My Season with Dead Bee Traps

The white square of tarp is the dead bee trap

I participated in a citizen science project for the 2019 season. As a participant, I followed protocol for data collection and reporting on dead bee traps located under three hives in two separate apiaries. As a local beekeeping instructor, I want to share my thoughts on the practice.

What it is. My understanding is that dead bee traps were initially imagined as a way to keep tabs on unreported spray and drift incidents. They have the potential to tell us other things about colony activity. Dead bee traps cover a 4′ x 4′ area right in front of the entrance of a bee hive. Every week, I would collect bees from the trap, count, and report.

Why. Knowing that someone was counting on me pushed me to be more disciplined in my inspections — exactly why I placed a trap at the yard with just one hive. I have a very difficult time prioritizing an inspection a site with only one hive if it isn’t conveniently located.

What I learned. Most memorable: Counting dead bees that have sat through a rainstorm for any length of time is stinky and difficult. As a practice: observing the number, type, and age with a dead bee trap can be helpful. For example, I combined two colonies. I expected a large number of bees to fight and die because I didn’t use newspaper to slow down the process/increase the acceptance rate. The dead bee trap verified that at my next inspection.

dead adult and larval honey beesDead bee traps could also reveal things that happened before I arrived to inspect. For example, this photo. I found these in a trap on Aug. 9, 2019. Without the trap, I know with confidence that I would have missed these in the grass outside the hive entrance. I have no issue with the adult that I found. It isn’t new and fuzzy and its wings look OK. My questions became: Are these bee larvae? If yes, and I were a bee, would it make sense to remove larvae at this time of year? What is going on in the interior and exterior environment of the hive? Again, would it make sense to remove larvae right now?

Looking at 2020, I believe that I will use dead bee traps, in support of my inspections as general observations. Finding a queen (which happened to me in 2019) or young adults could be valuable information sooner rather than later after the effects are found inside the hive a week or two later.

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