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Why Did my Bees Die?

Too often the beekeeper will eagerly open up the hive after winter and to their dismay, discover their hive has died. It’s important to understand why your hive died in order to learn how you can effectively keep bees. Many reasons and scenarios are present when trying to describe why your bees died or could potentially die. The most common reasons a hive has died is because of either a mite infestation or starvation. Other reasons include Nosema disease, condensation within the hive and of course plain coldness.

You should conduct an inspection even if the hive is dead in order to determine how the hive died. Here are some clues to keep an eye out for:

Check the bottom or debris board. Do you see a lot of Varroa mites? Your hive could have suffered from a Varroa mite infestation.

Evidence of a varroa mite infestation on a debris board

Evidence of a varroa mite infestation on a debris board


Look at the bees themselves. Do they have short abdomens? Do they have deformed wings? This could mean your bees died from deformed-wing virus. This virus is vectored by Varroa Mites.

deformed wing virus in bees

An example of bees with deformed-wing virus


Do the dead bees look shiny, greasy or darkened in color? This is a characteristic for a paralysis virus like chronic bee paralysis, also vectored by Varroa.

Chronic Bee Paralysis virus from varroa mites

Chronic Bee Paralysis virus from varroa mites

Do the wings on the bees appear to be split or in a K shape. This could be an indication of K Wing Virus which is vectored by the mite.

bee with split wing

The bee’s wing appears to be split, or forming a K shape, which is an example of K Wing Virus


Are there many dead and dying bees in the front of the hive? Is their tongue sticking out? This is a good indication that poisoning with a pesticide has occurred.

dead bee with tongue sticking out

The bee’s tongue sticking out can be a sign of pesticide poisioning


Do you see dead bees that are inside the cell with their rear abdomen sticking out?  This is an indication that the bees starved. If there is honey present in the hive, the bees could have still perished because they were unable to maneuver the cluster over the stored food.

Bees head-first in cells

Does the hive seem wet? Are you seeing mold? You hive could have died from too much moisture. Moisture in the hive can be very detrimental to bees, which is why one should make sure their hive has adequate ventilation.

Are there brown stains or streaks on the outside of the hive? This could indicate a dysentery or nosema issue.

Signs of possible dysentery or nosema in a bee hive

Signs of possible dysentery or nosema in the hive

For whatever the reason your bees died, it is important to understand why they died. Making sure they have plenty of feed and plenty of bees prior to winter is very critical. Also, having good control of mites is as equally important.

8 comments on “Why Did my Bees Die?
  1. William McNett says:

    Bees cluster “head-first in cells” so just because they died there doesn’t mean they starved.
    “brown stains or streaks on the outside of the hive”
    Bees poop when they fly, they may have been cooped up for a long time. They’re not going to fly X feet away before pooping. The wind is blowing. The poop doesn’t care where it lands.
    All that from a 10 month old 2 hive beek 😜

    • Kelley Beekeeping says:

      Hi William – you are correct in that these examples don’t necessarily mean they starved or have nosema, but these examples are possible ways to identify why your bees may have died, but obviously each hive is different, and each case is different.

  2. William Smithson says:

    Bees are just gone.
    They were alive and seem well in the fall.
    Lost 6 of 7 hives.
    No dead bees to be found.
    It’s like someone come and stole my bees
    Gordonsville TN

    • Howard McEwen says:

      This is the same on three of my four hives. Not a single bee in the hive. Also, no honey. Maybe the all left when ran low on stores?

      • Steve Rose says:

        In late Feb. and early March the bees were bringing in pollen, I assume from Maple trees. There were lots of bees. We had a cold snap including two days of snow in mid-March. When it was over the hive was dead. Maybe a few thousand dead bees in the hive box. There was some capped brood and several dead bees had their heads stuck in cells. There was NO HONEY !. I assume they broke their ball and the queen started laying then the cold snap got them but maybe I should have continued feeding. I stopped because they were foraging.

        • Steve,
          This happens often if the bees finished out winter with low reserves of honey, the days get longer a spring flow starts to trickle in and the queen starts laying eggs to rapidly expand the brood nest and prepare for a larger workforce! Unfortunately, the incoming nectar may not keep up with the increased demand and the beehive continues to lose weight, or at best maintain. A few days of no fly weather and the bees consumed the rest of the winter stores. You may not see evidence of open brood because the bees will eat it as last measure to survive from starvation. Lesson to be learned here is just because they have incoming nectar doesn’t mean that they are gaining weight. We see this often here in the Pacific Northwest when rain prevents them from getting out to collect the plethora of available nectar.

  3. Michael Cox says:

    Beekeeping for dummies Discount 25.00

  4. Martin Anderson says:

    I know this is an old story but hoping someone might see my post.

    First time beekeeper – first season. Langstrom hive with two brood supers.

    I looked in my hive on September 22nd just before a vacation and things looked good. A few days ago I was looking over at my hive from my shed and noted a darkness around the entrance. I inspected and it was a pile of dead bees. I got into the hive and the floor was covered in dead bees. No signs of mites but I did see little flies (attracted by the dead bees no doubt) and a couple of larvae that were about 5mm long. The floor also looked wet so I will need to check the angle and change it to tilt forward if necessary. There are still bees in the hive but they are lethargic. There was a cluster which I assumed meant a queen is still there but I didn’t disrupt them any further. My initial thought was mites but I didn’t see any. After looking around I thought of starvation so I gave them some sugar water. I don’t recall the last time I fed them but it was a long time ago. I fed them once when I installed the package and again a couple of weeks after that but since I had TONS of clover growing in the yard I assumed no more feeding was necessary.

    So I cleaned out the hive as much as I could and fed them. Closed up the hive and waiting to see what happens. I don’t use pesticides in my yard.

    I would post pictures if I could but I don’t think I can.

    Does anyone have suggestions? Everything appeared to be OK 3 weeks ago. I have two bags of dead bees so I will see about sending them off to be inspected.

    Thanks, Max

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