This is my first posting. I live in Oakland, CA and my neighbor keeps Bees and over the past year she has had a hive on my patio. I've spent many hours watching and listening to this hive of Italian "Blonds" which she bought from a bee breeder in Chico, CA. Since the hive was installed we have had a intermittent problem with ants. It seemed that the problem had been solved by installing a "moat" around the hive/ box. The box is on cinder blocks within a plastic pan of water.
The hive was removed from the moat when the ants gave up at the end of the summer. Even after the 1st storm in November there was no problem with ants. -That is - until the 2nd storm, which didn't occur until February (for those outside of CA. we're in the middle of a drought). The rain in February brought the ants back with a vengeance. The box went back inside the the moat. Cinnamon was sprinkled all around it, and I was on daily ant patrol. My neighbor used some "Ecosmart Organic Insecticide" which she had used in the summer without any ill effects. It consists of peppermint oil, rosemary oil, wintergreen oil, mineral oil, Polyglyceryl Oleate, and Sodium Benzoate.
This afternoon I went to check on the ant problem and it looked worse than the yesterday, when I bent down to rescue a bee that had fallen into the moat, I realized I couldn't hear any bees from inside the hive (there is usually at least one really loud bee giving orders ). I also realized there were no bees coming or going from the hive. So I cracked open the boxes and saw no bees! They were there yesterday. A few dead bees inside the box, but otherwise just ants. There were no dead bees around the entrance to the hive or lying around on the patio either.
I watch the hive for around a hour. A few bees came by the hive, flew around it as if checking out the hive, then departed. Some bees came by to have a sip of the water that I keep nearby. I realized some of them were from another hive as they were a dark brown and larger (Russians?) rather than the small golden bees of our hive. ....Finally after around a half an hour a blond bee went inside, but she came back out a couple of minutes later, flew around the hive, went back in, then came out and flew away.
It's all so sad, a few days ago they were bringing pollen into the hive. Could the ants have brought something deadly into the hive? Could the moat have encouraged a fungus this time? There didn't seem to be any noticeable mildew. My neighbor is away for the afternoon & evening. I'm not looking forward to telling her that her bees are gone.
Carol - (mangohead)
You need to inspect the broodnest. Are there uncapped larvae? Are there capped pupae? Are there no worker pupae, but only scattered drone brood? Are there "emergency queen cells" -- relatively small acorn shaped queen cells protruding from the center of the brood?
My guess is you may find no larvae, but only stale capped diseased pupae with a small chew hole in the center. This occurs when the queen dies during winter following a varroa buildup. The winter bees don't build emergency queens, or those that do fail to mate (no drones to mate with her). The winter bees continue to tend the nest in a zombie manner, but the colony dies out at the onset of spring.
The second ant invasion likely occured when the population dropped so the remaining bees could not defend the honey stores or the larvae. The ants are just cleaning up an already terminal hive.
Robbing out a dead out hive is capable of generating enough flight traffic that the hive still looks occupied, long after an active breeding colony is lost.
Hive poisoning from bees collecting flower garden nectar that has been sprayed with many consumer insecticides (including so-called organic compounds -- such as pyrethreum and neem, both of which are deadly poisonous to bees) is frequent in urban settings. (Do you really want to eat that honey?) But poisoned hives generally have dozens of dead bees, trembling and stupified dropping from the entrance. Nurse bees are often relatively spared (as the foragers die before transmitting the poison). Queens due their huge metabolic demand often succumb.
Thank you for replying, and for all the information you sent. I passed it on to my neighbor
who owns the beehive. She is going to check out the brood nest first thing tomorrow.
Bees absconded to a more secure home due to ant nuisance.
I've used cinnamon both inside my house and out as an ant barrier. They don't like it and won't cross it. It's essentially a barricade you have to keep applying though, so I'm not partial for it.
I use semolina. It's flour which is used to make pasta (it's the major ingredient), so it's harmless to humans and my bees just ignore it. It can be purchased in most grocery stores and the best part is, it KILLS ants. It will kill entire nests. They ants eat it, it absorbs the moisture inside them, expands, and kills them. They bring it back to their nest and feed it to their queen. She dies too. After a few weeks of this the nest will fail.
I started using it inside my house when I had babies crawling around and still use it. Now I use it by the bee hives too. To be effective, the ants have to eat the dry stuff, so I throw a handful out when there will be several dry days in a row.
Thanks for the info. - mangohead