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Absconding occurs mainly in tropical areas and is triggered by a shortage of food, excessive disturbances or other environmental circumstances. The behavior enables the colonies to survive even when they are under pressure of external factors. This survival strategy does not happen in temperate zones with cold winters [1].

The following chapter is based on the book „Bees and beekeeping: science, practice, and world resources” by Crane (1990). [1] According to the author, there can be differentiated between two types of absconding behavior.

  • Absconding due to disturbance:

Adult bees abandon their nest and leave behind brood and forage. The whole procedure takes places quite suddenly or within a few hours. Usually, the colony finds a new nesting side nearby the old one in a perimeter of 10 m. Disturbances, triggering this behavior include attack of predators (frequently ants), wax moths or other pests or diseases (foulbrood, …), exposure of the nest to excessive weather (nest gets too cold, too warm, to wet, …), nearby fire or heavy smoke, or excessive manipulation by the beekeeper.

  • Absconding due to a shortage of food:

Absconding due to a shortage of food typically does not appear in regions of homogenous forage that provides enough food throughout the year. Instead, it is found in regions where plants flower in different places during different seasons of the year (e.g. regions with diverse altitudes). A lack of water during drought seasons may also trigger absconding behavior. According to personal observations, absconding of this type may occur in Apis cerana within 24 hours of the onset of a sudden dearth period. However, usually this type of absconding is often prepared in advance by reduction of brood rearing 20 to 25 days before the colony abscond (figure below). In such a case, it was observed, that the bees do not abscond until all the sealed brood had emerged. Therefore, for the final 10 days before absconding tooks place, no eggs had been present due to worker bees consuming the freshly laid eggs [2]. Nevertheless, there are swarms that do leave brood and food behind. For the common case, colonies prepare to abscond where food gets short. Therefore, scout bees fly for long distances in search of a new area with sufficient forage supplies. This theory is supported by observations in Kenya. The authors found that the distance and direction to the new nesting site after absconding was communicated within the colony by dances. Moreover, the direction was the same for all absconding colonies at the same experimental site (Kigatiira, 1984). Pre-absconding behavior could be somehow communicated to nearby colonies, with the result that they also abscond. According to Seeley (1985), a single scout bee is able to fly 55 km and return back with only one honey load [3].

An Africanized bee colony prepares for absconding due to food shortage by reduction of brood rearing. Figure was retreived from Crane (1990)[1] after Winston et al. (1979)[2]

Absconding is not Migration Migration is a periodic movement of bee colonies that result from heritable responses to geophysical cues, not those that result from direct responses to a lack of forage which may also result from geophysical changes. If true migration occurs at all in honeybees, than so far it was only reported from A. dorsata and A. laboriosa.

Management options were formulated during the SAMS project:

  • Take a look into the hive
  • If absconding has not taken place yet, revitalize with two frames containing adult bees, brood and pollen
  • Alternatively, requeen the colony
  • If the colony already absconded think of sanitation decisions. A sanitation decision includes the cleaning and disinfection of the affected hive to avoid disease-transfer. Possible methods are to flame-scarf the inside of the hive (frames and equipment), or to use chemicals (bleach, costic soda, similar substances...). Please adhere to the instructions and work carefully.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Crane, E. (1990). Bees and beekeeping: science, practice, and world resources. Ithaca, N.Y.: Comstock Pub. Associates.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Winston, M. L., Otis, G. W., Taylor, O. R. (1979). Absconding behaviour of the Africanized honeybee in South America. J.apic.Res. 18(2), 85-94.
  3. Seeley, T.D. (1985). Honeybee ecology: a study of adaption to social life. Princeton, NJ: USA. Princeton University Press, 202 pp.