What is Honey Bee Washboarding?

Honey bee washboarding is a fascinating behavior observed in worker bees, characterized by rhythmic rocking movements on the surface of their hive. During this ‘dance’ session, bees often scrape the hive surface using their front legs and mandibles or jaws, staying focused on their task.

While the exact reason for this behavior remains unclear, it has been a subject of curiosity for beekeepers and researchers alike. As we delve deeper into the world of honey bees, understanding their unique behaviors like washboarding can help us uncover more about these remarkable insects and their contribution to our ecosystem.

What Is Honey Bee Washboarding?

Honey bee washboarding is a mysterious behavior observed in worker bees, where they stand on their second and third sets of legs and rhythmically rock back and forth on the surface of their hive. This phenomenon is also known as “rocking” due to its rhythmic motion.

During washboarding, bees may gather in small or large groups, arranging themselves in rows facing the hive entrance. They plant their four rear legs in place and use their two front legs to move and lick the hive surface. The exact purpose of this behavior remains unclear, but it’s fascinating to observe.

Several theories regarding the reasons behind washboarding have been proposed, but none are yet confirmed. Some possible explanations include cleaning or polishing the hive, scent communication, or simple hive maintenance.

Worker Bees Involved

While the specific age of worker bees involved in washboarding is not widely known, it’s believed to be related to general cleaning activities within the hive. This may imply that bees of varying ages can participate in washboarding, as the hive’s cleanliness is an essential aspect of honey bee colony life.

Possible Functions of Washboarding

Nest Maintenance

One of the possible explanations for washboarding behavior is related to nest maintenance. Honey bees engaged in washboarding move their mouths, antennae, and front legs over the surface of the hive. This might indicate that the bees are working to clean or maintain the hive, as they are known to be meticulous in keeping their living environment clean and tidy.


Another theory proposes that washboarding serves as a form of communication among honey bees. Their synchronized movement could help convey messages or signals to other bees in the colony, playing a role in the overall organization and coordination within the hive. They could also be spreading pheromones on the hive’s surface to help foragers find their way back to their hive.

Other Theories

Some suggest that the process might be a form of social interaction or entertainment for the bees, as they have been observed performing this behavior collectively and rhythmically. However, conclusive evidence supporting these alternative theories is still lacking, and further research is necessary to fully understand the purpose of washboarding in honey bees.

Factors Influencing Washboarding Behavior

Worker Bee Age

The age of the worker bees seems to play a role in washboarding behavior. Researchers observed that bees aged 15-25 days old perform this behavior around the hive entrance (source). Although the exact reason remains unknown, the younger bees may be more sensitive to changes in the hive, leading to washboarding as a response.

Environmental Factors

Washboarding has also been observed in feral honey bees, suggesting that environmental factors may play a role in this behavior. In one case, researchers placed different cryptogams, which are plants such as mosses and lichens, on the surface of the hive to see how the bees would deal with them. You can read more about that experiment here.

Researchers continue to study this behavior, seeking deeper understanding and potential connections to hive health and ecological interactions.

Other Social Honey Bee Behaviors

Trophialectic Kissing: This behavior, also known as food sharing, occurs when one bee uses its proboscis to share nectar with another bee. Like washboarding, it’s a social behavior that strengthens communication and cooperation within the colony.

Dance Communication: Honey bees perform various dances to communicate with their fellow hive members. The waggle dance, for example, helps bees relay the location of a food source. These complex dance movements serve as another form of colony social interaction, much like washboarding.

Grooming: Bees groom each other and themselves to maintain cleanliness and overall colony health. Grooming involves removing dirt, pollen, and parasites from one another. This behavior shares a common purpose with washboarding, which is believed to help keep the hive clean and well-maintained.

Guarding: Guard bees protect the hive entrance from intruders and inspect incoming bees to ensure they belong to the colony. Similar to washboarding, guarding requires bees to work collectively and is essential for colony security.

These behaviors, along with washboarding, showcase the remarkable social organization and cooperation within honey bee colonies. Studying these behaviors can help us better understand and appreciate the complexity of these incredible insects.


There are many other theories about the purpose of washboarding. Some theories suggest that washboarding could be related to the bees’ efforts to clean and maintain their hive environment. For example, it has been proposed that bees might be using this behavior to remove tiny pollen grains from their surroundings.

Other theories include the idea that washboarding helps bees propolize gaps between boxes (Flow Forum). However, no definitive explanation for this behavior has yet been established. Despite our limited understanding of washboarding, it’s still an intriguing aspect of honey bee behavior that continues to capture the curiosity and attention of researchers and beekeepers alike.

In conclusion, studying washboarding in honey bees could reveal valuable insights into their social and environmental interactions, ultimately benefiting both the bees and beekeepers. As research continues, we may uncover the true purpose behind washboarding and better understand the complexity of honey bee behavior.

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