Understanding Washboarding Behavior in Honeybees

Honeycombs and bees in beehive

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Washboarding is a fascinating collective behavior exhibited by honeybees, similar to festooning. It involves young worker bees and occurs both inside and outside the beehive, primarily on the hive surface. This behavior typically occurs towards the end of nectar flows.

Possible Reasons for Washboarding

There are several explanations for why honeybees engage in washboarding:

1. Removal of pathogens from the hive

Some beekeepers believe that washboarding helps eliminate pathogens from the hive. Research has indicated that bees engage in washboarding near the hive entrance, suggesting that returning foragers clean themselves before entering. Bees may also focus on rough surfaces to remove possible habitats for pathogens.

2. Removal of leftover particles or waste

Another theory is that washboarding is a way to remove particles accumulated during the honey season. Since washboarding occurs at the end of nectar flow, foraging bees may unintentionally carry unwanted particles. The timing of washboarding coincides with when the colony’s foragers are most active.

3. Colony scent

Washboarding may involve worker bees continuously applying colony scent at the hive entrance and inside. This helps guide returning foragers into the hive more effectively. The bees use their front legs and the tarsal pheromone to apply the scent repetitively.

4. Idle worker bees

Some speculate that washboarding occurs when idle worker bees find work outside the hive. They could be sweeping the hive, keeping themselves occupied.

5. Genetic predisposition

Different beehives exhibit varying levels of washboarding activity, suggesting a genetic influence. The behavior may be inherited and passed down through generations.

6. Hunger

Worker bees engaging in washboarding during food scarcity suggests they are conserving energy rather than venturing outside where resources are limited. They may be waiting for pollen and nectar flows.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is washboarding in honeybees?

Washboarding is a behavior exhibited by young worker honeybees, involving rocking back and forth with their front legs while fixating their hind legs. It typically occurs towards the end of nectar flows and is observed both inside and outside the beehive, primarily on the hive surface.

Why do honeybees engage in washboarding?

There are several possible reasons for washboarding, including the removal of pathogens from the hive, removal of leftover particles or waste, application of colony scent, keeping idle worker bees occupied, genetic predisposition, and conservation of energy during food scarcity.

How long does washboarding typically last?

Washboarding typically lasts for a day or two, but in some cases, it can extend up to two weeks. It occurs between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. on hot and warm days, with a peak intensity between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.


When washboarding occurs, it is important for beekeepers to inspect the hive. This behavior serves as a signal from the worker bees, indicating the need to ensure sufficient food reserves for the colony. Although the reasons for washboarding are not fully understood, monitoring the hive and providing necessary supplements can help maintain a healthy bee population.

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