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Beginner question

3274 Views 21 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Bee Clause
Trouble in my hive. About 50% of the former bee population is gone from 2 weeks ago. I don't like to interfere with my bees and inspect them only every so often but when I saw a noticeable lack of activity at the hive entrance I went in. I found about 6+ queen cells, with the presence of those queen cells I have to suspect a swarm may have occurred and I missed the opportunity to capture it. Several of the queen cells were opened from the side indicating those queens were killed by another queen. While doing a deeper inspection I found no evidence of a queen in the hive at all, new or old (no new eggs, no new brood). This troubles me. There is still capped brood in the hive and the existing bees are still collecting nectar and pollen and have stores of both so starvation isn't the issue heck there's about 5 lbs of honey in there. Also there is no indication of mite infestation and I only saw 1 small hive beetle (and killed it) and the bottom of the hive is clean no dead bodies inside or out. I suspect I may have been given an older queen in my bee package, she was laying randomly without any a set pattern. My best hope is the hive is replacing the former queen and there is a new queen going to take over the hive. My suspicion for why she may be absent while doing the inspection is she is out on her "nuptial flight". I thought about purchasing and introducing a new queen however the introduction of a queen with an existing one will probably not work as she will likely be rejected (i.e. killed). I think I'll let it go without interfering. Time will tell... What I find most unusual is some of the bees are uncapping fresh worker brood for some reason. :s These appear to be healthy worker brood (not chalk brood). Any one have any input?

Bee Honeybee Beehive Insect Membrane-winged insect

The hive 2 weeks ago.

Bee Insect Membrane-winged insect Honeybee Design

This weekend.

Bee Honeycomb Insect Honeybee Beehive

Workers uncapping and pulling out (killing) brood. :kn:
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Your hive may have swarmed. If so, there is probably a virgin queen in there that hasn't cranked up yet. As far as the uncapping goes... Maybe they are a more hygenic strain and are removing the less than healthy brood. The brood may look fine to you but the bees know.
I thought if the old queen was "failing" that they might kill off the most recent brood for that reason but wasn't sure. There is some older brood that is still intact and even saw a worker that was emerging during the last inspection so it must be a recent event. I'm still bummed I didn't get the chance to capture the swarm. Thanks for the reply.
I've never heard of the bees killing off the brood of a queen that is failing. If the queen was failing I would say that they would just supercede her. If that was the case I wouldn't see half your population gone. With the presence of capped brood I would say that they swarmed. Did you not see any queen cells or even partially torn down queen cells? Give it a couple of weeks and I bet you will find eggs.
Yeah, I said in my post I saw about 6 queen cells and several opened from the side indicating they were killed by another queen. Oddly enough there is one queen cell still capped. But even with a thorough inspection I didn't see a queen anywhere. I'm afraid I'm going to see laying workers if a queen doesn't step up.
Is this your only hive? If you have another, steal out a bar of eggs and young larvae for this one. If they have a queen it will give them a boost until she gets laying, if they don't they should start some more queen cells and it will help prevent laying workers.

My queen return rate this year has been about 50% so far and being able to pull resources from other colonies has really helped. I've got one right now that had a hatched queen but that I suspected hadn't made it back from mating. I stole a bar from the sister split that had a queen just starting to lay and now the nuc has three queen cells so I know my suspicion was correct.
Hi, yes I think it is likely that you hive has swarmed. It takes some time for the new queen to get going. If the swarm leaves when the queen cell is capped ie day 8-ish, the new queen will not emerge until day 16-ish. She will take at least a week before she is sexually mature enough to mate. Until then she is treated very mush like one of the workers and will be much thinner than a laying queen so you may have missed her. On returning from her mating flight she can take another 2-4 weeks before she's laying. So two weeks is nothing.
All the honey is good and probably as a result of the remaining bees not having brood to look after, they can devote themselves to foraging.
The brood being removed my well be due the brood chilling as a result so many bees leaving. There is a chance you have had one or two cast swarms leaving you short of bees to keep the brood warm.
Oh, and how is your colony set on pollen? The uncapping could be hygienic behavior (I've seen mine chew out larvae that had mites) or they could be low on pollen which they need for brood. If they are low on pollen, you might need to give them some supplement along with the bar of eggs and young larvae.
This is my first and only hive. So I don't have a hive that I can borrow a bar of brood from. No mites, plenty of pollen and honey capped and uncapped. (about 5lbs of honey). No indication of starvation. I still see bees coming in with pollen and see pollen granules in cells.
I think you are right, I didn't consider chilled brood since it's summer but the temps do still drop into the upper 60s low 70s at night and these brood were in the newest drawn comb furthest from the rest of the brood. That makes sense.
That is a dramatic difference in the two photos of apparent population levels. I certainly hope there are lots more bees that can't be seen in the photo of the lower population.

If you think there's a new queen, virgin or mated, then I would back off and let them have a few days to settle down with their new queen and give her time to start laying.

Have you got a photo of an average comb of bees? I'm still wondering about the hive's population.

Best wishes,
All of the bars further in have a solid coating of bees. The ones shown here are the newest drawn comb and have honey stores. The pic of the opened brood was the third one in and I had to shoo bees away so I could take a clear pic. I'll post more of the pics I took when I get home.
Thanks for clarifying the bee population. Don't worry with the pics for now, let the bees settle in. :)

I took a bunch while doing this inspection (a noob thing I guess). My thinking was if could take a quick snap shot of the bars I could look for the queen at my leisure without keeping the hive open for long periods. I didn't see her.
As for the bees uncapping the brood, in all 3 of my TBH's there is always a small portion of larvae that don't hatch. I don't know why, but 2 of the hives will leave them capped "forever". When I stick that bar in the 3rd hive, they get to work cleaning up. My hives are going through queenless stages of QC's, etc, and there isn't any eggs or open larvae. Maybe because the brood population is low in our hives is how we can notice the workers uncapping those cells. I had some dud capped queen cells that the other hives just left in there, but when I put them in that other hive, they all got opened up and cleaned out. I'm lucky enough to have a local beek who will allow me to put one of my drawn combs in his hive and let the queen lay eggs in it. They I take it home, and the nurse bees get to work. Only costs me $5. Seems like pretty good insurance. You might see if you can find someone locally that will let you do that for your hive while they figure out what they want to do.
The reason why I felt it was strange they were uncapping and removing these brood was because they weren't mature, the cap color is still light. Fortunately there is plenty of capped brood that is still hatching further into the hive. As AugustC suggested earlier these may have died from chilled brood since it's likely a split has happened and the remaining bee population couldn't keep the temp up everywhere brood was. (Makes sense to me). To my knowledge I don't know of another top bar bee keeper in my area so I don't have an experienced person to refer too or resources to tap into.
To my knowledge I don't know of another top bar bee keeper in my area so I don't have an experienced person to refer too or resources to tap into.
Top Bar Hives do tend to be treated as the red-headed stepchild of beekeeping, but I believe we are making in-roads into the beekeeping business. Do you have any other beekeepers in your area or a local bee club to call? What length are your bars? Anywhere around 19" and they should fit in a Lang. The guy I get the eggs from only runs Langs, but my bars fit well enough into his hives, and the queen seems to prefer the natural comb. She will lay up one of my full combs in just a day or two.
I'm going to go to a local beekeepers association meeting that's said to happen next tuesday, if there is one, the site they use has not been updated for quite sometime. I know of only one other person that keeps bees nearby and he owns a farm (and 3 hives I think) he didn't seem friendly when I began inquiring about his beekeeping. Another person I know of use to have bees. He had all of his hives busted into by bear/s a year or two back and hasn't got back into beekeeping since.
Here's some more pics I took during the last inspection.

Honeycomb Bee Insect Beehive Honeybee

Here you can see the opened queen cells. There's one that wasn't open yet...

Bee Insect Honeybee Beehive Invertebrate

Here's one just showing the remaining population.
This is the average on both sides on each full drawn comb.
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Don't lose hope. I have a nuc in about the same position as yours. (Just that it was me stealing the capped queen cells for my other 2 hives). I finally gave in and bought a queen from a local beekeeper last Friday. Installed her Saturday and released her Monday. Pretty uneventful, except the workers really ignored her (and I saw the nuc that the beekeeper took her out of, laid up nicely with capped brood).

Went in tonight to hopefully steal a frame of eggs for my other hive to make more queen cells and low and behold, there was a larger unmarked queen. (this nuc has never had a queen, only eggs). So I either missed her on my inspection Sat or she was on her mating flight. Bottom line, I had 2 queens in that hive and neither one really seemed to care very much. Maybe it's not so much an issue when one is a virgin? I don't know... Anyway, the marked queen got removed so I can evaluate the other queen's laying pattern.

In my opinion, the amount of bees left is still enough to keep the hive going, as long as it isn't too long before you get a queen in there. Either through the mail or locally purchased. Have you been on the FB bee sites? One for backyard beekeeping and one for top bar beekeeping? Maybe you can throw the question out there to see if someone local has one to sell.

Good Luck to you!
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