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I live in the Seattle area, highs are still in the low 50's and lows in the low 40s-high 30s. Today was pretty nice and I noticed some bee activity around one hive but none around the other. I knocked on the quiet one and heard nothing. I opened it up and found it basically empty... only a handful of dead bees on the bottom screen and a few more deads on the comb. This is a hive that was relatively active and full when I filled a frame feeder and added a pollen cake on November 3rd. Today the frame feeder was still full, the pollen cake in tact, and it had a pretty healthy supply of capped honey/sugar water.

So my question is did they abscond? There is not the usual sign of a winter die off (piles of dead bees), it hasn't been that cold, and there seemed to be an abundance of food. I was late in getting a MAQS treatment applied (late October) and there was definitely signs up mite activity, but if that is what did them in I'd expect to see the evidence in a pile of corpses. Any thoughts?

Thanks,
jared
 

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Sounds like the typical 'death by varroa'.

October is usually too late to do anything against the mites. The winter bees have already been damaged by then.

//edit: It's expected to not find many dead bees if the mites got them. The bees are still strong enough to leave the hive and die outside as a bee normally does at the end of its life.
 

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Absconding happens but is rare.

Individual bees dying of mite related issues leave the hive and crawl away as far as they can. It is a self sacrificing thing bees do when sick, for the good of the hive.

So when a hive has died of mites, you will rarely find many bees in it. Unlike if they had died, for example, of starvation, in which case there will be a pile of dead bees.

It is this absense of bees in hives that died of mites that perpetuates the idea that the bees decided to leave. Yes they left, but probably not in a big group.

The other thing that fools new players is that at the end the hive goes down fast, real fast. The person remembers that last time he looked, the hive seemed to be well populated. This leads him to think wrongly, that the bees must have up and left en mass.
 

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65 colonies +/- mostly Langstroth mediums, a few deeps for nuc production
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What Oldtimer said is on the money. Absconding is often used incorrectly to be the cause of a dead out with few bees left in the hive.
Mites or nosema ceranae have similar results, quick downturn at the end. Mites are easier to diagnose, ceranae takes a microscope.
A good resource document is "Wintering bees in cold climates" the first 12 pages is the wintering part which may not apply in your area.
Starting on page 12 is a dead out analysis key step by step and with good pictures. Get to root cause not the symptom.
You can get the document from the beekeeper info area of the Empire state honey producer's association website.
Beekeeper info - Beekeeper resources Empire State Honey Producers Association, Inc.
 

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From my observations over the years, mid-way through to the end, stronger bees will start migrating over and begging into other stronger hives in the beeyard. When they return from foraging they are easily accepted in, and near the very end they will beg their way into other hives. This contributes to the sudden loss of bees in the end of a varroa crash.
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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The sudden loss of bees due to a varroa mite crash would almost make one think that someone came in the dark of night and shook out all the bees and stole them. The nine hives I allowed to die out earlier this fall had very few live bees remaining in them and no dead bees at all. They had all been very strong hives going into late July and were all dead outs a few weeks later. I went into this knowing full well what would happen and how it would appear. The only question for me was how many would succumb?
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for your feedback everyone. The detailed descriptions of the mite crash make a lot of sense based on what I've observed/experienced. Lessons learned, next year I'll do better... or at least make some different mistakes.

jared
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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Yes. I treated a single dose of OAV in July and let them be. Just treated again two weeks ago. Of the 11 remaining production hives, 5 dropped less than 50 mites, 5 dropped around 100, and 1 dropped more than I could ever begin to count. Will do follow up treatments this weekend and again at Christmas. Plan on making queens from any of the lowest 5 that make it through winter. Last two years I was treating all autumn and had 100% survival but felt I was not promoting the best of my available gene pool.
 

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I was treating all autumn and had 100% survival but felt I was not promoting the best of my available gene pool.
Makes sense (to promote the best genes).
Blind carpet bombing does not do it.
 

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I've got white paper or sticky board under screened bottom boards and I guess my 2 treatments last winter and one in September thru the screened bottom board did the trick. Actually last year's. I didn't see a drop after the treatment. I've got no walkers. I should do an alcohol wash to double check. But I'm in an area with no other beekeepers, not a lot of forage, and I took out the wild hive in my neighbor's house, brought home and requeened, and apparently I've wiped out the mites... Wish it wiped out the SHB, but they are manageable anyway
 

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I'm in the same general area as JW and had similar issues. In fact, several BK's is my area had late swarm and absconding issues this fall. The last two years, I have been fortunate enough to have overwintered 100% of my hives. This past spring, when the state apiarist inspected my apiary, I had zero mite counts in all but one of my hives, and it was a overwintered NUC that I didn't treat in the fall. This summer, I followed the same procedures, which included treatment with MAQ in early Sept, as in past years in preparing my hives for winter. In early Oct, I had two hives that swarmed and on Nov 12, found that one of my hives had totally absconded. I've never had these kinds of Fall issues so I am writing it off to another crazy aberration of 2020.
 
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