was tiny drain holes in the window frames. The bees are looking for long dark cavities to build their nest, but when the tunnel opens up into a big room they can’t find their way back out. They tend to go for the light of the window, but that’s not where they got in, so they get confused and just keep circling and banging into the windows until they die. Very sad.

      It’s very hard to tell where they are coming in because it may be quite a distance from where they end up.

  • Rusty,
    I have a feral hive in my front yard, which has served as a great observation hive for my family. It arrived late in the summer this year, which seemed late to me, but it appears to be growing and healthy. However, I have dozens of worker bees (not drones) hanging out on my front porch in the morning before the sun rises. Low temperatures are in the 60s in Dallas this time of year. The bees seem very lethargic and scattered about. Why are they not going to the hive at night? Are they attracted to the porch light? Perhaps they were kicked out for lack of resources like your drones?

    • Zach,

      I really don’t have an answer. Most insects are attracted to light, but honey bees normally go back to their hives at night and are not drawn out by lights. If they were, urban beekeeping wouldn’t work. However, honey bees that are lost or for some reason not welcome back to the hive may be attracted to electric lights. Another remote possibility is that the bees are infected with so-called zombie flies.

  • Rusty,
    I am a new bee keeper and just hived two packages of bees six days ago. One hive is doing fine but I am losing bees big-time in the other. I am seeing maybe 200 dead bees on the ground and some lethargic ones on the landing. The workers are constantly removing dead from inside the hive. Any ideas?

    • Bryan,

      It’s hard to say. Are the bees in this colony building comb? Is the queen laying eggs? Are they bringing in pollen? Are you feeding them? If you are feeding and things seem normal otherwise, they may level off. Or it could be something like Nosema that is weakening them. There will always bee one colony that is stronger than the other, but if losses get too great they will be in trouble. I would see what is happening with the queen as a place to start.

  • Rusty,

    I am a 12-year beekeeper, but I am seeing some activity I have never seen before. I am in Minneapolis, Minnesota, so we don’t get a lot of hot weather where the bees “beard” on the outside of the hive, but it does happen on a few warm summer days. Today was high of 69, so no heat issues for the girls. However, they are bearding on the front of hive, and a lot of bee activity in the grass out front – hundreds of bees on the grass. The bearding bees do not seem to be wrestling, so I don’t think it is robbing, but there are a lot of bees flying around the front of the hive. When I have stood near the hive, a lot of bees have landed on me – which does not normally occur either. They are not aggressive, but within a few minutes I will have 30 -40 bees walking all over me – no stings. When I move further away, they depart, but then I cannot see what is going on at the hive entrance. Any ideas what is going on?

    Bill Long

    • Bill,

      I don’t know if I’m correct on this or not, but I’ve often seen this behavior in the fall and I associate it with nectar dearth. It seems to me that when there is a shortage of nectar, there is not a lot for the foragers to do. They could just keep flying and searching, but from an energy conservation point of view, that makes no sense. If they fly all day and return with little, they will be depleting valuable stores.

      So instead of continual searching, they hang out. Like men sitting around on a hot day drinking beer, they can easily cause trouble or they can be completely docile. When I see bees bearding, loafing, walking, or flying in lazy circles, this is what I imagine is happening. My bees tend to land on the side of the house where I sometimes see hundreds, motionless on the siding or slowly walking around. Most go home at night.

      Yesterday I had two land in my hair while I was working outside. I just let them alone, and they eventually flew away.

      As we slide further into fall and the weather gets colder, this behavior stops. Like I said, I don’t know if I’m correct, but I’ve seen this behavior every fall and I have never correlated it with any ill effects.

  • Hi Rusty!

    My husband and I are brand new beekeepers. We just started this April and we have 5 hives. Everything seemed to be going really well until about the last 2 weeks. We had noticed that one of our hives was drastically declining in population and saw thousands of bees (accumulated over 2 weeks) walking away from the hive in the grass and dying. Some were old, some had deformed wings, but the majority of them looked like young nurse bees and seemingly normal, besides the fact that they weren’t flying. We looked in the hive today and noticed lots of uncapped brood that they were taking out and not very many nurse bees. We’ve treated the last 3 weeks for mites, have noticed only a couple hive beetles, and no wax moths, and no signs of nosema. Do you have any suggestions or ideas? Thanks!!

    • Casey,

      It certainly sounds like varroa mites. Deformed wings, slow and lethargic bees, opened brood cells, and declining work force are all signs of virus infection, and the viruses are typically carried by mites. Colonies that are infected often decline very quickly and many don’t make it. Your mite treatment may work or it may have been too late. At this point, even if you kill the mites, the current bees are already infected with the viruses.

  • Good article, COMPLETELY AGREE, thought you may be interested to know that Randy Oliver claims that when you see bees with pollen too tired to make it all the way in, and they’re in the grass (carrying pollen) that is a sure sign of Nosema. Now we know bees crawl out of hives to die as to not spread anything, but thought it was good to know it COULD be a strong sign of Nosema according to him. Your articles are always so good, and I just felt like I should share Randy’s observation with you all.

  • Hi Rusty,

    How do I help keep the neighbors bees from dying in the all the water troughs? They have large hives they lease to commercial farmers and we have a horse farm. This year they seem to be far more disoriented and far more committing water suicide. I have wondered if some don’t sacrifice themselves to make a landing platform for the others collecting water?!

    What should I do?
    Thank You!

  • I’ve kept bees for 10 years (2-3 hives as a personal interest not commercial) and am seeing some odd behavior I’ve never seen before. It’s mid-May here in Utah and I’ve noticed a lot of drones staggering around and dying within 100 yards of my 3 hives. It’s so marked that a number of bluebirds sit in the trees and pick them off the driveway as they stagger around. I don’t use any pesticides on my acre and a half but can’t say the same about my neighbors although my area is more eco-friendly than most in Utah, I have 1 new hive this year (about a month) and 2 established hives that are really thriving. I expect drone eviction in the fall – but in the spring? Any ideas? Thanks!! Christina

    • Christina,

      I don’t know, but I think I would check the food supply in the hives. If there is a shortage for any reason, the colony would likely evict the drones. Other than that, I’m clueless.