Headless Honey Bees in the Snow

I found bee body parts scattered all over the snow near my hives today.

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

“Ah man, what the hell is this?” was my first reaction. It was a natural reaction considering the last time I saw bee body parts was inside one of my hives last February — when shrews preyed on most of my bees until they were dead.

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. (Feb. 22/15.)

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. The white stuff is sugar, not snow. (Feb. 22/15.)



I looked around at all my hives, closely. Every entrance was covered with 6mm mesh. All the screens in the moisture quilts were intact. The bottom entrances were buried in snow. There was no way mice or shrews could be messing with my bees. So I collected some of the body parts and noticed they were headless:

Headless honey bees found in snow near my hives on February 14, 2016.

Headless honey bees found in snow near my hives on February 14, 2016.

But the good news is the abdomens were full, not sucked dry of all their innards — which is what happens to the body parts of honey bees that are eaten by shrews. (Believe me, I know.) Just to be safe, I also looked inside one of my hives to see if I could find the desiccated body parts that signal the presence of shrews. I found some bees happily chowing down on a sugar brick I added yesterday, but that’s all.

Honey bees eating a sugar brick. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

Honey bees eating a sugar brick. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

So where’d all these headless honey bees come from? Who or what was popping the heads of my bees? The most likely culprit:

bird

Birds! Junos or chickadees or whatever they are. That’s a screenshot from the video I posted yesterday. I mentioned my headless honey bee situation on Facebook and someone wrote back: “I recently saw a video from England, where blue tits hang around bumble bee colonies and catch them as the come and go, knock the heads off and eat the flight muscles out of the thorax. Maybe juncos and chickadees are picking off the odd bee.”

The process of elimination tells me that’s exactly what’s happening. My bees are flying outside for cleansing flights and those birds are swooping in and snapping their heads off for a tasty snack. I’m not concerned about it. A few dozen bees made headless everyday for the rest of the winter is not a problem. I’m totally cool with it. The situation could be so much worse, it’s a relief.

FEBRUARY 19, 2016: I suppose I should add that this is just a guess. We had some bird seed scattered in the snow for a couple of days and the birds were hanging around constantly, bird tracks in the snow everywhere. My guess is the birds weren’t feeding exclusively off the bees because not many bees were flying around. Remember, I live on an island in the North Atlantic Ocean and one third of my bees’ forage area is salt water, cold, frigid, bone-chilling salt water. The air around here isn’t warmed by the North Atlantic Drift. That’s the UK. Not Newfoundland. So at this time of year when my bees come out for cleansing flights, many of them immediately fall in the snow from the shock of the cold air. When the birds — that spend their time picking up seeds scattered over the snow — spot a bee wriggling in the snow, they naturally take a peck at it. Pop goes another bee head. I don’t even know if they’re eating the bees (it doesn’t look like it), but it seems they can’t resist having a taste. Again, just a guess.