So how do you tell the difference?
I have 6 colonies in Florida. Three are in long hives, with deep frames, and the others are 5 over 5 deep nucs, plus one deep 8 frame nuc.
The established long hives are not as populous as they were at the height of the summer flow. My best hive filled almost 30 deep frames at that point, but as the summer ended and fall progressed, the bees started withdrawing from the end frames, leaving empty comb. Now the three long hives are down to 3 or 4 frames of brood, the same in honey, plus a frame or two of pollen. Mite counts, done via a sugar roll, in late September, were below the treatment threshold. There is no evident DWV, no crawlers, and the brood patterns are good, if somewhat smaller than at the height of the early summer flows.
I've removed most of the empty comb. One of the hives had a laying worker problem in late summer, with several supercedures before that, but it's in much the same shape as the other hives. The hives still seem to have lots of bees. They are flying well, bringing in pollen and nectar from somewhere, and have shown no tendency to rob or be robbed.
Should I be worried about this diminishing of the colonies?