We observed some strange behavior yesterday afternoon from the bees that were on the front of the hive. At first glance, I was surprised to see so many just kind of lingering on the front side of the box. Looking closer, however, they all seemed to be doing the same motion – they were standing in place rocking forward and backward repeatedly, and at the same pace. I watched them for a long time and couldn’t draw any conclusions from my observation. They literally looked like an army of zombie bees. It was really quite eerie.
Googling key words like “bees rocking back and forth” brought up a search result called “Washboarding bees arockin’ and alickin'”. It turns out there is an actual term for this strange behavior – Washboarding! You can also see a video that shows you what the bees look like when they are washboarding. I did some more searches in forums, and it seems like no one really knows why they “washboard”, but there are a few consistent theories out there such as: 1) the bees are licking the surface to protect against other organisms from living on the surface of the hive, 2) the bees are more permanently etching in their scent so that fellow bees can more easily find home, 3) the bees are twiddling their thumbs due to lack of nectar flow, 4) the bees are young and don’t have a role in the hive yet.
I noticed again today that there were quite a few doing the same thing, although, not as many as were doing it yesterday. I’m going to see if they do it again tomorrow and hopefully get it on video. How weird!!