Honey Bee Cannibalism and Other Odd Hygienic Behaviors.

When it comes to honey bees (or pretty much any carbon entity), if you are not in constant amazement – you may not be paying close enough attention. Sometimes you just scratch your head and think, “Well, that’s interesting.”

Here are a few hygienic behaviors that make you just think.



The word cannibalism is not something we say in society without getting some fear chills – so when it comes to honey bees – why do they perform cannibalism?

Cannibalism will happen in a number of situations near starvation, generally due to a low supply of protein. Since royal jelly production requires an ample supply of protein, a lack of protein hinders its production, and the colonies will make decisions in order to preserve the health of the hive and survivability.

In cases of genetically damaged eggs (in the case of a diploid male – these are fertilized eggs with matched sex alleles), cannibalism of the egg is performed very quickly after laying.

In this video, you can see two occurrences of cannibalism happening – one with an egg and one in the pupa stage.

Varroa Consumption


This is a fascinating hygienic trait. Here you see the honey bee inspecting a cell after hatching – and the honey bee will clean out the cell by eating the Varroa and eating the Varroa feces. Honey bees can eat Varroa when their shell is not hardened. After its hardened, it can still injure the mite or remove its legs when auto-grooming or allo-grooming.

Here is a video showing two honey bees as they clean a cell of Varroa.


Allo-grooming is the hygienic behavior of assisting a hive mate with cleaning itself. Auto-grooming is the honey bee cleaning itself. Cleaning is a natural process for the honey bees, and it is a crucial component of Varroa Hygiene. Basically, the increased genic leaning of a colony to clean, the better they will be at identifying issues within the hive.

Here is a video showing allo-grooming in acting within the hive.

The "Rocking Movement"

We have talked about this before; this is a behavior that still illudes many on its purpose. At first, it was thought this action only happens outside the hive, but we see that’s not that case. This rocking movement is happening inside and outside the hive.

Most likely, as a lot of research has shown, the honey bee is cleaning the surrounding surface with its mandibles and the tarsi of the front legs, which is why this would be a hygienic behavior.

As we glimpse into the hive with modern technology, we get a better idea of the interworkings of the colony. For centuries, only limited observations were done inside the hive, with no accurate representations of the true workings of the colony. Now, we can ‘close the door’ of the hive and see the private working of these amazing creatures.

Article References

  1. A Closer Look – Basic Honey Bee Biology pages 52 – 53
  2. Institut für Bienenkunde, Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt am Main, Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Here are some other relevant blog posts: