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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I would so much appreciate if someone with experience could tell me what might have happened to my hive. I am a new beekeeper, have no clue, and want to learn.
Last week I went out to check the hive, and there were hundreds (thousands?) of dead bees spread out over a large area around the hive, and the bees were carrying out more dead ones. Strange bees were robbing the hive, with my bees valiently trying to defend the entrance, which I immediately reduced to about an inch. Next day I opened up the hive, and there were no more of my bees left in there, just a few dead ones. There were quite a number of the robbing bees in the honey supers. Didn't notice dead mites on the floor of the hive, only one single wax moth larva. No sign of wax moth on the frames. Picked up a few of the dead bees on the ground, and on about half of them I saw Varroa mites. We just had had a cold spell, then rain, then warm again. But two months ago they did so well! Is there a way of guessing what might have happened?
 

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A beginners guess.
Killed by a large hive of robbers.
All the dead bees in the area indicates a battle too me.
 

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I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I lost two hives this fall under almost identical situations. I, too, think they were robbed out, and this most likely when their queen failed. The very sad thing was that these were my best two hives (the only two I took honey from this year). The good news is that the honey that was left in the dead hive ended up in my other hives. Did your hive have an older queen by any chance?
 

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im not too experienced, but my guess is a mixture of some sort of pesticide with robbing after it had been weakened. Im basing this off of photos in a book im reading and it showed a picture of thousands of bees dead around a hive from pesticides. I dont where you live but check around to see if pesticides were sprayed recently.
 

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only one single wax moth larva.
Depending on the size (age) of that larva, it may suggest some underlying weakness of the bee colony before the robbing.
 

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Sounds like a hive weakened by mites and then taken over by robbers to me. Hive sounds like it had been growing weaker as time went by, hence allowing wax moths to start appearing and then when it warmed up a few opportune robbers turned into thousands in a small amount of time finishing off the hive.
 

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I always look for signs of Varroa mites. Dead mites on the bottom board, Varroa feces in the brood cells (white specs) etc. But it sounds like robbing. As mentioned above, that happens to weak hives and it may be weak for a number of reasons, one of which could be Varroa.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Wow, thanks so much for your thoughts. They raised more questions, however:
1. If the queen was week for some reason (she was less than a year old),
wouldn't the bees start a raising a new queen?

2. Doesn't the queen kind of slow down laying in winter anyway?

3. Do bees of one hive actually kill bees of another hive by fighting? Wouldn't
they die themselves then?

Also, I read somewhere that Varroa thrives in cold weather, which we had. So, maybe all the reasons for the collapse worked together: Varroa, week queen, robbers... But I will try again. Bees are awesome, and having a group to connect to for support is too. Thanks again.
 

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One thing we tend to forget during the summer time, is the size of the hive entrance. The size of the hive entrance should be based more on the population of the hive and their ability to defend the entrance, rather than the ambient temperature of the outside air. I made some splits, and ended up with a one inch hive entrance on several of them all summer long. As we came into the fall, they had finally grown enough, but left the entrance reduced for winter.
Regards,
Steven
 

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"3. Do bees of one hive actually kill bees of another hive by fighting? Wouldn't they die themselves then?--woollybee

I read it somewhere [in a book not web] a while ago, that the stinger does not get embeded in the flesh and get pulled out in the same way as when a mammal [or frog?] is stung. It seems they do a lot of wrestling, spinning around and biting at appendages than actually being successful at stinging. They may have more difficulty finding a soft spot between the segments [or terga]. I haven't observed much robbing though, with my few colonies :rolleyes:. It's not really mentioned in the writings about robbing, so it's not really clear to me. Maybe others can add something.

>"How does a bee sting? A bee has a poison gland in her abdomen. When she stings another insect (like a wasp), she can pull the stinger out of the wasp’s body and get away. So if a bee is fighting another insect, she can sting many times. But if a bee stings a person or a large animal (frog, raccoon, etc.) the stinger sticks in the animal’s tough skin and keeps pumping poison. The bee flies away, but she gets torn in half and dies." http://pelotes.jea.com/honeybee.htm

>"Although it is widely believed that a worker honey bee can sting only once, this is a partial misconception: although the sting is in fact barbed so that it lodges in the victim's skin, tearing loose from the bee's abdomen and leading to its death in minutes, this only happens if the victim is a mammal (or bird)." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bee_sting
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
One thing we tend to forget during the summer time, is the size of the hive entrance. The size of the hive entrance should be based more on the population of the hive and their ability to defend the entrance, rather than the ambient temperature of the outside air.
Steven
Yeah, just think of the small entrance holes bees sometimes use in trees or walls, etc.
 

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Yes, bees actually kill one another while fighting... and its rather sad to see, when you know they are your own bees. :(
 

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This question has been answered well. There is nothing worse than to see your hives under constant and unrelenting attacks. In many sections of the country (I don't know about the West), The Dearth announces to you that the Terror Alert has now gone to Red. :lookout: The Dearth is the usual loss of nectar flow in your area; it might be due to a drought or the seasonal lack of avaiable nectar flowers in your area. Some people say this is when to have a clear idea of the bee population in any individual hive because it is the numbers of guard bees, the number of up and coming 'babies' ie. brood and the size of the entrance reducers which, with the assistance of the beekeeper, which will determine the outcome. After reducing the entrance and using wet sheets after ~10am ish and building a robber screen which limits the access of the robbers and increases the ability of the guards to defend the hive, we have noticed the hives' increased vibrancy and minimal loss of bees. The bees defending their hive will fight to the death in front of the hive. You can watch this fight to death if you have the time. With persistant attacks on a weak or so-so hive, the hive cannot withstand the onslaught. There are more attackers than defenders. The sad, sad thing to see is when the robbers DO enter the hive, rip the caps off everything, brood and honey stores alike, leave the developing bees on the bottom/screen board or outside the hive. This is a tell-tale sign. If you see this, no matter what the initial cause, the robbers are the final common pathway.
 

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The key is to pay attention to the entrance to your hives. It is far better to begin reducing the entrance too soon than too late. I usually do it in two steps. Put the entrance reducer in with the wide opening... then as weather turns in the fall, and the population of the hive continues to drop, and fewer bees are coming and going, I'll reduce it to the narrowed, winter entrance. I reverse the process in the spring, simply by watching the congestion at the entrance. I also use the slatted rack, which has that 4" wide board across the front, which gives them more defensible area inside the hive, before robbers are into the hive. Not sure if that really helps, but it makes me feel better! :lpf:
Regards,
Steven
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
The importance of the entrance size depending on colony size and dearth! Makes so much sense, but I was never aware of that before (maybe wasn't listening well enough). Great to have that added to my store of knowledge.
So true about the sadness of seeing your bees valiantly trying to defend their home but being outnumbered, seing the intruders getting by them and hearing the fighting going on inside the hive (putting your ear to the wood). Never want to experience that again!
Question about the wet sheets: I saw a video on youtube where they had the whole hive covered. Couldn't find other info about it. For how long would you leave the sheets on? Evening? ( They'll dry out in half and hour - Southern California) What about your own bees being shut out?

So greatful for all the new info.
 

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The sheets can be kept wet using a variety of methods. When we witnessed our first MAjOR robbing episode and I mean it was MAJOR with the Italian bees :cool: and some ferals swarming in clouds to our hives, we placed the sheets and turned on a sprinkler to bust up the clouds of bees in front. That kept the sheets wet but also cooled our bees which had taken up positions on the underside of the sheets for defense. Soooo, we got the idea of filling up those two to three gallon feeding pails w/ water and putting a lid with a hole in the middle and turning it upside down on top of the sheet on top of the hive. This keeps the sheet pleasantly wet and draped over the hive's entrance and sides. Ya gotta cover the entrance opening with the sheet otherwise it won't work as the robbers simply hover outside and wait for chances to slip in; so many dive bomb at once that defences are quickly overcome. The bees that belong to the hive manage to find a way in. How, I don't know. When you take the sheet OFF at dusk to allow everyone back inside (you do this just before the sun goes down), everybody flies up and just goes back into their own hive. In retrospect, I would recommend the sheets ONLY if the robbers are coming in large numbers and would only recommend the sprinkler or a mister if you have a BeeDay Invasion force. Otherwise, we have built our own version of robber screens which allows the home bees to come and go without a problem; the guard bees set up a defence perimeter and check points on the front side of the hive body UNDER the screen. The robber bees can't easily find their way in and when they do, they are 'frisked' by the guard bees and 'shot on the spot.' It's kind of fun to watch your guards do their job efficiently and without loss of life; the robbers that come under the screen in singles and can be easily jumped on and beaten up by the 'home girls.' During clean up, one bee will even carry out the dead bodies of the robbers up the side of the screen and fly away with it. :applause:
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
And I can hear the nurse bees cheering inside whenever the guards eliminate someone from the enemy crowd and carry them off.

Thanks for the detailed description. Will definitely remember in case we're being attacked again.
 

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That you saw varroa on about half the dead bees you checked that were dead on the ground would sugest that the hive got too weak to defend itself. did you notice any deformed wings on the bees? once a hive gets too weak and the robbing starts, it doesn't long before it is totally robbed out especially in the fall.
 

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Picked up a few of the dead bees on the ground, and on about half of them I saw Varroa mites.
There's your answer. If you were checking varroa load in the Fall by, say, alcohol wash, 50% mite infestation would be very high. Treatment threshholds advised by beekeepers run all over the scale from 1 mite to 3% to 10% to 25%. In any case, 50% would be a huge mite load.

Once we did an August alcohol wash in the Vermont Beekeepers' workshop yard. 4 colonies involved. All colonies were wintered nucs started the summer before from untreated bees. Bees were not treated the year of the test. 2 colonies were Russian, and 2 were VSH.

The Russians rolled 40% and 50% infestation, while the VSH rolled 5% and 10%.

The Russians were dead in the early winter, while both VSH colonies were alive in the spring...although not in great shape.

The deadouts were full of honey. If they had been in your warm California, instead of in cold Vermont, they would have been robbed out by stronger colonies...before they died out...just like your colony was.
Mike
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Yes, I am posistive now that this is what happened. My Varroa-weakened colony was not able to defend itself. I actually had seen a couple of bees with deformed wings in the time before it happened, but, like I said, it was only a couple or so and I didn't give it any importance. At that time I didn't even know about checking for Varoa (wow, what an eye-opening experience this has been!)

First time I hear about VSH bees too. Checking that out. Thing is I'm not into a big honey prodouction. Main thing is having and enjoying the bees. I would like to stay mostly natural, if that is still possible, no pesticides, foundation-less honey supers, etc. Also looking into Varroa screens. Definitely getting more proactive while preparing for my new bees. I read about a screen that you can access from the back, and that seems a good idea, so you don't have to bother the bees. Anyone know who makes that or gives easy to follow instructions to make one?

Again, many thanks for the input!
 
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