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so last week, I had concluded that one of my hives had likely succumbed to nosema through the winter. Yesterday I decided to take the hive apart and clean it up for the package that I will be getting in another month or so. When I got in the hive however, I saw no evidence of Nosema and TONS of bees clustered together and literally stuck to the comb. The top hive body was mostly still full of honey and they had eaten pretty much all of the honey out of the bottom hive body. there was a big pile of dead bees concentrated in the center, below the clusters. They were also densely stuffed into the cells in the frames, as if to keep warm.
I know they made it through most of the winter since I tapped on the hive in January and heard a buzz. So just not sure if they froze on one of our cold snaps this spring?
 

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sounds to me like they could not break the cluster to get to food. still get swabs to check for Nosema with your AG dept. Need to also eval if you need a wind break? for them too.
 

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Sounds like starvation... heads deep in the cells trying to get every last drop... and cold enough they couldn't break the cluster to shift around to better frames.
 

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The coldest part of the year for us is after Christmas and going into february. Instead of pitching our Christmas tree, I use it as a wind break for the girls. Of course, that's not practical on a larger scale. I'll also go out and put my ear to the hive and knock a couple of times. I get a "buzz" I know they're alive. I can also evaluate the approximate size of the cluster by the volume of the buzz, and where the cluster is in the hive.

I know it doesn't help you situation now, but it's something to think about for the coming winter.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
heads deep in the cells trying to get every last drop

that last description was exactly what it looked like. How do I prevent that? there were plenty of frames of honey up above in the second deep?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Monie, I did knock on the hive, mid winter (late Jan/early Feb) and heard them buzzing around. I think they died very recently. How do I interpret the buzz? I mean, if the cluster is low vs. high etc. I don't want to take the roof off to check on them, right?
 

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In cold weather, they probably do,..but why?

"Instead of cooling down and becoming dormant, like most insects, a bee colony fights the cold by maintaining a warm microclimate inside the hive. To do so it contracts into a tight cluster and generates enough heat inside this cluster to keep the outermost bees above about 10 C. [50 F.], their lower lethal temperature. The bees generate this heat by isometricaly contracting their powerful flight muscles. All told, a colony's heat production in midwinter is on the order of 40 watts, enough to keep the surface bees from perishing, even in the face of ambient temperatures of -30 C. [-22 F.] or less. Such intense heat production is energetically costly, however, requiring nearly a kilogram of honey each week for fuel all winter long." > "Wisdom of The Hive", > T. Seeley.

Contracting muscles to generate heat requires an oxygen supply. Tracheal mites infest the respiratory organs of bees and can interfere with gaseous exchange. Varroa mites can weaken the bees, as well as Nosema. All these factors [diseases/pests] need to be eliminated as possible causes, before 'blaming the weather'. Another thread talks about SBB being open all winter and the bees doing fine. In most areas, not as cold as a winter in Montana though.
 

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Your answer has been written many times in many books or booklets.

The size of a healthy cluster has a direct correlation to it's wintering.
Which has more surface area?
A basket ball
B soccer ball
C other, but smaller than the above two.
Answer C
A smaller sized cluster has to generate more heat to keep warm.
It proportionately losses more heat per unit volume.

Ernie
 

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Discussion Starter #9
when I cleaned up the hive and dumped out the bees, I also saw a ton of little black specs under the bottom board. Not ON the actual bottom board, but under it. What were those? mites, mold spores? is that something that I should know? the more I look at this hive, the less I feel like I know about what the heck is going on.
 

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so last week, I had concluded that one of my hives had likely succumbed to nosema through the winter.
What made you think nosema?
I had a number of hives that had mite counts that were borderline last fall and I chose not to treat them. Several ended up much like yours. A few have survived...so far...but the remaining clusters are so small that they'll be lucky to recover. Dead, with many head first in empty cells (they do this to share heat across the comb) usually indicate starvation, especially if the clusters are relatively big. With small clusters it can go either way; exposure and/or starvation. Even if there's honey in the hive, if the edge of the cluster is not in direct contact with it, during cold weather they will not move to find it and starve.
I'm blaming my similar losses on varroatosis.....and beekeeper negligence (I knew better).
 

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Little black specs?

The only thing I can think of is possibly feces of another insect that was under the bottom board; earwigs? Varroa mites are reddish brown. Bees do a pretty good job of keeping most other insects out of the hive; at least the NA. native ones.
 

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"the more I look at this hive, the less I feel like I know about what the heck is going on."-- montanabee.

I wouldn't worry too much about the hive that perished now, you are on a learning curve and you have all this next, 2010 season to enjoy and prepare the new bees that you are getting, for next winter.--Ob.

"What made you think it was Nosema?" -Different thread.> http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?t=239125

Black specs: "First thing that comes to my mind is wax moth eggs."--RayMarler.

Greater Wax Moth, [Galleria mellonella] eggs are black??? --So the bees can't see them in the dark hive?--Ob.

I just wasted an inordinate amount [30-40 minutes,.. :( ] of my time, scrambling all over the internet looking for the color of wax moth eggs--hard to find! Did you mean larval feces? I don't know the color of each and every species of moth eggs and it's probably wrong to 'assume' they are white. I suppose now I'll have to look up the color of Lesser wax moth eggs.--Ob.

"Eggs are white and tiny. Larvae are milky white or light tan and, when disturbed, crawl rapidly backward almost as easily as forward." >> Ohio State U. fact sheet. http://www.pestcontrolsydney.com.au/insects/Rearing%20Wax%20Worms,%20HYG-2131-96.htm
 

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Black specs... It may be wax moth larva feces. I dunno, I just see them in the webbed frames that have been destroyed by wax moths. Makes more sense they are larva feces, now that I think about it.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
i think they are more likely earwig eggs or something since they are under the bottom board and I definitely had earwigs last year. I guess I will stop obsessing over what killed this hive. For whatever reason they just didn't move up to the honey stores when it was warmer in early march and then we got some brutally cold (-5 F) nights for a while and I think that was the end of them. I am treating my one remaining hive with Fumigilin in a top feeder and they have been super active in our 55+ degree weather this week. Supposed to be 60+ today and then we are in for more snow accumulations all week!
Just have to make sure that they hold on until spring really gets here.

All about learning how to do this. going into our 4th season and I'm still guessing:)

thanks for all of your advice.
 
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