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Colony collapse post mortem

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Hi all, first time poster and first season bee keeper, based in Northern Virginia.

I have two hives that started as package Italian bees. They did well, drawn out the frame and started storing lots of honey. I did one brood box each, then added one shallow honey super each, then the second. They almost filled the second supers by August. I did harvest about one super total of honey, not sure if that was a mistake, and planned to keep the rest for the bees.

Recently however disaster struck one colony. I made another mistake. I ahd some travel and didn't check them for about 4 weeks until early September. During inspection I noticed that one hive was missing about a third to a half of the bees. Then, 3 days later I noticed a lot of dead bees at the entrance. I opened the hive to notice that all the bees were dead, mostly a t the bottom of the hive.

I'm not sure what happened. We didn't have very cold days. On the second inspection it looks like most of the frames have been emptied, even though the honey super was untouched (the queen excluded was not on). Did they starve to death? Or freeze? Not sure that a pest can get them this quickly.

Here are some photos of the I finally got to clean up today. There are sections of comb with bees inside. I assumed it could be that they were trying to hide from the cold.

AAre the frames still usable for next year with a new package? Any tips will help. I don't want to have the bees deal with the same mistakes I made.

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It looks to me like varroa mite collapse was happening and then you had light freeze over nights. Honey in the super but none near or in brood nest so they were heavily weakened by mites then froze over night. At least that's how I read the frames and your weather history. Did you treat for varroa mites this year and if so how and when?
 

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I didn't treat. I guess I underestimated how prevalent the issue is and thought I won't need to do it especially the first year. But in hindsight the package could have been exposed already.

Thank you both for the help.

Since I ordered new bees for next year, when do you suggest I should start treatments/testing after getting them settled into the hives? And should I treat these frames somehow before reusing them next year?
 

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One option is to treat package bees almost immediately -- before they have any capped brood.

You dont put OAV on before installing. You install the package, then wait a week. By then they will be 'at home' in the new digs, but will not have any capped brood yet. That is the time to do OAV.
The "OAV" is referring to 'Oxalic Acid Vaporization' which does not penetrate capped brood cells, so is most effective before brood is capped.

Also see:
 

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One option is to treat package bees almost immediately -- before they have any capped brood.



The "OAV" is referring to 'Oxalic Acid Vaporization' which does not penetrate capped brood cells, so is most effective before brood is capped.

Also see:
Or do the OAD (Oxalic Acid Dribble) - if prefer the cheaper way.
The same timing logic applies.
 

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Yes you can re-use the frames. Just leave the boxes out over winter, the freezing will protect them. A strong hive will clean them up and use them, I'd not use them in a weak hive myself.

I agree with others, treat when you get them.
I myself treat twice a year at the 2 yearly equinox's. March and September.
 

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Definitely start treating your other colony. As the first hive got weaker second would be helping themselves to the less-protected resources and mites would hitchhike back to the other hive causing that hive's mite loads to elevate. If they are still strong, it would be well-worth testing them for varroa before you treat, then after you treat. That will give you solid numbers, but also tell you if your treatment worked and if you might need to treat them again.
 

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My understanding is that dead bees with their butts sticking out of the comb is a sign of starvation. I am surprised it happened this early in the year though.

You said you had honey in an upper medium. I am curious, did you have a queen excluder between the boxes?
 

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My understanding is that dead bees with their butts sticking out of the comb is a sign of starvation. I am surprised it happened this early in the year though.

You said you had honey in an upper medium. I am curious, did you have a queen excluder between the boxes?
Butts sticking out is a sign of tight cold-season cluster - not starvation.

Yes, the cluster could have starved.
OR - the cluster could have frozen.
OR - the cluster could have starved and then frozen.

In this case, the remnants of the tiny, distressed colony were trying to cluster up to keep the warmth. But after the cluster falls below some critical mass threshold, they are doomed.

Once there only so many bees left, they can no longer withstand even moderate temperatures (regardless of the food availability).

A classic mite out is on the pictures.
 

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Butts sticking out is a sign of tight cold-season cluster - not starvation.

Yes, the cluster could have starved.
OR - the cluster could have frozen.
OR - the cluster could have starved and then frozen.

In this case, the remnants of the tiny, distressed colony were trying to cluster up to keep the warmth. But after the cluster falls below some critical mass threshold, they are doomed.

Once there only so many bees left, they can no longer withstand even moderate temperatures (regardless of the food availability).

A classic mite out is on the pictures.
(y)(y)
Heads in, butts out is how heater bees get the most contact with the comb and take up the least space. The last ditch effort to save the colony means the brood must be kept warm at all costs. That formation does not mean that the bees head first in empty cells starved to death looking for the last of the honey!:rolleyes:
 

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I didn't treat. I guess I underestimated how prevalent the issue is and thought I won't need to do it especially the first year. But in hindsight the package could have been exposed already.

Thank you both for the help.

Since I ordered new bees for next year, when do you suggest I should start treatments/testing after getting them settled into the hives? And should I treat these frames somehow before reusing them next year?
mites could have been in the package.
I treat on day 3 and day 5.
give them 2 to settle, and then the queen is released by 24-36 hours, if she lays right away, it is 7 days from hiving a package that the first brood would be available to mites.
I want 2 treatment in by day 7, I use OAV.

sorry you had this happen, next time assume the mites are in the package and proceed from there.

GG
 

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I did a very rough, very conservative calculation a while back and figured that, best case scenario for the bees without beekeeper intervention, 1 mite will become 125 within 3 months (the calculation from there on, starting with 125 mites, is flat out terrifying). Even if you got a completely clean package, the chances, for a majority of beekeepers, that there aren’t some other hives around within a three mile radius that are weak and having mite issues coming out of winter is very low. A new, healthy package is going to go after anything and everything they can. This includes robbing out other colonies. With mite crash being, at the very least, a strong contender for the most common demise for a colony, you’re almost certainly going to get some mites in your hives. Sadly, the harsh reality is that most of us need to treat all our hives multiple times a year to keep varroa at bay. Whether they are brand new to us this year or a few years old doesn’t seem to matter for the most part.

And yes, I agree with most everyone else, your colony died from mites.
 

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The white spots that look like crystals on the side of the cell walls on the frames in some of the pics is mite frass. And is quite heavy / abundant on some of the frames .
I suggest an OA dribble for your other colony
I don't see these white crystals. Can you name a photo (1 to 10) and maybe the quadrant to look in please?

Also I don't see deformed wings on the dead adults...

Mladen, it is useful to keep the dead bees & debris from a deadout for a couple of weeks in a plastic bag in the freezer. Sometimes something occurs to you. For example I would love to know if you actually saw mites, or deformed wings in the floor debris. Or a queen. And whether the bees all seemed to be old (dark, shiny, hairs worn down) or a mix of ages, which would give a clue whether the queen simply ran out of sperm.
 

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I think upper center of frame in pic 2 are the most obvious examples of mite frass, but there are several other pics that certainly have some. The picture angles annd lighting aren’t great for seeing it. I imagine if the angle and lighting was right there would be some in most of the brood cells.

DWV and CBPV are just two of the many viruses that mites can vector. I think they have the most obvious physical symptoms and definitely make it easier to identify the fact that mites are the culprit. But, their absence or lack of abundance doesn’t preclude PMS.

With that many bees dying all at once, mites obviously weren’t the immediate cause, but, from the look of the brood pattern and mite frass in the cells, it was definitely a/the contributing factor.
 

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OK I see the frass now, thanks!
I'm a 2d year beekeeper, also a novice and in Northern VA. FWIW, my bees did fine this year and appear to be heading into the winter season stronger. My first year was a nightmare--because I knew even less what to do. I over-reacted to SMH last year with little success, and under-reacted to varroa. By the time I treated for varroa with hop guard, it was too late.

My colony somehow survived the winter--I only had one (big mistake)--but I re-queened in September (it was queenless!) and provided lots of supplemental food.

This year I switched to oxalic vapor treatments for my two hives, and everything is looking pretty good. I'll do one more oxalic acid treatment during warm day in November to knock down any lingering mites on the winter bees, so I hope the hives will start strong in the Spring.
 

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Hi all, first time poster and first season bee keeper, based in Northern Virginia.

I have two hives that started as package Italian bees. They did well, drawn out the frame and started storing lots of honey. I did one brood box each, then added one shallow honey super each, then the second. They almost filled the second supers by August. I did harvest about one super total of honey, not sure if that was a mistake, and planned to keep the rest for the bees.

Recently however disaster struck one colony. I made another mistake. I ahd some travel and didn't check them for about 4 weeks until early September. During inspection I noticed that one hive was missing about a third to a half of the bees. Then, 3 days later I noticed a lot of dead bees at the entrance. I opened the hive to notice that all the bees were dead, mostly a t the bottom of the hive.

I'm not sure what happened. We didn't have very cold days. On the second inspection it looks like most of the frames have been emptied, even though the honey super was untouched (the queen excluded was not on). Did they starve to death? Or freeze? Not sure that a pest can get them this quickly.

Here are some photos of the I finally got to clean up today. There are sections of comb with bees inside. I assumed it could be that they were trying to hide from the cold.

AAre the frames still usable for next year with a new package? Any tips will help. I don't want to have the bees deal with the same mistakes I made.
Don't see mite frass myself. You should find mites on bottom board in abundance if that's what caused the demise. What about pesticide use within their range? I don't think anyone mentioned that but these symptoms match that threat.
 

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That looks like starvation. The discussion starter local to me. It was not cold this October. Highs mostly in the 60's and 70's and lows in mostly in the 50's. No nights below freezing. They didn't' freeze by any means. Here is a link to Arlington, VA: Arlington, VA Weather History | Weather Underground (wunderground.com)

I don't see even a drop of nectar or honey. Why didn't they go up? They were probably sick. It's unfortunate.
Hopefully, next year will go better. Listen to the advice here.
 
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