Why Did my Bees Die?

Too often the beekeeper will eagerly open up the hive after winter and to their dismay, discover their hive has died. It’s important to understand why your hive died in order to learn how you can effectively keep bees. Many reasons and scenarios are present when trying to describe why your bees died or could potentially die. The most common reasons a hive has died is because of either a mite infestation or starvation. Other reasons include Nosema disease, condensation within the hive and of course plain coldness.

You should conduct an inspection even if the hive is dead in order to determine how the hive died. Here are some clues to keep an eye out for:

Check the bottom or debris board. Do you see a lot of Varroa mites? Your hive could have suffered from a Varroa mite infestation.

Evidence of a varroa mite infestation on a debris board
Evidence of a varroa mite infestation on a debris board


Look at the bees themselves. Do they have short abdomens? Do they have deformed wings? This could mean your bees died from deformed-wing virus. This virus is vectored by Varroa Mites.

deformed wing virus in bees
An example of bees with deformed-wing virus


Do the dead bees look shiny, greasy or darkened in color? This is a characteristic for a paralysis virus like chronic bee paralysis, also vectored by Varroa.

Chronic Bee Paralysis virus from varroa mites
Chronic Bee Paralysis virus from varroa mites

Do the wings on the bees appear to be split or in a K shape. This could be an indication of K Wing Virus which is vectored by the mite.

bee with split wing
The bee’s wing appears to be split, or forming a K shape, which is an example of K Wing Virus


Are there many dead and dying bees in the front of the hive? Is their tongue sticking out? This is a good indication that poisoning with a pesticide has occurred.

dead bee with tongue sticking out
The bee’s tongue sticking out can be a sign of pesticide poisioning


Do you see dead bees that are inside the cell with their rear abdomen sticking out?  This is an indication that the bees starved. If there is honey present in the hive, the bees could have still perished because they were unable to maneuver the cluster over the stored food.

Bees head-first in cells

Does the hive seem wet? Are you seeing mold? You hive could have died from too much moisture. Moisture in the hive can be very detrimental to bees, which is why one should make sure their hive has adequate ventilation.

Are there brown stains or streaks on the outside of the hive? This could indicate a dysentery or nosema issue.

Signs of possible dysentery or nosema in a bee hive
Signs of possible dysentery or nosema in the hive

For whatever the reason your bees died, it is important to understand why they died. Making sure they have plenty of feed and plenty of bees prior to winter is very critical. Also, having good control of mites is as equally important.

35 thoughts on “Why Did my Bees Die?

  1. William McNett

    Bees cluster “head-first in cells” so just because they died there doesn’t mean they starved.
    “brown stains or streaks on the outside of the hive”
    Bees poop when they fly, they may have been cooped up for a long time. They’re not going to fly X feet away before pooping. The wind is blowing. The poop doesn’t care where it lands.
    All that from a 10 month old 2 hive beek ?

    1. Kelley Beekeeping

      Hi William – you are correct in that these examples don’t necessarily mean they starved or have nosema, but these examples are possible ways to identify why your bees may have died, but obviously each hive is different, and each case is different.

      1. Fanny

        My friend is bee keeper
        He met this kind of problems
        But strange only one bee hive is happen this situation
        But other doesn’t met this problem die bees
        So if it’s virus
        Is ok the dead one bee hive the inside all honey and wax frame are ok to share give to other bee hive?

        1. Kelley Beekeeping

          Hello Fanny, Which of the above mentioned problems did your friend encounter as each situation is different. Could you please have your friend give us a call? 1-800-233-2899

  2. William Smithson

    Bees are just gone.
    They were alive and seem well in the fall.
    Lost 6 of 7 hives.
    No dead bees to be found.
    It’s like someone come and stole my bees
    Gordonsville TN

    1. Howard McEwen

      This is the same on three of my four hives. Not a single bee in the hive. Also, no honey. Maybe the all left when ran low on stores?

      1. Steve Rose

        In late Feb. and early March the bees were bringing in pollen, I assume from Maple trees. There were lots of bees. We had a cold snap including two days of snow in mid-March. When it was over the hive was dead. Maybe a few thousand dead bees in the hive box. There was some capped brood and several dead bees had their heads stuck in cells. There was NO HONEY !. I assume they broke their ball and the queen started laying then the cold snap got them but maybe I should have continued feeding. I stopped because they were foraging.

        1. Nick Vander Sys

          This happens often if the bees finished out winter with low reserves of honey, the days get longer a spring flow starts to trickle in and the queen starts laying eggs to rapidly expand the brood nest and prepare for a larger workforce! Unfortunately, the incoming nectar may not keep up with the increased demand and the beehive continues to lose weight, or at best maintain. A few days of no fly weather and the bees consumed the rest of the winter stores. You may not see evidence of open brood because the bees will eat it as last measure to survive from starvation. Lesson to be learned here is just because they have incoming nectar doesn’t mean that they are gaining weight. We see this often here in the Pacific Northwest when rain prevents them from getting out to collect the plethora of available nectar.

  3. Michael Cox

    Beekeeping for dummies Discount 25.00

  4. Martin Anderson

    I know this is an old story but hoping someone might see my post.

    First time beekeeper – first season. Langstrom hive with two brood supers.

    I looked in my hive on September 22nd just before a vacation and things looked good. A few days ago I was looking over at my hive from my shed and noted a darkness around the entrance. I inspected and it was a pile of dead bees. I got into the hive and the floor was covered in dead bees. No signs of mites but I did see little flies (attracted by the dead bees no doubt) and a couple of larvae that were about 5mm long. The floor also looked wet so I will need to check the angle and change it to tilt forward if necessary. There are still bees in the hive but they are lethargic. There was a cluster which I assumed meant a queen is still there but I didn’t disrupt them any further. My initial thought was mites but I didn’t see any. After looking around I thought of starvation so I gave them some sugar water. I don’t recall the last time I fed them but it was a long time ago. I fed them once when I installed the package and again a couple of weeks after that but since I had TONS of clover growing in the yard I assumed no more feeding was necessary.

    So I cleaned out the hive as much as I could and fed them. Closed up the hive and waiting to see what happens. I don’t use pesticides in my yard.

    I would post pictures if I could but I don’t think I can.

    Does anyone have suggestions? Everything appeared to be OK 3 weeks ago. I have two bags of dead bees so I will see about sending them off to be inspected.

    Thanks, Max

  5. Michael Gadoua

    I’m wondering if they froze.
    If bees can stay warm in a hive because of their numbers, if the hive is too big (too many boxes), could there be an insufficient number of bees to keep the box warm?
    They did in the cells, looks like they died and dropped forming mounds of dead bees, many appear to just have died where they standing.
    It appeared to be a very sudden death for all of them that’s why I’m thinking cold. We’ve had too much rain but it also dropped below freezing.
    Looks like thousands died instantly.

    1. Kendall Huddleston

      My brother recently lost three out of four small colonies in big double stacked boxes. They had plenty of honey but many died on the boards and most fell to the floor. It rained hard for three days straight and immediately dropped to 17 degrees here in Tennessee. They all appeared damp but were very healthy.

  6. Martha

    Bees were alive in Feb. Mid March all are dead in the bottom of the box, a few in the middle of the rack. Small black beetles are in the hive and are dead as well. There is plenty of honey left in the hive. Honey has a fermented taste. The hive is dry and no sign of webbing or larvae of any kind. Any ideas?

  7. Louis Cambell

    are bees going instinct?? 🙁 I no want them to ded

  8. Sonya jones

    What can I do when all my bees have died except the queen and there is still honey in the hive

  9. Trevor

    Hello to all.
    I just opened my hive 2 weeks ago. I live in the Toronto area. The weather is very unpredictable here. When I brought my wrapped hive out from a old shed that doesn’t really have a anything to it just walls and a few missing boards for a roof.
    I put my hive on its stand and unwrapped it. I didn’t want to much condensation in the hive at that time as it was getting above 0. When I opened the hive on the first of April I noticed all my bees were dead. I wasn’t to happy and very disgruntled from it.
    I did notice that at the front of the hive was covered with dead bees and the bottom. In the middle was a cluster of dead bees. Lots of room for them to move around. There was lots of honey but no brood or larvae. I don’t know what happened but that’s the second time I filled the hive with bees and both times the hive was thriving during the summer and fall. But all dead come spring.

  10. Michele

    I am now in my second year of beekeeping. Last year went fairly well, but my bees did not survive the winter due to a combination of cold, low numbers, and starvation (plenty of food, but couldn’t get to it). I just got my new honeybees three days ago. I poured them in the hive and placed the queen in the hive with the marshmallow. It has been cold and rainy/snowy the last two days. The low was around 32 degrees. I was worried that the bees got wet as it just stopped raining when I poured them in the hive. I haven’t seen anyone come in or out the last few days, but I thought it was because it was too cold. I just checked on them (three days in) and they are all dead. Today was partly cloudy with a high of 51 degrees. Not warm, but not cold. What happened? How could they all be dead already? I just got them.

  11. Don Koehn

    First cold snap . I found at least 100 dead bees on landing board and on ground in front of hive .
    What happened , What do I look for ?
    First time bee keeper .

    1. Kelley Beekeeping

      Hello Don,

      Were the dead bees drones or worker bees?

      1. Don Koehn

        Went back to day all bees seem to be dead . removed opening reducer and found solid packed with dead bees behind mouse guard . have not opened hive due to temp . have bee cozeys and hot box . box top feeder with patties, they had just emptied an external sugar water feeder . Looks like they all died at once .

        1. Kelley Beekeeping

          Hello Don,

          Where are you located? Did the feeder appear to be leaking? Did the bees appear to be sticky or clumped together?

          1. Don Koehn

            Located rural , north of Wichita Ks. feeder did not appear to be leaking . It was one I purchased from Kelly , seemed to be working fine . When I would refill there were always a crowd of bees under the jar . It was one that inserted into the opening slot .There were dead bees under the feeder they were not stuck together or to the base of the feeder. It has been quite windy here so I put up wind breaks also. The temp has been on a roller coaster here. Tuesday night was the coldest to date (21) with (18) Wednesday night .

  12. Derek Dickinson

    Went out today to take a peek at the hive to find the entire colony was dead. Starvation seems to be the culprit as the hive was totally emptied of honey and there were bees head first in cells throughout. What’s surprising to me is that its the middle of November and they were already out of honey (we never harvested or removed honey supers). Our hive is located in New York City and weve only been getting cold early-winter weather for a few weeks now. This colony was new this spring (package bees) and just seemed to be really low in population and production all season long. The last time we got new colony (a nuc) and put them in our hive (with mostly drawn comb) they went gangbusters all year long. Multiple full honey supers in their first year, and subsequent years. Were still in the same neighborhood but this year the colony struggled to fill a single honey super and just never seemed to be as populous as I’d come to expect from the 5 or so years weve been beekeeping. The couple frames of new foundation we put in for the most part never got drawn out. Sections of drawn frames that we had cut out never got filled in. This colony was our first experience with package bees, so maybe that kind of colony is slower to develop? Maybe we should have fed them in the spring? I saw some evidence of mites (little light specks in the bottom of cells) in places today but by no means enough to suspect that the colony was getting ravaged by mites all year long. What might cause a new colony to be this lackluster? We wondered this spring if we should have scrapped and replaced more of our old founation, if we were leaving too much cleanup for the new colony to deal with. Hard to know when to trash old frames and start new, even if it means making the bees draw new comb…. still a lot to learn for us… any ideas or wisdom would he greatly appreciated.

    1. Kelley Beekeeping

      Hello Derek,

      Package bees do differ from nucs in how they need to be cared for in the beginning. We recommend feeding for at least the first month while they are drawing out comb in the brood box since the nectar flow is shorter in your area. This will help to gear up production versus a nuc which already has drawn comb, stored honey and a laying queen.

      1. Derek Dickinson

        That makes sense to me but we installed the package bees into a hive with mostly drawn comb so we didnt think it was necessary to feed them. Maybe some feeding should have been done to help gove them more of a jumpstart? One of the reasons we shy away from feeding the bees is that it seems very unnatural to feed them syrup made from refined cane sugar. As an alternative can you make syrup from last years honey harvest and give that to them instead? Is there a typical ratio for this?

        1. Kelley Beekeeping

          Hello Derek, you can feed honey back to the bees. If the consistency is too thick you can add just enough water to liquefy it more.

  13. Leah Butterfield

    Hi All,
    I just went out to check my hives. Very disappointed. This is my first year and I have lost all of my original package bees and queens.
    I replaced 2 of the queens in the packages and they did not make it. I did treat for varroa. Maybe not enough?
    OK. So I have one nuc that seems to still be alive and I had transferred a complete box of drawn honey from my strong hive to this new hive. I also added a sugar cube. They are buzzing.
    My strong hive that was 5 supers high at the end of August is dead.
    It was hard to tell what happened. But the bees seem ‘soggy’. I will go back out tomorrow to get some samples.
    It smelled like beer fermentation at the bottom board. I did pull out the slider board but it was difficult for me to tell if there were tons of varroa mites. Honestly, my vision is not so great so I am suspecting that even though I treated in September that I needed to treat in December but did not. I just found out that we are to treat between txgiving and winter solstice. OK. so I am behind. Just trying to figure it all out.
    I did lift the inner cover abit and put a shim in even though the hive is technically ‘dead’. There a few bees left.
    I feel as if this has been the biggest science experiment and it has not gone as expected. However, I am moving forward and just ordered 3 nucs for the spring.
    If you have any input -please-don’t hesitate to give it.
    Thank you,

  14. Cara M Cole

    Hi, I really enjoy reading all of your articles! Unfortunately we lost both of our hives early this winter Denver CO suburbs). This was our 4th winter with bees. We’ve done different things each year for insulating and supplemental feeding. We didn’t harvest any honey this year, so we also hadn’t added any supplemental feed. We had 2 early & heavy snowstorms and both hives died after the 2nd storm. We hadn’t put up insulation around the hives yet. We treat with oxalic acid spring and fall.
    Inspection showed lots of honey and a few bees headfirst in cells but mostly just dead in between the frames. There were several frames with brood. We have a traditional langstroth and a long langstroth hive. We’re starting again this spring and are exploring options to improve their situation during unpredictable weather changes in fall & winter, plus any advice on what happened.
    Definitely going to add the insulation earlier. Thinking about adding some sort of overhead cover (4 posts with a roof) or even surrounding the hive with a portable greenhouse or tent. How far do they fly for cleansing flights? We’ll have an opening for them to get all the way outside, but would it be feasible to have the enclosure big enough so they don’t always have to leave when it’s super cold?
    Thanks again for all the advice you share!!

  15. K.Funk

    Hi there,
    I am seeing small deposits in some of the empty cells (small and yellowish). It looks like it could be eggs of somekind, but smaller than a bee egg. This is being seen in one of my deadouts. The bees appear to have not been able to move the cluster to get to the rest of their stores (many bees with head inside a cell). Does anyone have an idea what I might be seeing

  16. Mike

    Just lost our entire hive. All dead. Hive beetles died too. Plenty of capped honey left. Seems dry. No wing/abdomen issues. It did rain a lot recently. Also, our neighboring farm just sprayed their field yesterday (argh!). They were alive a month ago. Fed them through the winter.

  17. James Monroe

    I had a have last year that I checked to remove honey from. All the bees were gone and there were no dead ones in the bottom. A medium honey super was full and honey was beginning to be stored in the second brood box I had in place. I took this as a sign that I had not given them enough room to store honey and once they moved it into the second brood box this caused them to leave to find a better hive location. Is this a fair assessment of my new bee keeper mistake or could I have missed something else. There no dead bees on ground or in bottom of hive when I opened it. They left 32 pints worth of honey in the hive and just seemed weird that they would have left so easily without taking more honey. Thanks for the help ahead of time.

  18. Ann Hon

    I am in California. I keep only one hive for 4 years now. On March 22nd, there’s still a lot of activities. 2 weeks or so ago I saw a lot of dead bees but I thought it was due to the weather (extremely hot for a couple of days suddenly and then went back to being cold for a couple of days). This last week saw very few bees going in and out of the hive and finally 2 days ago, I opened up the cover and saw a lot of maggots/larvae crawling around. Can you tell me what went wrong? I called my beekeeper who no longer comes out to our area and he said there must be not enough bees in the hive and therefore attracted pests to invade the hive. We’ve harvested honey twice, the last harvest was last May so there should have been enough bees in there. I want to do it again and hoping that you might be able to tell me what I did wrong so I don’t repeat the same mistake. Thanks.

  19. Robert

    I went to harvest honey from my bees (mid July) and all of my bees are dead, from what I believe after reading this to be a mite infestation. There is still honey, but I don’t know if it is edible or not. Should I just clean everything and throw it out? Should I harvest the honey and then use it, or should I just start over? I bought the bees last spring and didn’t harvest any over that summer but thought after checking the box several times that I could finally harvest. I fed them throughout the winter.
    Thank you to anybody who thinks to respond

  20. Diana Hilburn

    Live just south of Wichita Ks. Have 2 hives. Didn’t harvest any honey as both seemed to be low on food. I’ve been feeding them all fall, first with sugar water then switched to fondant. Put up wind break and reduced entrances. Had a cold snap hit (20s) but was warmer today. Checked to see if bees flying and found one hive entrance packed with dead bees. Scooped out hundreds of bees. Opened top and there are still bees feeding on fondant. What could have happened? Other hive fine. This is my first year as a bee keeper so I’m clueless. Could it have been the cold? I did treat for mites before the cold hit with the apiguard. Help

  21. Marie Clair

    Hi, it’s my first hive and l have just been down the garden too my horror my bees are dead and dying l can’t tell you how upset l am, a few weeks ago they were absolutely thriving, don’t know what to do,any suggestions
    . Marie Birmingham