Skip to content

Symptoms of a Nutritionally Starved Hive

By: Blake Shook

A starving hive can take on many symptoms and can occur at many points throughout the year. Thus, it is important to be able to identify the symptoms.

The most common conditions which can lead to this are:

  • Early spring before a major honey flow begins and the bees are building up faster than flowers are blooming. You should watch especially carefully if there is a late spring cold snap, and the bees can’t forage for a week or more while they have a rapidly growing population. If this occurs, a gallon or two of syrup and a pollen patty are typically sufficient to carry them through a week of non-flight.
  • Post-harves This is the most common time to see bees suffer nutritionally. Once you harvest honey, typically in early summer, many regions experience hot and dry conditions and a dramatic reduction in nectar and pollen available.
  • For regions that have very warm winters (daytimes in the 60s-70s) your hive may never stop rearing brood and could need some supplemental pollen and syrup all winter long. For most of the country, little to no pollen is needed during the dead of winter since no brood rearing is occurring. In these instances, a starving hive is one which has run out of stored honey or syrup.

Now that we have identified when to watch for nutritionally starved hives, let’s discuss what it looks like in a hive:

  • Less than half a frame (combined) of pollen stores in a hive
  • Less than 10lbs (combined) of honey or syrup in a hive (1 deep frame full of honey is 5-6lbs and a medium frame is 3-4lbs for reference)
  • Bees cannibalizing brood. You may see the bees uncapping and consuming pupa, or more likely, you will see almost no eggs or larva in the hive, despite a laying queen.
  • Before cannibalization begins, larva will look “dry” in a hive. The small larva in a hive should be floating in royal jelly. If they are not, this is an indication that the hive doesn’t have enough stores.






Photo(s) Credit: Randy Oliver

The fastest way to fix a starving hive is to simply give them food! Keep in mind that if they have plenty of stored honey, but little to no stored pollen, they need a pollen patty. If they have little to no stored syrup/honey, they need syrup. When in doubt, a little food can go a long way to help protect a hive!

Workers consuming developing larvae


Previous article Countdown to Queens