Bees, in addition to just hanging out at the hive entrance, sometimes exhibit an even more interesting behavior called washboarding. This is a rhythmic movement, in which bees on the front of the hives (on the landing board and often above it) seem to step forward and backward, swinging their front legs in what looks to me like a sweeping movement. In another era, when I was a child, my mother still sometimes made use of a washboard to do small batches of laundry by hand. (Her main laundry chores were done in an old fashion ringer washing machine.) This movement of the bees does remind me of the up and down movement my mother made on the washboard. However, I think it looks even more like a dance. Since the term “honey bee dance” is used to describe the movements of forager bees inside the hive on the face of the comb, I guess a new term was needed for this behavior. I find it interesting that only certain hives take part. Out of the 15 full, two story hives in my apiary, only two are exhibiting it at this time. One is shown in the video below. This raises multiple questions, why are they doing it, and why are only certain hives doing it? Is it weather related? Heat? Related to bearding on hives? Though long aware of this behavior, I had not noticed the bees in my apiary performing it earlier in the year. (I have observed it in years past.)
What are they doing? While many beekeepers believe that the bees are cleaning the surface of the hive near the entrance, I am not convinced. I do not know of any scientific research or evidence which shows that what they are doing is cleaning. If you are aware of any (a scientific paper), let me know. I did find one interesting article, co-authored by Dr. Jeff Pettis – head of the USDA Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, discussing some of the scant research which has been done on this behavior, but the authors conclude that the reason for it is still unexplained.
See a little video I filmed this week of some of my girls doing their “washboard dance”, and turn up the sound. Washboard video.