Swarming Bees and Pseudoscorpions

By Karin Sternberg and Jenny Cullinan

The chelifer found in South Africa is mostly Ellingsenius fulleri and is believed to be a predator of small mites, wax moth larvae and other arthropods found in the nest debris. They often cling onto the legs of bees and are believed to be spread in this way to other colonies (Geoff Tribe).

When bees swarm, thousands of bees pour out of a nest only to collect a short distance away in a cluster, often on a branch, but otherwise on any other structure. In September 2017 we were watching bees on the move, temporarily clustered under a concrete table, with scout bees heading out to look for possible new nesting sites and, on their return, performing dances on the surface of the cluster (on other bees) as to the location of the nesting sites found. We watched and waited over a couple of days as slowly the number of possibilities and therefore dances diminished, as the colony came closer to a consensus as to the location of their new nesting site. On the third day of watching this intriguing behaviour and to our utter amazement, we noticed that we were not alone in our waiting.

Pseudoscorpions emerging

From the edge of the first layer of bees in direct contact with the table, we spotted a number of pseudoscorpions emerging. They appeared to be restless and hungry as they moved out and away from the hanging colony, using their pincers which had fine and relatively long hairs to sensitively feel for food in the cracks and gaps of the table undersurface.

They did not get very far as certain (dedicated?) bees seemed concerned and actively encouraged them back. There was a very clear communication between these two species and they were continually touching each other; the pseudoscorpions using their pincers either in a waving motion or by clasping at the bee, and the bees using their antennae and legs to touch and usher the pseudoscorpions back into the cluster.

From all of the fussing, one could tell that the pseudoscorpions were crucial to the bees. With colony activity and communication between the bees increasing as the colony prepared to leave for their final nesting site, the bees kept a close eye on their fellow-travellers. As more and more surface bees stopped dancing and started almost buzz-running and whirling like dervishes on the surface before pushing their way into the middle of the colony as paths clearly opened up for them, the vibrations and sounds of the bees increased and activity peaked. No doubt this was also a cue completely understood by the pseudoscorpions. For when the colony finally departed for their new nesting site, remarkably not a single pseudoscorpion was left behind. 

Holes opening in the cluster


These observations showed us an extraordinary interdependence between bees and pseudoscorpions, and highlighted how vital each are to the other that these wild bees on the move should take the pseudoscorpions along with them. The pseudoscorpions are absolutely necessary to the health and well-being of a colony and are very much part of the bees’ hygiene. We would be very interested to hear if this has ever been documented before?

A pseudoscorpion attaching itself to the leg of a bee

Swarming bees departing for their new nesting site

(All photos are copyrighted and are thus the property of the authors. If you wish to use any, please contact us at ujubeeconservation@gmail.com)

The authors at work:

13 thoughts on “Swarming Bees and Pseudoscorpions

  1. David

    Wow! Amazing photos and writing! I can’t believe with all of the research so many countries are doing this is the first time I have seen or heard about the relationship between these two insects. Of course, if there is no money to be had in spreading the word about Pseudoscorpions few would do it. Thank you for sharing this experience and awesome discovery with us!

    1. Ashu Wani

      Today i was just a minutes away from buying oxalic acid to treat my colony. But before i could do it ,i searched google and to my surprise i found tgat these pseudoscorpions are a boon for a bee colony.
      The moment i read it i was relieved.
      But in our area i never heard about these creepy creatures feeding in a hive.
      Thank you pseudoscorpions.
      They literally cling to bee legs.

  2. Jim

    I was wondering if stinging scorpions would consume varroa mites also? We have plenty of them here in North Texas but no pseudoscorpions that I am aware of. I could tolerate another stinging critter in the hive if it would help control mites without any negatives.
    Some time ago I killed one in the shop that was crawling across the floor and looked like it was tangled up in lint and spider web. When I stepped on it at least a couple hundred baby scorpions started scurrying away that were riding piggyback on mom. A mite would be about right for a meal for the little guys.
    Question, where can one obtain pseudoscorpions?

    1. ujubee Post author

      Hello Jim,
      Pseudoscorpions occur naturally when all the conditions are right, including the nest climate, sufficient nest debris/leaf litter, and where a symbiosis with honeybees is natural. Honeybees are not indigenous to the Americas, so one does not know whether the pseudoscorpions found in northern Texas (if they are found) could even coexist with honeybees even if honeybees lived in a natural cavity like a tree-hollow.
      Pseudoscorpions are not the silver bullet to the problem the US faces with varroa mite. But, keep your bees as naturally as possible with as little interference as possible and with a vast variety of nutritious honeybee forage for a diversity of pollen and nectars and encourage leaf litter and see if pseudoscorpions find their way. One can’t just try and source pseudoscorpions and introduce them into a nest where the conditions for their survival may not be right, and certainly not if you medicate your bees; all creatures also have their own pheromones and not all pheromones are tolerated by honeybees. Introducing another creature that is also not indigenous can cause more harm than good. The stinging scorpions that you refer to are definitely NOT the creatures to be introduced into hives!

  3. Ragna Ribe Jorgensen

    Thank you for important work and wonderful pictures. I will create ecofloor in my hives nest summer. I hope the little monsterbudies will feel welcome.
    Ragna – ByBi – Oslo

  4. Mike Rex

    Very interesting!

    Thank you.

    I have never seen these pseudoscorpions in any of my beehives over all my years of beekeeping.

    I have a glass sided observation hive housing a small swarm and this morning was the first time I saw one of these guys.

  5. Ashish Bhimta

    I found honey bee hive in tree trunk which was hollow inside while cutting it,,,, I brought a honey bee box and place bees in that,,, that day I saw pseudoscorpions on that trunk and few sticking to honey bees,,, I removed them from bees, and let bees settle in box, after 5 days today I open box to see bees, and I was shocked,,, almost all the bees were laying on the bottom of box,,, and round about 40-50 pseudoscorpions were there,, holding honey bees. I killed all most all the pseudoscorpions. But honey bees were dead there.

    1. ujubee Post author

      Hello Ashish,
      Thank you for your comment.
      Why do you think the honeybees died in the hive? And why did you feel it necessary to kill the pseudoscorpions? The pseudoscorpions are so valuable to the honeybees, eating any mites that may be on the bees, and also eating wax moth larvae, eggs etc. They help the honeybees keep an absolutely healthy balance in their wild nests and live in a beautiful symbiosis with the bees. It would have been a great alternative if you could have somehow kept the bees in a section of the trunk and made a kind of log hive out of it, so that the bees could have kept their comb and pollen and honey stores and the myriad of microfauna, like the pseudoscorpions, all in tact in a vibrant and healthy ecosystem, and in a nesting site that they had chosen.
      It is so important to protect honeybees in their natural habitats, and it provides endless hours of fascination, observing what bees do in the wild and naturally.
      Kind regards.

    1. ujubee Post author

      Hello Tony, no we haven’t yet. Though it is on our Facebook page: Ujubee. Thanks for linking this article to iNat!


    Absolutely fascinating! I’m very interested in keeping pseudos with my bees as I enjoy the first as pets and am taking on the second this year as well. I’m in the Pacific northwest and like you mentioned above I’m curious which species will peacefully coexist since honeybees are not native, but have been in north America a long while and potentially could have adapted. Do you know of any research being done on existing microfauna in north American ‘wild’ bee colonies? Or how widespread the chelifer in your article is? How possible is it they have spread with bees?

  7. Dr Gerald Legg

    A fascinating article. A colleague of mine in S. Africa was researching Ellingsinius and its possible use as a Varroa controlling agent as this species is associated with honeybees. Further studies have found that the population level of the pseudoscorpions needed for effective control were not possible.
    The behaviour you show is fascinating and involves the pseudoscorpions’ phoretic behaviour. As a species living in a ‘temporary’ habitat (i.e. one unlike leaf litter; see Legg, G. 1975. The possible significance of spermathecae in pseudoscorpions (Arachnida). Bull. Brit. arachnol. Soc. 3(4), 91-95.) they need to be able to find or get to new habitats and in this case they need to keep with the bees. To do so they have evolved a modification of their predatory behaviour and attach themselves to suitable ‘host’ and hitch-hike to the new habitat. In the case of Ellingsinius the ‘transport’ would be the bees they live with, gripping a leg and entering a cataleptic state whilst the bees fly to a new site to set up home.
    An article in the a suitable Arachnological journal would be very appropriate, e.g. J. Arachnology, J. Brit. Arachnological Society.
    Gerald Legg

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