The Lifespan Of Bee Colonies: Can Your Bees Die Out?

Raising honey bees is a profitable and delicious hobby, but how long will your beehive last? Will the bees eventually leave or die out? Will you need to catch more swarms and start over?

Bee colonies have the ability to continually reproduce. In the right climate, your bees may never leave. Even if the original queen dies, the bees will raise a new queen who will take over. They will not completely die out naturally. The bee colony will turn over a number of times, but they will not leave the hive. There are several things that can kill off a colony. However, if even a handful of bees survive they will replenish themselves. The only time you will need to catch a new swarm is if the colony is completely wiped out due to harsh weather, predators, or disease. Then you will have to start over with a new colony (if the colony was wiped out by disease you will need to properly and thoroughly clean the hive). The bottom line is that bees can last forever in a single hive if they are in an ideal climate and are well taken care of.

There are steps you can take to your beehive healthy and thriving. The first step is making sure you know what can cause your bees to die. The second step is doing everything you can to prevent those tragedies from befalling your bees. Taking these steps will ensure that you are doing everything you can to keep your bees alive. The main threats bees face fall into 3 different categories: predators, disease, and weather.

Bee Predators

The three predators in the US that People most commonly have an issue with are bears, skunks, and hive beetles. Bears are the classic example of bee predators. Bears love honey and will be persistent once they find a hive. An electric fencing that is effective against bears around your hive should strongly discourage them from trying anything. Bears will only be an issue if your hives are far away from civilization. Bears won’t usually venture into city limits.

Skunks are far more common. Skunks eat insects and they love a good beehive. These nocturnal creatures will return night after night to feast on bees. Luckily, your electric fencing will also keep skunks out. Electrified fencing is still necessary in this case because while skunks can’t climb trees very well, they can absolutely scale a normal fence.

The last predator you have a good chance of running into are hive beetles. Hive beetles can be incredibly destructive to your hive. Hive beetles will eat and defalcate on the honey (this causes the honey to ferment and fall out of the cell). In some cases, hive beetles can cause the colony to flee the hive. An electrified fence will not help you where hive beetles are concerned. The Bee Health Extension has a fantastic page on what hive beetles are, how to prevent them, and several ways to get rid of them.

Bee Diseases

Diseases can be very deadly for bees. Certain diseases can cause your bees to die within a matter of days. There is a long list of bee diseases. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has a pdf that contains a comprehensive list of parasitic, bacterial, and viral diseases. This pdf also contains prevention and control practices.

For most diseases, keeping your hive clean, checking on them often, and caring for your bees well will go a long way in prevention. It’s much easier to prevent diseases than it is to try and eradicate them. Some diseases will completely wipe out your colony very quickly. Foulbrood is a deadly disease spread by spores and they hang around the hive even after all the bees are gone. Even boiling water is not hot enough to kill them off completely. Getting rid of Foulbrood spores is a daunting task that requires several levels of cleaning and burning sulfur. The book Keeping Bees in Horizontal Hives:
A Complete Guide to Apiculture
by Georges de Layens & Gaston Bonnier & Dr. Leo Sharashkin (editor)
covers this and is absolutely worth a read if you are planning to or already raising bees.


Bees are very sensitive to weather changes. Cold drafts and high moisture levels can cause many of your bees to die or even wipe out a whole colony. Winters can be very hard for bees especially if they are severe. Bees do not survive well in cold climates. How you take care of your bees in the winter determines whether or not you end up with bees in the spring.

If you are harvesting honey, you will need to leave a significant amount in the hive for the bees to eat during the winter. They will not collect pollen in the winter and therefore will not make honey. The bees rely on the excess honey they made during the warmer months to feed themselves during winter. The amount of honey you need to leave depends on how big the hive is. As a general rule about 60 pounds of honey should do the trick. If you live in a climate that has harsh winters, you will need to leave 90+ pounds of honey.

You will need to protect bees from cold drafts best you can. This means putting up some sort of barrier or covering your hive with a breathable material. There are several overwintering beehive covers that are readily available online. Moisture build up (as from condensation) is another thing you want to avoid. Beehive covers will help with this issue.

Wintering Bees in Cold Climates by Christina Wahl, Ph.D., Linda Mizer, DVM, Ph.D., Diana Sammataro, Ph.D, is a great resource if you want to learn more about how to keep your hive safe from the cold.


Your bees will not die out if you are able to keep them safe. Predators, diseases, and weather can all be dangerous for bees. Something you can do to help your bees be more resistant to all of these threats is to catch your own swarm. You can also buy from a provider of local bees, but the important thing is to never buy imported bees. Bees that have been imported from another country are not acclimated to (and therefore are less tolerant of) our conditions, diseases and predators.

The best book I can recommend was mentioned earlier in the article. Keeping Bees in Horizontal Hives:
A Complete Guide to Apiculture
by Georges de Layens & Gaston Bonnier & Dr. Leo Sharashkin (editor)
talks about all of the issues we discussed in this post. It is focused on Horizontal hives (which is my choice after having researched hives for multiple weeks), but a lot of the principles still apply to other types of hives.

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