If you’ve noticed your bees crawling on the ground you may be alarmed and want to understand the reasons why it is happening – so why are your bees crawling on the ground, and is this a good or bad sign?
Bees crawl on the ground usually due to fatigue or illness, both of which can be caused by many different factors. It can also occur when bees are rejected from the hive.
Let’s take an in-depth look at all the reasons why bees might crawl on the floor to better understand this phenomenon.
Crawlers are flightless bees that typically hang near the hive on the ground. This is a more common occurrence in the fall, although it could happen any time depending on circumstances.
Crawling bees may be edging around the base of the hive or hanging on to plants or grass blades nearby. Sometimes you will notice wing deformities that may inhibit flight, but other times the bee appears quite healthy. So, what is going on?
There are many factors that could be contributing to why your bees are crawling, and it merits prompt attention and intervention. Crawling bees is a strong indicator that the entire colony is in trouble. Crawlers are never a good sign.
Reasons that Bees Crawl
The reasons why bees crawl can run the gamut from being old, sickly, and too weak to fly back to the hive, to nearby use of pesticides that are poisoning the bees. Occasionally, the bees will thin out their herd by expelling drones from the hive when it is overpopulated or when food is in short supply.
What is certain is that the sight of crawling bees is not usually good. Either the crawler or the entire colony could be in jeopardy- it is your job as the beekeeper to try to find out why.
Consider the following reasons why you have crawling bees near the hive:
In the bee world, it is common for a hive to expel members of the colony. Drones are often expelled– remember, they are not workers- and left to die outside the hive.
The colony does this as a means of preserving the strength of the colony as a whole- and conserving food reserves. Since drones are the least productive members of the hive, they are the ones to be sacrificed. Usually, it is the sick, injured, or oldest of the drones that get banished from the hive first.
If you notice crawlers primarily in the autumn and fall, and if they are drones, they have likely been expelled from the hive for any of these underlying reasons.
Injured and Starving Bees
Another reason why bees might be crawling is that they are injured or starving and lack the ability to fly. Bees are vulnerable to many things; there could be many causes of a bee’s weakened state.
If injury or starvation is the reason why the bee is crawling, you will only see a few crawlers. However, if you notice a large number of crawling bees, starvation and injury are not to blame.
Starving bees could be a sign that the hive is in trouble and foot is in short supply. Have you inspected the hive lately? Unless it is cold outside (under 50-degrees Fahrenheit), check the hive to see what is going on with the honey.
Pesticides could also be the root cause and reason why you notice crawling bees.
Depending on where you live, pesticides are often used on vast, rural land for agriculture- which poses a serious risk to pollinators, like bees. Pesticides are intended to kill pests, but in the process, poison and kill an important part of the global food chain, the pollinating bee.
When pesticide poisoning is why the bees are crawling, you will notice large numbers of crawlers- and when poisoned, bees will have their tongue hanging out of their tiny mouths.
They may also demonstrate seizure-like or spasmodic movement from the toxicity. It can be a very sad thing to observe.
When pesticides are the reason why bees cannot fly, it will affect more than just a couple bees- and it has the potential of wiping out your entire apiary. It is imperative that you figure out where and how the bees have come into contact with poison before it kills them all.
Deformed Wing Virus and Varroa Mites
Until recently, crawling bees were almost always thought to be caused by a virus. Deformed wing virus will render the bee unable to fly, but you should be able to spot this abnormality when evaluating your hive. The wings will appear misshapen and smaller than a regular bee.
The bees won’t be exhibiting the other signs like spasms, so it is a good indication that Deformed wing virus is a possibility.
You can expect that Deformed wing virus is usually caused by Varroa mites, which spread and transmit this disease. To prevent Deformed wing virus, you must make efforts to control mites in your colony. Varroa mites are a real issue for bees and one that beekeepers need to be wary of.
Another reason why your bees might be crawling is due to the tracheal mite, another parasite that is bad news for a colony of bees. There are less documented cases of tracheal mites in recent years, but there are more instances of crawling bees- is there a correlation? Whether you think tracheal mites are causing your bees to crawl or not, it does not hurt to go ahead and treat the hive for mites, regardless.
What You Can Do
Crawling bees is a sign that there are problems within the hive that threaten all the bees living there. The first step to combating the issue is to rule out what is not causing your bees to crawl. Whether you need to seek virus treatment or give the hive a wash, figuring out what is wrong may be the only way to save the bees and salvage the colony.
There are many reasons why you have bees crawling on the ground near the hive- but unfortunately, none of them is great news.
It is imperative to take time to observe and do further investigation into why you have crawlers, as this is the best way to detect and prevent an infestation that could potentially wipe out your entire colony.