How to Treat Dysentery in Honey Bees

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Quick Overview

Dysentery in honey bees, a condition where bees defecate inside or near the hive, is not a disease but can be symptomatic of one, such as Nosema. It’s more common in winter or early spring when bees cannot take cleansing flights due to cold temperatures. The accumulation of indigestible material in their intestines or diseases like Nosema can cause dysentery. It’s not contagious and doesn’t have an infection cycle.

To manage dysentery, beekeepers should ensure proper feeding practices, like providing sugar water or high-fructose corn syrup, which contain little to no indigestible matter. Apiary management, including positioning hives to allow for winter voiding flights and preventing fermented feed, is also crucial. Dysentery can lead to unsanitary conditions and stress in the colony, potentially causing a breakdown in hive order and communication due to the masking of pheromone signals by the odor of feces.

Prevention involves clean feeding practices, avoiding fermented feeds, and managing the bees’ environment to facilitate regular cleansing flights. If dysentery is identified, it’s important to address it promptly to prevent further complications. Beekeepers can successfully manage and treat dysentery by following these guidelines, maintaining the health of their colonies.

What is Dysentery in Honey Bees?

Dysentery in honey bees is a condition where fecal matter is voided just outside the beehive or inside it. In affected beehives, you will see streaks of bee fecal matter on the hive entrance and landing board, and inside the beehive itself. Honey bee dysentery is more common in winter than in any other season of the year. Some cases of dysentery occur in the spring season.

Harsh winters have many effects on wintering honey bee colonies. They often have you wondering how to treat dysentery after you notice the problem with your colony. This is a huge concern for beekeepers because it can lead to more serious problems. Timely inspections of beehives even in winter, help you identify this problem in affected beehives and address it on time. The biggest problem with dysentery is that it can be a standalone problem or a symptom of another problem plaguing the colony. Therefore, it is important that you are able to identify this problem in honeybee colonies in your beekeeping operation and address it.

It is important to note that dysentery in honey bees is not categorized as a disease. However, the condition can happen as a symptom of a serious disease of honey bees. In some cases of dysentery, the cause is Nosema affecting the bees. Dysentery in such a scenario is a symptom of the Nosema plaguing your colony of honey bees. Therefore, clearing the Nosema problem in the scenario leads to ending the honey bee dysentery too.

  • While there are many symptoms and deductive methods to diagnose Nosema, the best and most accurate way is examining adult bees in a laboratory.
  • Nosema in honey bees is often managed and controlled using a mix of integrated apiary management methods. In some jurisdictions, there are no chemical treatments that have been approved for use in treating Nosema.

Do Honey Bees Excrete Feces?

Yes, honey bees do excrete feces. Under normal circumstances, honey bees make voiding flights outside the beehive and release fecal matter from their guts while flying. This happens far from the beehive itself.

A few bees will sometimes void fecal material in the beehive, but the amount of such fecal matter is too low to cause any problems to the colony. Additionally, bees cleaning the beehive remove such fecal material from it quickly and easily.

Does Dysentery in Honey Bees Have an Infection Cycle?

The causes and progression of dysentery in honey bees make the condition quite different from diseases affecting honey bees. Dysentery in honey bees does not have an infection cycle or pattern. This is because it is not caused by a causative agent but by weather conditions. It is not contagious.

Additionally, one bee afflicted by dysentery cannot transmit the condition to another honey bee. The condition is also not transmissible genetically to the offspring of affected honey bees.

Which Honey Bees Suffer Dysentery?

Adult honey bees in wintering honey bee colonies are the ones that suffer dysentery. Honey bees in other stages of development do not need to make voiding flights. They are not prevented from voiding their wastes as appropriate by the low temperatures that affect adult honey bees.

Is Dysentery in Honey Bees Always Fatal to the Colony?

Dysentery in honey bees is not a fatal condition by itself. In the right conditions, it can even clear itself when it is not a symptom of another problem affecting the honey bee colony. However, secondary conditions and diseases that come about as a result of dysentery can be fatal to bees. They can degrade your honey bee colony’s strength and cause eventual colony collapse. It is, therefore, best to identify the dysentery early in its onset and take measures to control it.

Signs and Symptoms of Dysentery in Honey Bees

Dysentery in Honey Bees

Signs and symptoms inform us beekeepers of dangers in their honey bee colonies. In the case of dysentery, an observant beekeeper will note various signs and symptoms that inform them of the presence of the condition, and how much it has affected the honey bee colony.

Do not panic when you notice dysentery in honey bees. You can identify the signs and symptoms and successfully treat dysentery in honey bees. Such indicators include fecal material from bees deposited on the beehive frames, sides of beehive boxes, and other equipment in the beehive. This happens when honey bees void fecal material inside the beehive.

1. Honey Bee Feces at the Beehive Entrance

Additionally, you will likely notice bee fecal material around the beehive entrance. The fecal material will be on the landing board, your beehive stand, and on the bottom board too. This is the surest sign that your bees have dysentery. Bee feces are usually yellow in color. The fecal material is somewhat sticky when it is from a healthy bee. It can be in droplets or a more solid sausage shape.

2. Bad Odors from Beehives

Beehive inspections give you insights into the health of honey bees. Opening up a beehive for an inspection requires you to bring all your senses to bear. Keen beekeepers opening up a beehive whose honey bee colony is suffering dysentery notice a bad odor coming from the beehive. While it is not a conclusive sign, it alerts them to a problem in the beehive. Closer inspection reveals other signs and the beekeeper thereby confirms that the bees have dysentery.

3. Unusual Honey Bee Behavior

In the course of observing or checking on your bees, you will notice bees exhibiting unusual behavior. They make many short flights around the entrance of the beehive and void fecal matter in each flight. Too much of such activity is a sign that all is not well with the bees in that respective beehive.

Causes of Dysentery in Honey Bees

Accumulation of indigestible material in the intestines is the cause of dysentery in honey bees. In other cases, dysentery is caused by Nosema disease affecting the honey bee colony. Honey bees can only hold the fecal matter in their body which is up to 30-40% of their individual body weight. If fecal matter gets beyond this limit, the bee urgently voids the fecal matter in the beehive or just outside the beehive. This occurs if the bee has not been able to go on a cleansing flight for a significant period of time.

1. Cold Temperatures

Very cold temperatures in winter are a leading cause of honey bees not going out on enough voiding flights. The likelihood of dysentery in honey bees increases if honey bees experience temperatures below 50 °F (10 °C) for a period of more than 2-3 weeks. In many such cases, bees venturing outside the beehive get very cold and void fecal matter on the landing board and then die due to being too cold.

While checking on such honey bee colonies, you may find many dead bees in the area immediately under and around the beehive. You may also observe a lot of bee fecal matter at the entrance of the beehive and inside the beehive.

The bees die because they venture out of the beehive to void feces and find that they cannot beat their wings, or the wings cannot beat well due to low temperatures.

A number of warm days at intervals in winter are important for honey bees to venture outside on voiding flights. Too much time passage between one warm day and the next one will undoubtedly cause dysentery in honey bees.

Most measures to prevent, treat, and control honey bee dysentery center around making more voiding flights for honey bees and reducing the amounts of indigestible materials in the food your honey bees consume.

2. Too Much Water Access

Beekeepers report a number of cases where dysentery in honey bees is caused by the bees having access to too much water in spring. The water in syrups you feed to honey bees wet the solid fecal material in the bee’s gut and causes a sudden increase in the amount of fecal matter to more than 30-40% that the bee can hold.

Over winter, the solid matter often accumulates in the guts of honey bees because they are only eating honey for food, and making few and short voiding flights. Such occurrences of dysentery in honey bees caused by sudden uptake of too much water, may last only a few days as bees adapt to having more water in their guts. They are soon able to make proper voiding flights again and they release fecal matter without urgency, and at enough distance from their beehives.

Despite the connotation and implied link, water does not cause dysentery in the beehives. It is access to water, intake of too much water, and the presence of solid fecal matter accumulated over winter in the guts of the honey bees that cause the honey bees’ dysentery in spring.

3. Eating Fermented Feeds

Additionally, honey bees feeding on any fermented feed will get dysentery. The fermented feed causes an imbalance in the guts of the honey bees and is expelled quickly. Bees suffer dysentery for some time until the bad feed is fully expelled from their intestines.

Dysentery in honey bees due to consuming fermented feed does not last long if you manage it well. It has little potential of wiping out the honey bee colony once you remove the fermented feed. You may also provide less watery feeds to the bees to help them recover faster from the bout of dysentery.

4. Sucking Juice from Overripe Fruits

Lastly, sucking juice from fruits that are overripe can cause dysentery in honey bees. The high sugar content of such fruit juice affects the bee gut’s ability to digest it and dysentery occurs to clear the juice from the intestines. Overripe fruit juice may also ferment in the gut of the honey bee that consumes it. This also results in the bee suffering a bout of dysentery.

Effects of Dysentery on Honey Bees

Dysentery in Honey Bees

Dysentery has a number of effects on bees. They range from effects on individual honey bees to effects on the colony as a whole. Honey bees that have dysentery get weak and less productive in the beehive. They spend much more time in cleansing flights than in carrying out other activities. Affected bees may also exhibit abnormal behavior due to the stress they experience.

1. Effects on the Colony

The colony of honey bees feels the effects of dysentery if a large number of its members are affected. Fewer bees in the colony go foraging for resources to use in the beehive and to replenish used stocks. As more honey bees suffer dysentery, maintenance of the beehive gets executed poorly. Brood may die as a result and the queen bee does not receive adequate nutrition. Consequently, she lays fewer eggs.

If you do not treat dysentery in honey bees within a colony, it causes a series of events that result in the colony dying out. Within the beehive, fecal material causes the growth of fungi and harmful bacteria populations. These infect and affect the bees of the colony.

Bad odor from bee feces voided in the beehive, makes communication via pheromones difficult. The colony loses coordination and order breaks down with individual bees not working in synchrony. Once the colony is in this downward spiral of events, it ends up collapsing due to starvation or a lack of new members to keep the colony going.

2. Induces Stress 

One of the fatal conditions that arise as a result of dysentery in honey bees is stress. Due to dysentery affecting the honey bee colony, the colony gets stressed and starts functioning erratically. The honey bees burn through food in their bodies and eat stored honey at a higher-than-usual rate. It causes the bees to die earlier than their time and in large numbers. They may starve if they finish up all stored food resources such as honey.

3. Poor Beehive Sanitation

Dysentery in honey bees leads to unsanitary conditions in the beehive. Fecal material voided in the beehive becomes a rich media on which fungi and bacteria grow. Even in cold temperatures of winter, bacteria and fungi of various species can still grow on the voided fecal matter. These bacteria and fungi then go on to infect the honey bee colony and cause fatalities. Left unchecked, the infections wipe out your honey bee colony.

4. Disrupts Beehive Communication

Another way in which honey bees’ dysentery can cause colony collapse, is by causing a breakdown in honey bee communication. For their communication, honey bees rely heavily on smells of pheromones among other signals such as physical and visual signals.

When there are severe cases of dysentery, the fecal material is voided in the beehive, and just outside it releases a foul odor inside. This odor masks the pheromones that honey bees use to communicate. Individual bees then start working out of synchrony with the rest of the colony. Too much of such unsynchronized behavior leads to the breakdown of order in the beehive and the eventual death of the honey bee colony.

Treating Dysentery in Honey Bees

There are various methods used to treat dysentery in honey bees. Each method has its unique working principle, effectiveness, and suitability to the situation of the beekeeper and their honey bee colony.

You should first establish the cause of dysentery in your honey bees so that you fight the root cause of the problem. Helping honey bees take voiding flights is one of the targeted outcomes of honey bee dysentery control methods. They also aim to reduce the accumulation of solid indigestible material in the intestines (gut) of honey bees.

1. Feeding Practices

Treat dysentery by reducing the amounts of indigestible solids the bees eat. In winter, you may replace honey with other feed for the bees.

  • Sugar water and high-fructose corn syrup are great replacements for honey. They have very little or no indigestible matter.
  • Feed one or both of your bees that have started having dysentery in winter if the temperatures are now warm enough for the liquids to remain in a liquid state for a suitable amount of time.

Feeding Honey Bees that are Wintering Indoors

Having bees wintered in a controlled environment such as a heated warehouse, makes it easier for you to treat, control, and prevent dysentery in honey bees. You do not need the space to be too warm since the bees will eat through their winter supplies too fast. Bees only develop dysentery if they have not gone on a feces-voiding flight for more than 2-3 weeks and have accumulated fecal matter in their guts.

I recommended that beekeepers who winter their colonies in ventilated buildings, should remove honey from beehives and replace it with other feeds that have little or no indigestible material in them. Two such feeds that are very suitable for use are sugar water and high-fructose corn syrup. Honey bees consuming such feeds can go a full winter without needing to void fecal material. Therefore, they have little chance of suffering from dysentery.

Provide Fresh Feed to Honey Bees

Dysentery in honey bees that is a result of the bees consuming fermented feeds is easy to manage. Remove the source of fermented feed such as feeders that have been in the beehive for too long. Replace them with fresh feed that will not harm the bees. You may give the bees some sugar patties or fondant for some time to help them get less watery material into their intestines.

Treating Spring Dysentery in Honey Bees

If the dysentery happens to be in the spring season, you may use more solid feeds in place of honey, such as sugar cakes and bee fondant. There is little water content in sugar cakes and fondant. Using them as the food you provide to your honey bees, lowers the amount of water in the gut of the bees, thereby reducing incidences of dysentery. Feeding bees that have dysentery any liquid food such as sugar syrup in the spring season, usually worsens the dysentery they are suffering.

2. Apiary Management Practices

Placing your beehive should also take into consideration their need to make voiding flights in winter. It is best that you place the beehive facing a southerly direction in a place where it is hit by sun rays. However, even as you allow the sun to warm the beehive, you should keep it sheltered from strong winds, snowfalls, and other harmful weather elements of winter. Any sunshine your locality experiences during the winter season warms the beehive and bees in it. They take safe and successful voiding flights and then get back into the beehive to form their winter cluster.

Add upper entrances to your beehives housing honey bee colonies that are having dysentery. The upper entrances make flying out of the beehive for short voiding flights easy for the honey bees. Air warmed by the wintering colony rises and warms the upper sections of the beehive. Bees moving to the upper entrance are warmed too, so their wing muscles beat well and strongly. They can then make the short flight needed for voiding feces from their guts and get back into the beehive before they get too cold.

Prevention and Control of Honey Bee Dysentery

Dysentery in Honey Bees

Prevent the occurrence of dysentery in honey bees by carrying out various management practices on time and for sufficient periods of time. Firstly, you should provide clean feed or the cleanest feed you can provide to wintering honey bee colonies. Honey is a favorite feed for many beekeepers, but it may also be the riskiest with respect to dysentery in honey bees. Honey has many indigestible solids that you do not want your honey bees eating.

  • The indigestible solids remain and accumulate in the gut of the bee when other digestible material is absorbed into the body of the honey bee.
  • If large amounts of undigested material collect in the gut and then the bee is unable to go out on a feces-voiding flight in time, the honey bee will suffer from dysentery.
  • Honey that is dark in color generally has more indigestible material in it than clear honey. You may therefore switch out beehive frames with dark honey with some that have clear honey.
  • Honeydews also have a high proportion of matter that cannot be digested in the intestines of honey bees.

Best Winter Feeds for Honey Bees

For beekeepers that winter their honey bee colonies in ventilated buildings, I recommend that the feed given to bees be changed. You should remove honey from the selection of feeds and instead switch to sugar water and high-fructose corn syrup (or the closest alternative available to you).

Sugar water and fructose corn syrup have very little or no indigestible matter. They therefore easily prevent the occurrence of dysentery in honey bee colonies.

Honey bee colonies wintering in ventilated buildings do not get to leave their respective beehives until winter is over or until environmental temperatures get high enough to allow the beehive to be returned to a field apiary.

Avoid Feeding Honey Bees Fermented Feeds

Avoid feeding honey bees with fermented feed. Store all prepared syrups and feed patties in cool temperatures so that they do not ferment. Additionally, prepare just enough feed to last honey bees a few days and place it in the beehive. This eliminates the occurrence of remainder syrup that could then ferment if you store it in an improper manner.

If a bee feeder of any time has fermented feed in it, wash it thoroughly with plenty of water to remove all the microorganisms that caused fermentation in the feeder equipment. It ensures that future use of the same equipment will not cause a repeat incident of fermenting the feed in it.

Dispose of feed that has been fermented in a safe and appropriate method and place such that honey bees will not be able to access and consume it.

Preventing Overripe Fruit Juice Dysentery in Honey Bees

When you identify the cause of bee dysentery to be overripe fruit juice, remove the fruits from the foraging areas of the honey bees. The fruits may be on farms that belong to other persons such as your neighbors. Approach them calmly and ask them to harvest the fruits so that they stop harming your honey bees.

If you are not successful, consider keeping your honey bee colonies in their beehives for a few days or a week to allow time for the overripe fruits to drop to the ground from where honey bees have little motivation to suck on their juices. The passage of time may also see some farmers around you harvest their overripe fruit and spare you the problem of honey bees suffering dysentery.


Dysentery in honey bees is a discomfiting condition to discover in your apiary. It can progress into a colony-threatening situation if you do not address it promptly. Even then, you should not be too worried or panic after noticing dysentery in your apiary. It is a condition that many beekeepers have dealt with successfully. Both beginner and experienced beekeepers can successfully identify dysentery in honey bee colonies and treat it successfully. The detailed unpacking of dysentery in honeybees in this article is a useful tool in your fight against this problem in your beekeeping operation. Use this comprehensive guide on how to treat dysentery in honey bees to keep your colonies healthy at all times.


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About Michael Simmonds

Michael Simmonds is an American beekeeper with more than two decades of experience in beekeeping. His journey with bees began in his youth, sparking a lifelong passion that led him to start his own apiary at the tender age of 15. Throughout the years, Simmonds has refined his beekeeping skills and has accumulated a wealth of knowledge concerning honeybee biology and behavior. Simmonds' early exposure to beekeeping ignited a fascination with these pollinators, influencing his decision to establish BeeKeepClub in 2016. The website was created with the aim to serve as the ultimate resource for beginners interested in beekeeping. Under Simmonds' guidance, BeeKeepClub provides comprehensive information to novices, including the basics of beekeeping, the different types of bees and hives, the selection of hive locations, and the necessary beekeeping equipment. In addition, the site offers detailed reviews of beekeeping tools to help enthusiasts make informed decisions and get the best value for their investment​​. His contributions to the beekeeping community through BeeKeepClub are substantial, offering both educational content and practical advice. The website covers a wide array of topics, from starting an apiary to harvesting honey, all reflecting Simmonds' extensive experience and passion for the field. Simmonds’ approach is hands-on and educational, focusing on the importance of understanding bees and the environment in which they thrive. His work not only guides beginners through their beekeeping journey but also reflects a commitment to the well-being of bees. Michael Simmonds has dedicated a significant part of his life to bees and beekeeping, and through BeeKeepClub, he has made this knowledge accessible to a broader audience. His work undoubtedly embodies a blend of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness in the realm of beekeeping.
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2 years ago

I have either dysentery or Nosema in my hives…and until I can get someone with a microscope to sample the bees I won’t know for sure. Until I read this article it was all doom and gloom for my bees, but I now feel that there is some hope. The difference is that my bees started to show signs just recently…i.e. we are now in summer here. I noticed a strong smell in one of my hives, much like strong cat pee, and put it down to the fact that there was an unneutered Tom cat in the area. I… Read more »

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