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Inspections- Can Nurse bees find their way home?


I just inspected a hive for the first time since autumn. There was quite a bit of brace comb that needed cleaning- and the hive was absolutely packed with bees. I looked for the queen on each frame (didn’t see her) and then shook the bees off the frames into the the hive so I could clean each one up. In the process of doing all that quite a few bees ended up on the ground around the hive. I am wondering if nurse bees- who have never been out of the hive- will be able to find there way back in? I tried to help some - but it isn’t easy. I placed some sticks around the hive to act as ladders for the bees to walk up.

All in all it was quite a disruptive process and I killed and injured more bees than I would like. In fact I hate killing any bees- but I realize it’s inevitable- still I would like to get better at it and reduce the carnage. After I shook my frames there were still some bees on them- and some of them ended up on the ground. My hive is too high to comfortably work the frames over the brood box.

I am thinking next time I might put a cardboard box on the ground and try and work over that- so afterwards I can shake whatever bees fall down back into the hive from that.

In the middle of everything there was a bee that managed to get into my suit… I have a ‘game theory’ that in these situations it’s better to leave the bee alone and hope it doesn’t sting you- than to try and squash it. So far every time I have tried to squash them I have instead been stung… It worked this time and the bee crawled over my face while I was working but no sting… only afterwards when i took the suit off I found it was a drone! :grinning:

i’d be interested to hear any strategies for minimizing disturbance during inspections.


Nurse bees have to poo, and they don’t do it in the hive. My understanding is that they make very short flights close to hive for that. If you dumped them less than 10 feet away, most of them should make it home. Your ramps up to the hive entrance should help quite a bit, but they may also help ants, so be careful.

As a thought, if we are shaking a swarm off a branch, we put an old sheet on the ground to catch any bees which don’t go into the bin we use to catch swarms. You can then either shake the sheet into the bin (or hive) or you can use a piece of plywood to make a ramp up the hive entrance, and let the bees climb back in. As they like to go up, rather than down, this works pretty well.

  • a ha- I hadn’t thought of toilet outings…

I just went and had a look some bees are using my ladders. Also some yellow/European wasps are out attacking and carrying off injured and dead bees. Not many wasps but a few. I was able to help a few bees get home. I hate the disturbance an inspection causes to their life- yet am surprised they don’t get angrier about it. I would be very mad!

Last year I was given a swarm and after we shook it into the hive we made a ramp for the stragglers- it was great to see them all march up and in.

(edit: I wonder if one day I will ever manage to use ‘there’ and ‘their’ correctly with consistency. I know what the correct usage is but I still manage to get it wrong maybe 15% of the time)


Dawn’s idea is great.
I’m always picking bees off the floor :blush:

I don’t bother, the bees just build it up again the minute I close up.
The only times I shake bees off frames is to do a brood disease inspection or to look for queen cells, and then I have one frame out so there is a space to shake that frame into the hive


do you clean propolis off the lugs, etc? I kind of had to clean this stuff off as I was putting the flow super on and there was honeycomb on the top of all the frames - all broken when I removed the inner cover/crown board- also bridge combs near the tops- the hive hadn’t been inspected for 5 months. I needed to add the QX and didn’t want to plonk it onto a heap of exposed honey?

I also shake the bees back into the hive- and only if I have to deal with the issues on the comb- I take one frame out and hang it on a frame rest thing- then one by one I take out, inspect and clean every other frame. I always scrape the lugs - then push all themes up snug- leaving gaps only on the walls.

The inspection was interesting- a good brood pattern in the center- and some very patchy drone comb on the outermost frames. they looked quite ugly- they are foundation-less and the bees did indeed build a lot of drone comb on them as @jeffH warns… I want to go back in and replace them with foundation in a month or two.


Hi Jack, I would suggest evenly spacing the brood frames in our climate. In that case there is no need to scrape the propolis off the lugs.

I believe evenly spacing the frames, or at least in my climate, is superior to having them tight together. You may find that it’s better down there also.


Hi jeff- I am using 8 frame hives- and I was under the impression that its good to keep the frames tighter towards the middle- as there is a larger gap (almost big enough to fit a 9th frame) in the 8 frame boxes. I was thinking it’s good as it keeps the combs thin and helps prevent bridge comb? My brother kept bees on KI and he was always taught to scrape down the lugs and keep the frames tight.


Hi Jack, well I guess a lot depends on what advice we were given right from the start. I have been using 9 frames in 10 frame supers for brood & honey supers since day 1, nearly 30 years ago. All of my mentors at that time were experienced beekeepers that had worked bees in Qld.

A couple of blokes got me to help them with their hives a few years ago. They both had 10 frames in the brood. On both occasion I struggled to remove the first frames. On those occasions, I could certainly see the advantage of evenly spacing 9 frames in 10 frame supers.

It recently occurred to me (last summer) that I’m not getting the bearding like I’ve seen with a lot of photos posted on this forum. I wondered if the extra spacing between the brood frames allows the bees to circulate air more efficiently, eliminating the need for bearding.

Remembering that the bees ARE “European Honeybees”, they evolved in Europe, not in a climate like ours. Therefore the natural frame spacing might not necessarily be the best frame spacing in our climate.


Just a couple of after thoughts to answer your question. I recall one of my mentors advising to use a stick as a ladder (as you did) to aid nurse bees back into the hive. I have done that on the odd occasion if I think it’s needed.

Whenever I do any scraping of bur comb off frames, I generally do it with the bees attached. If I wanted to shake the bees off first, I shake them into the hive & not onto the ground. I shake bees off honey frames (that were above the QX) onto the ground after closing the hive up, but not nurse bees.


Cheers Jeff- i will have a think about that. Just to clarify though- I didn’t actually shake the bees onto the ground- If I shook a frame it was onto the hive. The bees that ended up on the ground were not a really large number- and they were knocked down as I scraped comb etc.


No worries Jack, anyway it’s something you can try on one hive during hot weather, especially if the bees start bearding. Bear in mind that I’m using solid floors.