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Everyone Poops: Even Honey Bees

Everyone poops, there is no getting around it. We've received some emails and messages from newer beekeepers concerned about the yellow and brown smudges outside their hives. With warmer weather bees are getting out of their hives and taking care of business. "Cleansing" is a natural act that bees do on a regular basis but understanding the difference between a good ole BM and a disease state is important.

Understanding Cleansing Flights in Honeybees: A Brief Overview

Honeybees prioritize cleanliness by performing "cleansing flights" to eliminate waste away from their hive. These flights, essential for maintaining hive hygiene, occur mostly in warmer months. Worker bees either alone or in groups leave the hive to dispose of waste or debris, crucial for the colony's health. Abnormal behavior, like defecating inside the hive, may indicate health issues, requiring careful observation.

When to Monitor for Potential Health Concerns

During winter or bad weather, bees might not perform these flights, leading to potential health problems. On warmer days, surpassing 40 degrees Fahrenheit, bees seize the opportunity for cleansing flights. Observing the hive for yellow stains can offer insights into the bees' health. Stains outside are normal, but inside stains demand a closer examination for issues like dysentery or Nosema, a disease that can affect bees' digestive health.

Identifying and Responding to Dysentery and Nosema

Dysentery signs within the hive, such as unusual staining, might suggest the presence of Nosema. Beekeepers should consider testing for this and other conditions if they observe symptoms. Nosema and dysentery can arise from various factors, including improper feeding practices or environmental stressors.

Key Questions for Beekeepers

To address dysentery symptoms, beekeepers should reflect on their management practices:

How did I feed my bees?  – Sometimes feeding sugar syrup too early in the season, especially during extended periods of rain or cold can cause dysentery in honeybees.

Did you feed any patties (winter/pollen)? – Both winter and pollen patties contain some protein which can increase fecal production.

How long were my bees trapped inside? – Was there a long time that they were stuck inside the hive (i.e. during the cold winter months where many days were below 40 degrees F, or long periods of rain)?

How much moisture was inside the hive? Was there a sudden increase in humidity? – Excessive humidity and moisture within a beehive can increase a honeybee’s total body weight fecal accumulation. This means that they are holding in more feces and moisture than they can physically hold and may not make it outside to defecate.

Did you re-use any honey/pollen/equipment that was stained from fecal matter in the past? – They may contain Nosema spores. If staining occurs on any equipment, even if it’s old, the spores could remain active and cause dysentery symptoms in other colonies.

Flush it!

Observing and addressing unusual bee behavior, like indoor defecation, is vital for maintaining colony health. Regular monitoring and appropriate interventions can help mitigate issues such as Nosema, ensuring the colony's longevity and productivity.

For further reading on Nosema and bee health, consider exploring research from the USDA Agricultural Research Service and articles in the Journal of Apicultural Research.

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