Beekeepers have some unique traits. One of those unique traits is our obsession with examining dead bees especially after an entire colony dies. We take pictures of our dead bees and post them in beekeeper groups on social media. I spent a significant portion of time one day this week examining photos of dead bees from a hive in Alabama trying to figure out why the bees died. It occurred to me after the fact, that many people may not consider this behavior normal.
For the record, I have lots of behaviors that most people would not consider to be normal. I have been told by “people” (aka Doug) that some of those abnormal behaviors are annoying. When CSI first came on television, Doug said we couldn’t watch the show together anymore. He got annoyed at my constant yelling at the TV. I’m an analytical chemist. I know you can’t put a bloody piece of carpet inside a gas chromatograph. I also know you can’t get a mass spectrometry result in 2 minutes. Apparently normal people don’t care about these details and watch the show for entertainment. I stopped watching TV entirely, and now I watch dead bees.
Our seven colonies are still alive. (If you didn’t know that, you can check out my last blog post here.) However, I still pick up the stray dead bees in front of our hives to examine them. I check the wings. If a dead bee has deformed wings, the colony is probably heavily infected with varroa mites which serve as a viral vector for the deformed wing virus. Thankfully we haven’t seen this in our bees. When another beekeeper reports a dead out and posts pictures on social media, I review the pictuers and scour the comments to see what people say. These dead outs happen most frequently in winter when the colonies are the most vulnerable, but they can happen any time of year. If you see dead bees with their heads inside the honey comb, that means they probably starved. If you see brood (meaning the queen has started laying eggs), and the weather recently turned very cold, the bees may have frozen to death. Once the queen starts laying eggs, the bees will stay by the brood and not cluster to keep warm. If a strong cold snap comes, the bees freeze.
Click here to see the blog post I was reading about the dead bees in Alabama. If you scroll through the comments, you will see people speculating on everything from the impact of the weather to how the beekeeper did his mite count checks in fall. Beekeepers even commented on how the bee poo looked. You can actually learn a lot from bee poo. The fact that a group of adults are having serious discussions about the poo from dead bees just proves my initial point. Beekeepers have some unique traits.