Why Do I Have Dead Drones in My Beehive Entrance?

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Why Do I Have Dead Drones in My Beehive Entrance?

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Bill Chappell writes:

I noticed that the landing of the beehive is full of dead bees. But what really alarmed me was that the entrance slot to the hive was completely clogged with dead bees. I cleaned off the landing and carefully dragged out lots of the dead bees from inside of the hive to open up the entrance.  I inspected the dead bees and noticed that they were all drones, including a few pupa.  Later on in the day, I noticed a worker dragging out a drone and a drone pupa. Easily 50 drones in two hours. What do you think is going on here?

Rusty Burlew replies:

Every now and then someone reports massive numbers of dead drones in spring and early summer. It doesn’t seem right but it happens. One common thread that runs through these reports is several days of rainy or cold weather just prior to finding the dead drones. In good weather, those drones are out trying to mate, which means they are out of the way of the workers who are trying to raise the young and store honey. But when the drones stay at home due to bad weather, they get in the way and eat the supplies.

This congestion signals “too many” bees, and the workers react by not letting drones re-enter the hive, which causes them to starve to death. In addition, they may refuse to feed the ones that are already inside, so they die and fall to the bottom. Then, too, the workers may pluck drone larvae out of their natal cells and either eat them, thus conserving protein, or toss them out.

In addition to rainy weather, I’ve heard that a spell of very hot weather will cause the same thing. The bees may begin bearding on the outside of the hive in order to keep the brood nest cool enough. And since drones are a burden on colony resources, taking up space and eating honey, the workers just dispose of them.

I wouldn’t be too worried about the blocked entrance. The bees would probably get it opened again, given enough time. Normally, when I see something like that, I do what you did and clean the dead out with a stick or hive tool, just to give them a leg up.

Make sure the opening of the reducer is on the top side and not the bottom, which will give the bees more clearance when the dead begin to pile up. In addition, you may want to use an upper entrance, either an Imirie shim or a hole drilled into a brood box.

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Bill Chappell writes:

One thing that I noticed today is that one of the combs at the rear of the
hive has quite a few drone cells in it — #12 of 13 combs that have been completed. This hive has room for 17. Would a queen go all the
way to the rear of the hive and lay drone eggs? I would expect that the
combs at the rear of the hive to be used for honey stores.

Rusty Burlew replies:

Excess drones occur for many reasons. Bee colonies raised on foundation generally have about 17-18% drones, while colonies on foundationless comb may raise up to 50% drones, which is why foundation is so popular with honey producers. Other reasons for excessive drones may be a drone-laying queen, often a result of poor mating, or a hive of laying workers, which are not fertile and produce only drones.

If your hive contains worker brood, it means you don’t have laying workers or a drone-laying queen. In addition, laying workers produce scattered drones while real queens group the drones together, usually at the bottom or side of a frame, but sometimes filling the entire thing.

But what bees usually do and what they will do are two different things. It’s perfectly possible for the queen to go to the furthest comb to lay drones. If that’s what she feels like doing, she will. With beekeeping, you have to go with the flow because you can’t control what they decide to do, and books and classes can only tell you what’s likely to happen, not what will happen.

Remember, too, that at the height of the season, an average-sized colony loses about 1,000 members per day from normal attrition. If you have 25% drones, that’s 250. If you have 50% drones, that’s 500. So your the previous estimate of 50 drones every two hours during daylight hours is perfectly reasonable.

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