Unusual colony odor

Signs or indications

Strong, almost noxious odor, in a colony during fall or during nectar flow.


Sudden loss of colony population, when the bees die inside, such as when overwinter cluster remains, or there is accumulation of bodies on the bottom board, will result in strong decay odors. Foulbrood diseases also have distinctive odors. European foulbrood is a sour smell, while American foulbrood has a distinctive, unpleasant odor when many larvae are decomposing.

Ripening goldenrod nectar frequently produces a strong, somewhat unpleasant smell. It is often mistaken as “something wrong” in the fall hive. The offensive odor goes away once the honey is fully ripened. Some ripening nectar sources, described as having a medicinal odor (and taste) include: tansy ragwort, Manuka, ivy, and some herbs (mint is good example). Other ripening honey odors that some consider objectionable include heather, tropical honey, forest honey, Queen Anne's lace, bitterweed, and ragweed.


Buffington N. 2015. What Is That Smell In My Bee Yard? Keeping Backyard Bees. Accessed 2023. https://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/what-is-that-smell-in-my-bee-yard/

Burlew R. 2013. Stinky honey. Honey Bee Suite. Accessed 2023. https://www.honeybeesuite.com/stinky-honey/

 Worker forager on goldenrod; photo by Lawrence John Connor
Worker forager on goldenrod; photo by Lawrence John Connor