Finding Some Honey Bees on the Ground
We beekeepers do our best to do a good job of keeping honey bees. But we sometimes make mistakes. Our efforts to be good bee stewards just doesn’t always work out quite like we planned. Walking out to the bee yard and seeing a clump of honey bees on the ground is never a good feeling.
Do Honey Bees Live in the Ground?
In most cases, bees on the ground end up being wasps instead of honey bees. Yellow Jacket Wasps live in the ground and they are certainly not honey bees.
In fact they are a predator of honey bees and beekeepers often set up yellow jacket wasp traps to catch them.
Once, I saw a nest of honey bees that seemed to be in the ground but they were actually nesting in the remains of a dead tree stump.
Honey Bee Behavior
Still, honey bee behavior is a complex thing. We don’t always understand everything they do. And finding a hive of bees living in the ground is not impossible.
Sometimes, humans cause bees problems too! Our actions as beekeepers have a direct effect of the actions of our bee colonies.
We are still learning and do not know everything there is to know about honey bees.
Bees in Front of Hive: Normal or Not?
Anytime you go to the bee yard- you may see some bees on the ground in front of the hive. Some are dead. That’s okay – bees die every day.
You may see several live bees on the ground too. This is not a big problem as long as it’s only a few. Finding 15 or 20 bees on the ground unable to fly could signal a pest or disease problem.
Also called, “crawlers”, bees unable to fly could be suffering from issues related to mite infestations or even pesticide exposure.
Always watch for anything unusual in bee behavior and make notes in case you need to recall certain bee actions. Your bees could be reacting to many different things.
Be Observant In The Bee Yard
It is a good idea to walk through your bee yard occasionally and just observe. You don’t always have to open your hive to gain some understanding on your bees’ status.
Your beehive inspections include taking note of what you see on the outside of the hive too. Hive inspections begin before you take the top off the box.
Look carefully (but not too closely without a veil) at the bees and the entrance and the ground in front of the hive.
Look for unusual activity. This is exactly what I was doing when I found a small clump of bees on the ground near the hive.
It was a nice afternoon ( originally published – April 2017 ), I was seeing what I expected to see near the hives. Bees were going to and fro from the hives gathering nectar and pollen.
I did not see any evidence of fighting at the hive entrances. Fighting or wrestling bees at the front can be a sign of honey bee robbing.
Seeing a small handful of dead bees in front of the hive can be a sign that fighting has been going on. Look closely at the entrance for any problems.
On this occasion, I saw new young bees flying around in front of each hive getting acquainted with the location. I even saw some bees returning with fresh pollen pellets on their legs.
A balance of workers with only a few drones. All of this is normal and good. I was pleased.
Unexpected Bee Behavior in The Bee Yard
Then, I notice something strange. A small mass of bees are laying in the grass in front of an established hive.
It is not rare to find a honey bee swarm on the ground – though you will usually see a swarm hanging in a nearby tree or bush. Yet, if a queen bee sits down on the ground – the rest of the swarm will as well.
These bees do not appear to be sick – they mass looks very small to be a swarm? They do look confused. Why is this happening? Have I done anything to cause this bee behavior? ……….
Yes, maybe I did. A quick peak in my beekeeping journal tells me that this was one of the hives I inspected yesterday. What did I do?
Failing to Find a Queen
This was one of the colonies that I found to be small during some hive inspections this week. If fact, I had combined two small colonies into one yesterday.
I thought one of the colonies was without a queen and the other colony had a small population.
I used my normal method of combing hives. A sheet of newspaper was placed between the two hive bodies. This method works for me, 99% of the time.
Did I make a big mistake? After a quick trip to the equipment shed to get my beekeeping jacket, it was time to take a closer look.
Using a small stick, I gently move the mass of bees around and see an unmarked Queen Bee ! Good gravy what a mess!
Putting 2 Queens in 1 Hive – OOPS
My goodness, there must have been a queen in both hives after all. Well this is a fine mess I have made.
Usually, if you combine 2 small hives that both have queens, 1 queen will be killed and the population will merge.
My guess is that instead of killing the other queen. One queen and her group forced this lady out of the hive. The result was a clump of honey bees on the ground with their queen.
This shows that anytime you do anything with bees, there is a possibility of failure. I had searched through both hives several times.
I did not see any indication of a queen being present in the other hive. But I obviously goofed ! And even with experience you cant always find the queen bee.
Fixing the Beekeeper Mistake
Now what to do ? The colonies I combined were rather small. I do not want to put a small amount of bees in a regular size hive.
A weak hive – only a handful of bees, stands little chance anyway and could certainly not protect a full sized box. They really don’t have enough bees for a 5 frame nuc sized box.
The amount of bees with this queen may not be enough to sustain her and develop into a full colony and I do not have any spare worker bees to add to them.
However, it is always a good thing to have an extra queen around maybe I can save her for a while.
Using a Mini Mating Nuc
I caused this issue for the bees and I feel a responsibility. So I will do something… I must try.
I have a small queen mating nuc box that would be just the right size. These mini boxes are used to house new virgin queens while they mate and begin to lay eggs.
Their small size means they can only be used for a short time. But they are great when only a week or two of space is needed.
I take one of the empty mini frames – none of them have drawn comb. In my equipment area, I look for a piece of broken comb. I found a frame with comb that was damaged by a rat (who ate half of it 🙁 .)
This scrap piece of comb is placed into one of the mini frames using rubber bands (make sure the cells are not upside down), now the queen and bees have a place to start.
Remember the population is so small, that would not even be able to product much (if any) wax!
While this may look strange to me and you, but the will bees appreciate the effort and use the tied-in comb.
Sugar water is sprayed on comb in the mini frame. I lay it down beside the pile of honey bees on the ground and they started to climb aboard. I picked up the queen and placed her on the comb.
Now this frame is placed inside the mini hive. The remaining worker bees on the ground smell the queen and their sisters inside the box .
They go in to join them. In a short time, all of the bees are inside. They may not stay but that is their choice.
Keep Extra Beekeeping Equipment on Hand
It is always a good idea to have extra equipment available in different sizes. But, I hope you do not have 2 queens in 1 hive because of something you did, like me !
Will this little colony survive ? Chances are they will not. Their small size may leave them victim to predators, pests such as hive beetles or robbing honey bees. But they have a small home, food and shelter from the rain.
That makes me feel just a little bit less guilty.
Update (May 2017) : The small nuc of bees were able to live in the box for several days. Then I found another hive for them 🙂