Theories on Washboarding

Hi all. There have been plenty of videos and comments on Washboarding. My only hive bees do it all the time now, even extending down one side.
A relatives bees do it too, not as much, and he got into a discussion with another friend whose bees don’t do it at all.
After observing close up what the bees are actually doing, I think they are cleaning and polish propolising the timber surface to disallow mould and bacteria to lodge. And they are doing the same on the inside.
Their Washboarding outside on the sides shows the same movements while they propolise any gaps between boxes.
I heard suggested, and now believe, this is the behavior of bees bred for hygiene, and if your hive washboards, you got a good lot.

What are your views on that theory? I just puzzled it together from international reading and observation.
Would love to hear your theories on that. Without another video. Although mine would show you the detail I mentioned above.


There are a few studies on wash boarding and they have shown that bees don’t do it until they are 2 weeks old. At that age they are guards on the cusp of being foragers so they would not be housekeeper bees engaged in hygienic behaviour as far as the brood is concerned. I have two colonies headed by supposed hygienic queens. In my nearly ten years beekeeping I have never seen my bees do it, neither have any of my friends seen it in their hives. It seems to be uncommon in the U.K.


Maybe in subtropical Australia they are keeping their house mould free. Could be a problem in this humidity.


I personally have witnessed this behaviour numerous times and now and believe it is nothing more than there being an abundance of nurse bees. Bees cannot sit still, they just have to have something to do and so will move back and forth on the front of the hive as if they are cleaning but it is nothing more than mimicking a cleaning duty. I think its a sign of a healthy hive as they will soon become foragers and will no longer be bored… Just a theory.


My thoughts align with Rods. I have found the hives of mine which do it most have very tight brood chambers and a possible excess of nurse bees. These hives don’t have a large amount of available brood comb for the nurse bees to prepare for the queen to lay in (because they are all populated with brood).

I have also found they do it at similar times to bearding. When others are bearding, some are washboarding… this usually lines up with hot afternoons.

As for the cleaning theory, I think this is a biproduct of the behaviour. I had a plastic super covered in dust (same as in my washboarding video) and you could see a perfect clean line where the bees had washboarded. What else is interesting about this hive is that it was plastic brood box and timber super, the bees washboarded both surfaces. They were also washboarding on the bricks at the front of the hive (still need to get a photo/video) of this.


mimicking a cleaning duty.

I’ve seen this in my house. Done it too.


@RBK, there goes my theory of propolis polishing.
It may well be that my brood box lacks space for more comb building and my nurse bees are getting bored. Wonder now if I should add a second brood box. But then they might be turned away from filling the flow super. I heard around here, where also the flow developers live, we only need one brood box.
I’m a bit scared to split and start another hive, because I was never able to sight the queen.

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Well interestingly the hive I see the most washboarding in has two colonies/queens in it. Each colony/queen only has 5 full depth Langstroth frames of laying space in a 10 frame Langstroth box. The brood pattern was extremely dense (right to the edges of the frames) when I last looked.

Planned to get video of them washboarding on bricks… but over the last week or so they have become fairly defensive… so will suit up to get the video :smiley:


I have been developing this theory as well. I’m pretty solidly convinced of it. I’m now trying to determine why sometimes they are all pointing in one direction or another. I’ve seen it both. My working theory, since they use movement to communicate, is they could be signaling where the queen should move; where’d they like to get working.

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But the bees washboard outside and the queen is inside?

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True, but vibrationally I suspect the activity could still be discernible

Reviving an old post but just today I was looking at the possum boxes inhabited by feral colonies on our property boundary. They have been there for a few years now & the outside of the boxes have silvered & weathered. However the front faces of both of the boxes, where the bees have been washboarding is still golden in colour & has a matt sheen. I think there’s something to the propolis & polishing theory. All of my hives are active ‘washboarders’.


Hi Tracy, I noticed the bees in my observation hive washboarding inside & outside of the hive during hot weather. It seemed to coincide with other bees cooling the hive.

I came to the conclusion that washboarding has something to do with cooling the hive.

We took a video on that day.

That was last summer. Since then I’ve fitted 1 inch polystyrene to the covers. That will help them out greatly for future summers. AND winters.


Could be
Maybe that’s why we don’t see it much in the UK

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Cool video. I see why you came up with your theory. In my case, for example, I have side by side hives, and only one of the three was washboarding on the hottest days. The hive that was WB was the more congested of the three though there were boxes above to expand into. Once resolved in that hive, weeks later another would be doing it… They were never all doing it on the same hot days.

Hi Tracy. My very first hive washboarded like mad throughout summer (Italian queen). I was so intrigued, because a fine job the bees did indeed. The WB intense areas are very finely waxed, including inside. Makes me think they need the real hot days for the wax to reach the perfect melting point for their purpose.
There seems to be a bit of propolis in that polish mix too. The bees know what keeps them in balance.
I can’t say I can relate washboarding to air conditioning activities. For a while I had bees WB on the entire front and some on the sides. Often rows of them in one direction.
I reckon they are preparing to stay.
I never worked out why they are doing WB, but I will keep watching.

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Hi Tracy, thank you. I guess the bees do what they have to do to cool the hive during hot weather. I can’t believe I waited so long to place the insulation over the covers of my observation hive. Anyway I’ll be interested to see what happens this summer on the hot days.

This observation hive is great to study bee behavior because you can see what’s going on inside the hive as well as outside. Also you can see inside the area where the bees leave & return, the waggle dances etc. It’s great to be able to show folks, by moving the hive, how accurately the bees navigate back to the spot they left.

Plus you don’t need a high performing queen in there. It’s convenient to use an older queen that may have got squashed during the re-queening process.

Fantasic reading back throught this whole thread on the theories of washboarding. I’m in Perth, WA and it hasn’t been too hot this summer but days still around the 30’s.

I’m a newbee with a Flow 2, two full brood boxes (just finished drawing the last frame) and the super has just gone on in the last week. They get around 4 hours of morning sun then full shade all day under a tree.

My bees have been washboarding pretty much every afternoon around 3.00pm for the last six weeks, I can nearly set my watch by it. They get really busy around the front of the hive flying around in a metre or so, then slowly start washboarding. Sometimes the whole front is covered and sometimes its just a handful but everyday at the same time…? My hive is natural cedar with a Tung Oil coating and it doesn’t seem to be any cleaner at the front compared to the rest of the sides…?

Minimal bearding going on, some really hot nights a small cluster will form on the front landing pad but not often. However they are definately more aggressive, not bad but noisier and tend to chase us around more when they are washboarding…?

No real theories on this as I am still learning but watching the whole front of three boxes, covered in bees, flowing back and forth like the ocean is pretty cool to watch. Cheers!!


Hi all

I have been observing WB last couple of days. Bees have been defensive and more “paranoid” than normal about “robbers / intruders” and the handful of dead bees on grass in front of the hive.

Maybe we are all correct and a decrease in forage is resulting in collection of lesser quality / contaminated forage, less tasks inside the hive and a greater incidence of robbing resulting in more defensive & cleaning behaviour. Maybe WB is also part of a defensive show.

Happy Beeking

Like the haka? Can be intimidating…