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Signs of Starving Bees

Bee prepared to intervene!

By: Chari Elam

As summer progresses, our bees are likely to struggle to keep up with the demands the nest requires. Here are 7 signs that starvation could be occurring in your hive.

  • Robbing – Bees that are hungry will rob from neighboring colonies to survive. As nectar naturally declines in summer months, bees have an increasingly harder time finding it to feed their hives. Note: Bees do not rob for pollen, only nectar/honey.
  • Mean Bees - Bees that are normally very calm will become aggressive when they are starving. Have you ever found yourself a bit “testy” when you’re hungry and you can’t eat? Bees are no different!
  • Undersized Bees – When there is a lack of resources for forager bees to bring back to the hive, the hive will withhold its feeding of larvae in order to survive themselves. As a result, this under feeding produces a smaller bee once it emerges. Not only are these bees undersized, but they will also “under perform”. Research studies have shown bees raised in dearth/starvation mode are less likely to preform normal duties to the standards of those found in a bee that was raised in a healthy condition. This can even be found in the queen. Her productivity and growth are directly tied to the amount of “care and feeding” she receives from her hive.
  • Nectar shortage – Probably the most obvious sign of impending starvation is the lack of nectar/honey in a hive. As nature fails to produce, the hive will resort to using its stores to support the colony. These reserves can dwindle from prolific to gone in a matter of days when no nectar is coming in. Keeping a regular check on your colonies will ensure you spot this decreasing resource
  • Absconding (They all left) – This is an unfortunate “symptom” of a starving hive. Basically, the hive left looking for a place where there is more food. Nothing left to do here…
  • Cannibalization – Bees that have a prolonged lack of resources will begin to consume developing larvae. Doing so gives them a nutritional boost as well as reduces the population (less mouths to feed).
  • Queen stops laying – A natural reaction to starvation is for the queen to stop making more babies. It’s actually a circle of events… The nurse bees will slow the feeding of the queen from the lack of food, the queen slows laying from the decrease in being fed!

Feeding to prevent starvation

When we read all of the above, we can’t walk away and think we can't play a role in the outcome. Feeding is the answer.

Overall, we can make the decision each time we enter a hive. Do they have enough stores to maintain the hive? At any given point during the year, 30 lbs of stored honey will carry most hives through lean times. This equates to 3 fully capped frames of honey for a double deep hive. As mentioned, these stores can rapidly decline and disappear in a matter of days therefore we feed!

Feeding 1/1 sugar syrup or “ready-made syrup” non stop throughout Summer will ensure your hive enter Fall with the proper population to bring in a Fall nectar flow.

Pollen can be fed this time of year if you see your area is lacking in the resources to provide it to them naturally.

Dry pollen (open feed) can be utilized for them to store and continue to raise brood, and pollen patties can be used to feed directly to the bees (inside) to ensure their health continues. Pollen is required for producing babies. A good indicator the bees are lacking pollen is “dry brood”. This is obvious when you don’t see the larvae in a pool of white jelly as they are developing. In the event of dry brood, feed pollen.

Continue a regular inspections schedule. Observe your bees’ activities before you enter the hive as well as inside the hive.

Let’s face it, our jobs as bee”keepers” is to ensure we maintain healthy bees that will make it through winter and come out ready for spring!

Even if we aren’t thinking “winter”, you can bet your bees are.

1/1 vs 2/1 Syrup Feeding

Tara Chapman

Featured on the Today Show, Vice Media and Eating Well Magazine Two Hives Honey - Austin, TX

Harrison Rogers

Vice President Harris County Beekeepers Association Treasurer - Real Texas Honey Program Certified Texas Master Beekeeper

James & Chari Elam

Texas Bee Supply Instructors Owners Blue Ribbon Honey Company

Dodie Stillman

President Austin Area Beekeepers Association Master Beekeeper
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