Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Spring Hive-Cleaning

As days begin to grow longer during late winter and early spring, housekeepers everywhere begin to think of that annual ritual of tidiness called spring cleaning.  So it is with honey bees.

Honey bees should certainly win the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for their efforts in keeping their hives spotless.  However, their early spring efforts might draw the ire of environmentalists who are concerned about airborne pollution.

Honey bees clean their home and empty their digestive tracts by flying from the hive and releasing the refuse while on the wing.  What goes up must come down, but the bees are less concerned about the landing site of their airborne sewage than with the tidiness of their home.  Consequently, bees' cleaning efforts sometimes result in spots on houses or automobiles.  This, of course, does not go unnoticed by the human owners of such items.

With bees, as with people, the call of nature is sometimes a pressing proposition.  Bees, like all insects, are cold blooded.  Thus, cleansing flights are confined to times when air temperatures will allow.  Sustained flights of honeybees occur when the temperature exceeds 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  So during cold periods, waste material begins to build up in the bees and in their hive.

When the first warm period comes around, the bees leave the hive like planes launched on a bombing run from an aircraft carrier, but in this case, the mission is not secret.  As temperatures rise, they also remove other trash from the hive.  Dead bees for instance, are rather unceremoniously pitched from the mouth of the hive – the insect equivalent of burial at sea.

Many people try to avoid having their possessions bombed by bees on a cleansing flight.  When dealing with bees and their unauthorized deposits, an ounce of prevention is required.  It is easiest to move the prized possession out of the line of fire, especially on the first warm day following a cold spell.

However, if bees get to the car before you do, prompting a trip to the local car wash just is thankful that honeybees are smaller than elephants


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Carol McGrew