Piles of Dead Pupae


It’s normal for a colony of honey bees to discard all the male drone bees before winter kicks in. Quoting myself: “Drones are male bees whose only purpose is to mate once with a queen. If they don’t mate, they just hang around the hive and get fed. All the drones are kicked out of the hive to freeze to death as winter kicks in because they’re useless over the winter.”

I knew I would eventually see a large number of dead drones outside the hive once the weather began to cool off. But I didn’t expect to see anything like this…

WARNING: The rest of the photos in this post are not pretty. They’re kind of gross.

It’s been cold and wet for the past few days and I guess that was enough motivation for the queen in Hive #1 to say, “Clear out the drones!” I hope that’s all that’s happening. I hope they’re simply cleaning house and removing all the drone larvae pupae before winter kicks in. I was expecting to see piles of dead drones outside the hive one of these days, but piles of dead larvae pupae? It’s a bit sickening, don’t you think?

It’s a bit frightening too. In all the research I’ve done, I’ve never ever heard of anything like this happening. I hope all I’m seeing here is the annual cleaning out of the drones. A disgusting, unnerving variation of it, but nothing to worry about. I hope.

I’m calling the one and only local beekeeper right now to ask about it.

UPDATE (Sept. 16/10 – 9:00pm): See the next post for all the answers: Foundationless Frames Can Mean Lots of Drones. Further comments can be left on that post.

UPDATE (Dec. 23/10): I recently learned that our bees are a hybrid of Italians, Russians and Carniolans. Russian honey bees react faster — and more dramatically — to environmental changes. The cold snap we had at the time may have triggered a wintering response in the bees, which is natural for Russian bees because they stop rearing brood early in the fall anyway. Drones and drone pupae are discarded when the bees are preparing for winter. Everything I was freaked out about was probably natural behaviour for honey bees bred with Russian genes.

UPDATE (Feb. 12/11): From page 76 of The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum: “If, during the season, a dearth occurs and food income is limited or nonexistent, the colony will, in a sense, downsize its population. They preserve worker larvae the longest and remove the oldest drone larvae from the nest first. They simply pull them out and literally eat them outright, conserving the protein, or carry them outside. If the shortage continues, they remove younger and younger drone larva.” That makes sense. All these dead drone pupae were discarded during the fall dearth.

PHOTOS NOTE (SEPTEMBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates created more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

10 thoughts on “Piles of Dead Pupae

  1. I remember you mentioning that you feed teh bees some honey you purchased. Spores can live in the honey…

    I know. That’s my big concern right now.

    The other hive, which wasn’t fed as much honey at the beginning, seems fine. Damn. We’ll see.

  2. The bees have been shut-in for the past few days of cold, wet and miserable weather. It’s 4pm and the sun came out about an hour ago. The bees in both hives, but especially Hive #1, are virtually swarming around the entrances. We often see this when they’ve been cooped up for a while. Lots of new baby bees stretching their wings for the first time.

    If I were to judge from what I see now, I’d say the colony in Hive #1 is still in tip-top shape. I hope this clearing of dead drone larvae was a one-time thing.

    I’ll see what Aubrey says about the larvae I dropped off at his place.

  3. Okay, I have another theory now. I was just out checking out the hive and noticed a large crack between the inner cover and the top brood box. Normally that crack is protected from the weather by the telescoping outer cover. But for the past week, I’ve had a medium super on top of the inner cover so I can put two Boardman feeders inside the super. The top cover is now on top of that super. Blah, blah, blah… cut to the chase:

    During the crazy rain and wind we’ve had for the past four days, rain very likely got blown through the crack and right into the top brood box. I saw the crack. It’s a thick crack. Rain falling at an angle in the wind could easily get through the crack and soak a portion of the hive.

    My guess is, the cold rain got in and soaked one side of a frame full of brood. The dead larvae look like drones to me, but who knows, soak them in water and they might puff up and look like fat drone larvae.

    Anyway, that’s my best guess for now. The cold rain inside the hive soaked some brood cells and killed a bunch of brood.

    I’ll mention this to Aubrey if he calls back tonight. I’ll mention the fact that I fed the bees store-bought honey at one time too. We’ll see what he says.

    I’m not working tomorrow afternoon, so I’ve decided to do a full inspection, weather permitting, to see if my theory holds up. If cold rain got in the hive, then the frame next to the leak should have some water damage — and lots of dead brood cells.

    I hope that’s all it is.

    I’ve since duct taped over the big crack on the side of the hive.

  4. Brood when they’re young look all white. These look like they were in the red eye phase. If it was chalk brood the brood would have been really white with black grime on them (looks like black coffee grounds) as the fungus fruited. I see no fungus or fruiting bodies. I think this brood got waterlogged and chilled. I see water pooling at the front around the bodies. Make sure you have the back of the hive propped up about an inch so the water runs out of the entrance.

    • Jamie, your comment didn’t show up right away. I don’t know why, but it was held for moderation. Anyway, you’re probably right. Add possible water damage to the possibilities.

      I do have the hive propped up so the water drains out. But I’m thinking I might prop it up an extra half inch just to be safe.

  5. I just added an update to this post. It confirms what I was thinking, that the drones and their pupae are the first to get the boot when food becomes scarce. I’m surprised none of the beekeepers I asked about this had heard of it before. Anyway, I’m not going to worry about it if I see it again. The bees know what they’re doing.

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