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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
We had a recent spate of warm weather and I didn't see any bees taking advantage of it to defecate. So I opened up the hives to take a peek. Of six hives entering winter, five remain (three Warre + two Langstroth).

Today, I performed an autopsy - and harvested the honey from - the deceased Warre. Full report at my blog.

Comments and insights requested and appreciated.

Also, any chance one of the "old hands" can put up a guide on how to perform a "proper" autopsy (what key items to look for to determine c.o.d., etc)? Plenty of good info on how to start and run a hive. Limited - at best! - info on what to do when you lose one.
 

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Reading your blog I think you already figured it out. The hive went queenless in the fall most likely before she could lay brood to get them through the winter and died out. The other possibility is that there was excessive moisture build-up and wet and cold equals dead bees. That is a lot of mold. Are you running a top entrance? Seems with that much mold that at some time there was heat in the hive (last of the cluster before they died out). Doesn't look like a starvation issue (no head in cluster of bees).
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yes. I'm wondering if it wouldn't behoove new beekeepers to have a resource of autopsy photos as training aides. I had to learn in the field, as I'm sure most do. So far, all my historical dead outs have been non-disease and non-parasite related, but it would be nice to able to have a nice photo reference with tell-tales for when I do.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Alpha6, no I don't run a top entrance. This is also the only hive that appears to have moisture problems. The surviving hives looked pretty dry. Though, I didn't open more than the top to check that they were alive, I didn't see any evidence of excess moisture anywhere but in this deceased hive.

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This was pointed out in another forum, but for those who look at the autopsy photos on my blog and in my Picasa album, how many different types of mould can you spot?

Also, is that the infamous black mould that health departments warn us about (most clearly evident on edges of combs 7-8-9 in box 1 as seen from below)?
 

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you need to control that comb too. thats out of control, you have frames close togather, others it looks like a 1/4 to 1/2 inch spacing. How can you do a proper hive inspection with comb that out of control? Is that a langstroth? or some crazy hive Idea?
Some things I would always check for besides starved out and dampness, is there signs of Mite problems? both types of mites did your bees Have nosema ceranae{N. Ceranae} that will wipe out a hive in days. these are all things a beek needs to look for and not just look in say oh starved or moisture problems look for other things too.

And after looking at your photos they had lots of capped honey, so starvation is not a problem. But looking at how your spacing is it almost looks like your cluster could not move as freely as needed and move air through the hive as they needed to.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
you need to control that comb too. thats out of control, you have frames close togather, others it looks like a 1/4 to 1/2 inch spacing. How can you do a proper hive inspection with comb that out of control?
Control the comb??? Seriously? You don't trust your bees to build their comb in a manner in which they are able to control the hive atmosphere without predator (beekeeper) interference (assistance)? Top bars, or frames, exist to be an anchor for the combs. Even in "properly spaced" framed hives, with or without foundation, the bees will build burr- and cross-combs. Why fight it?

"Proper" inspection? What's that? If the colony is alive, they clearly don't need me digging my hands inside their home and rearranging things. Active-season inspections consist of the following: 1- are there bees coming and going from the entrance?; 2- is there any fighting or other frantic behavior at the entrance?; 3- are bees bringing in pollen?; 4- if answers are yes-no-yes, walk to the next hive, else investigate further.

Some things I would always check for besides starved out and dampness, is there signs of Mite problems? both types of mites did your bees Have nosema ceranae{N. Ceranae} that will wipe out a hive in days. these are all things a beek needs to look for and not just look in say oh starved or moisture problems look for other things too.
Who says I didn't look for other possible causes of death? It just happens that the mostly likely cause was late-season queen loss. Evidence for which abounds while evidence for mites, nosema, foulbrood, etc is completely absent. Moisture? The hive probably had no moisture problems while it had sufficient population to manage the internal atmosphere. The neighboring hives certainly do not have moisture problems (and are equally cross-combed).

And after looking at your photos they had lots of capped honey, so starvation is not a problem. But looking at how your spacing is it almost looks like your cluster could not move as freely as needed and move air through the hive as they needed to.
Curious. What I saw was that they still had drones really late into the season and were continuing to raise drones so late in the season. The brood pattern, such as it was (limited completely to drones), is severely scattered. Do you think there was a mated queen present? Do you think that might have been a major contributor to colony death?
 

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A couple of things that I would check on 1) all that mold tells me that there was too much moisture and not enough air flow.

Was the bottom entrance covered in snow perhaps? where you using an inner cover?

You said that your feeder had 2 1/2 inches in it. Was this sugar syrup? Leaving syrup on a hive over winter is always a bad idea. this could be the source of the excess moisture. That combined with bad ventilation could easily kill the bees.

on a side note if you were feeding your bees then there is a good chance that your comb honey is not honey at all

best of luck
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
A couple of things that I would check on 1) all that mold tells me that there was too much moisture and not enough air flow.
Possible, but I suspect all that mould grew post-mortem. Three other hives of the same dimensions and configuration have no mould visible when the top is removed, though I haven't manipulated those combs to check more closely.

Was the bottom entrance covered in snow perhaps? where you using an inner cover?
Yes, at one point the entrance had been covered in snow. This particular colony was probably already deceased when the snow level reached the entrance, however. No, I don't use inner covers on any of my hives, including my Langs, preferring a chaff-filled upper box per the good reverend's original 1852 specification. However, the hives were low on stores going into fall, so I ensured that stores were available by leaving a feeder atop each one. The chaff-filled box was then placed above the feeder. The chaff in all hives, including the deceased, is still dry and unmoulded.

You said that your feeder had 2 1/2 inches in it. Was this sugar syrup? Leaving syrup on a hive over winter is always a bad idea. this could be the source of the excess moisture. That combined with bad ventilation could easily kill the bees.
I'm not convinced. The feeder both allows a place for "excess" moisture to escape into and a resource for the colony to replenish stores when they run out of what's in the combs. This is exactly what appears to have happened with my other hives. Likewise, any water condensation on hive walls and ceiling make a good water resource on warm winter days. (See Dennis Murrel's site for reference on winter water resources. Similar observation made by Kieth Malone, in Alaska, as well as others.)

Note: the feeder is a Bro-Adam type. Majority of liquid surface - and therefore evaporated moisture from the syrup - is sealed away from the colony by the nonpermeable surface of the feeder-entrance dome, effectively creating a separate "room" with just enough access for the bees to get at a supply of syrup. Syrup leaches underneath the entrance dome into the feeding area due to an uneven surface where the dome meeds the bottom of the feeder. Gravity effectively keeps the levels the same, regardless of where additional liquid volume is added to the total system.

on a side note if you were feeding your bees then there is a good chance that your comb honey is not honey at all

best of luck
Certainly possible, but it looks as though the feeder was never touched. No dead bees, no detectable change in fluid level from when it was placed, and - oddly - no mould in the syrup. And, the honey tastes like fireweed. :)

Still, I'm likely to feed the honey to other hives in the spring. What most concerns me is the black along the edges of three combs. I simply do not know if this is some sort of direct moisture damage or a form of mould (though it has been sent to a lab). If it's black mould, I certainly will not eat anything from this deceased colony, but mould spores are large enough - relative to a bee - to not concern me when considering feeding to other bees.

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Keep your comments coming in, please. Some of them do make me go back and reexamine things.

I find the differences between observations from framed hive (mostly Lang) and natural-comb hive (Warre and TBH) beeks extremely interesting, though most of the natural-comb beeks haven't commented in this forum.
 
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