I'm confused about my bees behavior...

by Nick Valentine
(Wadsworth, Ohio)

On all three of my bee hives, I find that the bees are sitting on the entrance boards. They are new hives (queen and three pounds of bees). One hive is growing faster, and I've added a new super recently. On this hive, about double the bees are outside the hives.

I've studied their behavior and they seem to be just staying in the same relative area and moving their wings. I'm new at this, and my mentor is on vacation so I thought I'd see if I can get some answers online.



Hi Nick,

Based on your description, my first guess is that you're seeing bees involved in the air conditioning of the hive.

In warm weather, honey bees circulate air throughout the hive by fanning their wings. They orient their bodies so that some bees are drawing air into the hive entrance, and others are drawing air out of the entrance.

As the weather warms, quite a large number of bees are involved in cooling the hive. Bees can be seen outside of the hive drawing air in and exhausting it, and bees are also on fanning duty inside the hive, circulating air throughout the hive.

You can read more detail about how bees cool their hive on this page about honey bee facts.

In very hot weather, often many of the bees will cluster on the outside of the hive not doing much of anything. They do that just to remove their body heat from the interior of the hive.

Another honey bee phenomenon often observed in the summertime is rather humorously called the 'washerwoman routine.'

Bees doing the washerwoman routine stand on the outside of the hive, and make back and forth movements with their heads down close against the surface of the hive.

It looks as if they are polishing or cleaning the exterior surface of the hive, but nobody actually knows for sure the reason for that behavior. It's most often observed when there's little nectar or pollen to be foraged, leaving lots of bees with little to do. (I doubt this is what you saw since you noted that your bees were fanning their wings.)

Hope this answers your question!

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Jun 21, 2011
That's it!
by: Nick Valentine

Yes, your description of air conditioning of the hive is exactly what they were doing. My bee book didn't mention this activity for some reason. A few were doing the washer woman thing. I thought I was seeing things! Glad you explained that!

Thanks for getting back to me.

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