What Is Honey Bee Dysentery?

A honey bee hive with dysentery

Bee dysentery is a problem that affects honey bees. It is often observed by beekeepers during winter when the colony is confined to its hive.

When bees accumulate too much internal waste, they have no choice but to release. As the weather is too cold for a cleansing flight, the colony defecates throughout the hive, including the hive entrance, frames, and combs.

Diseases don’t cause dysentery, but the resulting unsanitary conditions aren’t pleasant. As worker bees attempt to clean up the unwanted excrement, they may spread other pathogens within the hive.

  • Dysentery should not be mistaken with the deadly Nosema disease, although the symptoms often look similar.
  • The resulting odor is unpleasantly pungent and may overpower pheromones used by bees to communicate.

What causes dysentery in the hive?

A significant contributor to dysentery is diet. While dark honey is highly nutritious, it also has higher ash concentrations. This solid is difficult on the bee’s digestive system, increasing the likelihood of explosive fecal matter.

Research has found that other types of food also encourage dysentery. Some honeydew varieties and grape syrup are examples.

Other factors beekeepers should consider:

  • Use light sugar if supplemental feeding is required, avoiding organic or darker sugars.
  • Food choice is less of a concern when feeding bees in warm climates.
  • Dysentery is also a sign of Nosema disease, so lab testing may be required to confirm the problem.

Why don’t bees poo outside?

During the cold months, bees cluster to stay warm. They occasionally take short flights outside to relieve themselves, then return to the hive for warmth. In wet and freezing weather, the colony can’t take flights, forcing them to poop in their home.

Is dysentery in honey bees fatal?

Dysentery is not fatal for bee colonies, and fine weather will allow the hive to resume cleansing flights. However, dysentery helps spread other pathogens that may exist in the hive. It may also be a symptom of more severe conditions like Nosemosis, tracheal mites, chronic bee paralysis virus, and cloudy wing virus.

How to treat dysentery in honey bees

Dysentery in honey bees is primarily a management issue rather than something that requires medication. Beekeepers concerned about their hives should collect some sample bees and get them analyzed.

If the results come back negative for Nosema, it’s often best to let the hive work through the problem themselves. In cold weather, you may do more harm than good opening up the hive.

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Check honey stores before winter: If the hive has a lot of dark honey, consider replacing it with a lighter option if you’ve got it. Save the dark honey for spring feeding once the bees commence foraging.

Improve the bees’ diet: Ensure the hive has access to high-quality food sources like light honey and white sugar.

Provide proper ventilation: Airflow reduces humidity within the hive, which can deter mold development and other harmful substances exacerbating dysentery.

Monitor hive health: Inspect the hive for diseases or pests in suitable weather. Dysentery will have a bigger impact on weakened hives.

Does too much water cause dysentery?

Too much water may cause dysentery in bees holed up in their hive all winter. Beekeepers in cold climates may prefer feeding their colony bee fondant or sugar cakes during early spring feeding. Feeding solids means less liquid for the bees to absorb.

Commonly asked questions

What symptoms should beekeepers look out for?

A hive with dysentery will have a foul odor that is easily noticeable. While healthy bee excrement is yellow, beekeepers will notice larger quantities of runny brown feces.

Do I need to clean up the mess?

Once the weather begins warming up, the bees will clean up any signs of dysentery in the hive. Beekeepers may want to wipe down the outside of the hive to give the colony a helping hand.

Nosema vs. dysentery – what’s the difference?

Nosema apis is a microsporidian parasite that affects bees and can cause diarrhea symptoms like dysentery. While both occur primarily in winter, Nosema is far more harmful to the bee colony.

The only way to determine the issue is to send bee samples to the lab for testing. A high spore count will confirm Nosema infection.

Human vs. bee dysentery

Human dysentery is caused by a contagious bacterium that usually thrives in unsanitary conditions. Honey bee dysentery is not a disease. It results from too much waste buildup inside the bee’s gut.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to bee threats.

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