Where did 90% of my bees go?
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  1. #1
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    Sep 2015
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    Adams County, CO, USA
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    Default Where did 90% of my bees go?

    I started beekeeping with a Warre in April this year, and I live in Denver.

    I have 2 boxes set up for the bees, and it took about 6+ weeks but they filled out the top box. They never grew into the bottom box. I've heard that bees sometimes do not grow into the bottom box with Warre hives, and may prematurely swarm as a result.

    But now I'm wondering - where did my bees go?

    3 days ago the hive was busy and full. Bees were coming in with pollen and they have plenty of honey. I haven't seen the queen in months, but she was laying and everything seemed good, just slow.

    Yesterday morning I took a peek at the hive and almost no bees were in there. In fact, yellow jackets had realized the hive was weak and began entering the hive and attacking. (I stomped on any that were on the ground.) There were also a few bee larvae on the floor of the hive. It's just by chance that I saw this, but there was one single bee outside the hive with 10+ varroa mites on her. I saw no mites on the few bees left in the hive (I have the window), and only a few on the screened bottom board. I thought maybe she was a sacrificial bee?

    So, with only 1 full day of me not checking on them, what happened? Did they swarm prematurely, in late September?? That seems like certain death. Did they just abscond?? Then why are the few bees that are left bringing pollen into the hive today?

    There is no evidence of honey robbing (no wax on the screened bottom board), and I plugged the entrance with grass so the hive can deal with any predators.

    What are your thoughts on what happened? And what do I do now? I haven't been able to find any answers.

    Thanks for your input,
    jesse

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
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    Auckland,Auckland,New Zealand
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    For the swarm to only fill one warre box in all that time is a good indication this hive has been struggling from the git go. They should have done more than that.

    Finding one bee with 10 mites on it really only happens when a hive has been overwhelmed by mites. It is not a sacrificial bee that left with the only 10 mites in the hive.

    What to do now? It's just a case of accepting your loss, and readying the hive to start again next season. Could also pay to inspect some brood comb to ensure there is no AFB. AFB is a rare disease but does exist, all deadouts should be checked for it to ensure it is not passed on.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
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    Isle of Wight, VA
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    If they didn't leave behind swarm cells to continue on the hive, it's not a swarm that left. Sounds to me like they absconded due to bad hive conditions. If the mite load was high enough (and possibly other issues with pests) they might have decided to leave and the few forages you saw coming back with pollen didn't get the message or were early risers and had gone out foraging when the others left. If you don't see open/capped brood in the hive, it might have been a queenless hive as well that just gave up and joined forces with another hive.

    You will want to plan what you can do with the comb now so that the wax moths and robber bees don't mess up these valuable resources. You should be able to get more bees in the spring time and will be able to install them in the same hive, and they will have a jump start with all the comb and stores. (you should take a bar of honey for yourself, if you weren't feeding syrup)

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2015
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    Adams County, CO, USA
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Thanks guys, I really appreciate your input. There are definitely no swarm cells so looks like they've absconded. Should I just leave the hive alone and let it die over winter? Or be more proactive somehow? There are probably still 1000-2000 bees in there so it doesn't feel dead, just sparse. You guys are saying it's as good as dead?
    j.

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Walker, Alabama, USA
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    1,530

    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Is there any brood? Without brood of the right age they cannot make a queen and it is probably way to late to get her bred anyhow. No queen = no hive. The best you can do is find a hive to combine them with--friend, club member, etc--but the reality is this one sounds gone to me. I am sorry for your loss.

    JMO

    Rusty
    Rusty Hills Farm -- home of AQHA A Rusty Zipper and Rusty's Bees.

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Oyster Bay, NY, USA
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    I am really sorry that happened to you. I'm a newb so I can't advise on what to do next, but one thing I learned this summer is that sometimes you can't see any mites in your hive, even when there are a bazillion of them in there. They are in the sealed brood, under the caps, where you can't see them. I had never seen a mite on my bees--I take close up photos when I inspect, and blow them up and study them later--never saw a mite. Not one. I have a bottom board that slides out to check for mites--no mites fell on it all season. But a couple of weeks ago, I treated my bees with MAQS anyway and the number of mites that fell out was unbelievable. More kept falling as the capped brood hatched out. Like other people said, even if you take a loss on the hive for this season, your drawn comb is gold, and it will help you get a jump start next year. Good luck and I hope your next season is better.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Quote Originally Posted by kinggroucho View Post
    You guys are saying it's as good as dead?
    Yes.

    The leftovers from a hive that absconded due to mites at this time of year will not make it. Not without major assistance anyway. But I can't see that happening, nor is the cost / risk / reward values of assisting what you have worth it.

  9. #8
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    Hopkins, MI USA
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Do you have a plan do deal with mites for your next batch of bees? If you can somehow freeze the entire box to kill any eggs/larva then put it on a flat board and one on top so mice and bugs can't move in.
    zone 5b
    Back in 2019!

  10. #9
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    Sep 2015
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    Adams County, CO, USA
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    I don't have a plan right now. I don't have a freezer that could accommodate the hive (though I may get one), so I'm basically just waiting for winter to kill everything. Is there a better way to handle that? I'm just keeping an eye on it in the meantime, making sure nothing has obviously infiltrated the hive.

    What also seems odd right now is that every day, there are a few larva on the floor of the screen that I guess were ripped out of their brood chamber. They appear intact, so it doesn't look like anything is feeding on them? Any idea what's going on there?

    j.

  11. #10
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    ky
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Quote Originally Posted by kinggroucho View Post
    I don't have a plan right now. I don't have a freezer that could accommodate the hive (though I may get one), so I'm basically just waiting for winter to kill everything. Is there a better way to handle that? I'm just keeping an eye on it in the meantime, making sure nothing has obviously infiltrated the hive.

    What also seems odd right now is that every day, there are a few larva on the floor of the screen that I guess were ripped out of their brood chamber. They appear intact, so it doesn't look like anything is feeding on them? Any idea what's going on there?

    j.
    my experience with hives without a very strong population, soon succumbs to wax moths, and hive beetles.
    David

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Did you recently have the first cold day or days for winter? Sounds like classic mite collapse.

  13. #12
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    Sep 2015
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Quote Originally Posted by JRG13 View Post
    Did you recently have the first cold day or days for winter? Sounds like classic mite collapse.
    no, not really. it's cooled off a lot but the lowest it gets is 60 at night. i'm in zone 5. it's gotta be mite collapse though.

    i'll have to read up on how not to have this happen again next time. i was hoping with a warre hive i could just leave them be and everything will be cool.

    j.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Additionally since the bees absconded I regularly see 3-5 bees kind of crawling around the yard, usually in circles, trying to fly but with no luck. I haven't seen a single mite on any of these, but it sounds like that's what happens when the mites win.
    j.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    If larvae are being thrown out, it means the bees must at least have the strength to do that, and attempt some kind of clean up. Maybe they are not quite as bad as I thought reading your first post.

    Are you able to open the hive and take a few pics including a good definition one of the brood and if there are any eggs? Let's see if there is something we can do for the hive.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    image1.jpg

    That's a photo of the bottom box from the other day. Note that the loose comb is from me - I had to rip part of it off to access part of the hive. But you can see a bunch of larva just sitting on the screen. What are they doing there? Sometimes the bees try to drag them back up into the hive, other times they seem to feed on it. I couldn't see any mites on the larva.

    I didn't take any photos yesterday but I did open up the hive proper to inspect brood. There wasn't much - probably only a couple hundred and pretty scattered. Some brood was capped and others were exposed, so I could see white larvae just sitting in there. Is that normal? A few of the capped brood cells had small holes in them so I stuck a match in some of the capped ones and they had no evidence of AFB.

    I saw only one bee with a mite on it. I saw no evidence of wax moths or hive beetles. The hive seemed fine, just lacking in numbers.

    I did not see a queen, and there are no queen cells. But they are still bringing in pollen, and they don't really seem to be acting out of the ordinary. Like, they seem busy, and they are still making nectar.

    Thanks for helping me get to the bottom of this... I don't have the heart to kill the hive. I've half-heartedly set out to do so twice so far, and decided not to. Maybe there's still a chance? I know it's slim, I'm just hopeful.

    j.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Is there honey in the hive and is there eggs?

    A picture of a brood comb would be a big help, kind of flying blind here.

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Yes there is lots of honey - both combs on the ends are almost full, and the tops of all other combs have honey.

    The eggs are the exposed larvae right?

    I'll try to get in there again today and snap a few photos.

    j.

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Yes the eggs are among unsealed larvae. A photo good enough to show the eggs plus some capped brood will be a big help making a diagnosis. May have to be done by others though in a few hours I'm away from the computer for a couple days.

  20. #19
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    Sep 2015
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Well of course now that I say something - I don't see many uncapped larva. Only a few today, but yesterday there were probably 100.

    Here are photos of 3 sets of comb:

    End:
    image1.jpg
    image2.jpg

  21. #20
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    Sep 2015
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    Adams County, CO, USA
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    Default Re: Where did 90% of my bees go?

    Middle 1:
    image4.jpg
    image5.jpg

    Middle 2:
    image1(1).jpg
    image7.jpg

    Sorry they're not better quality.

    Hope this sheds some light on what's happening!

    j.

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