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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi, I'm located in upstate NY in the Adirondacks. I keep Carniolans. This past summer my hive swarmed and I captured the bees that split. This past week I noticed that they were hauling out a large number of larvae that were still alive. No mites or diseases that I could see, and no invaders. Yesterday they swarmed right from the hive leaving it barren. When they initially swarmed it was preceeded by a lot of wet weather and I think they just struggled to put up enough honey. Not a lot of fields and blooms here.
I'm guessing they pulled the brood because they were cutting losses knowing their stores weren't enough.
The original hive looks good though- they seem to be stronger and have made some honey and I'm feeding them 2:1. I just noticed though that they're pulling some brood as well in all stages or development, though not nearly as many. Again, no mites or disease that's immediately apparent.
Is it safe to assume that so long as they're not making the same size sacrifice as the smaller swarmed-off hive that they're feeling the oncoming cold weather (some nights already dipping to the upper 30's) and preparing for winter?
Thanks, Daniel
 

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Agreed, some hives will throw out drone brood this time of year.

However the hive that you describe as having swarmed and left the hive barren, do you mean all the bees swarmed and left no bees behind? If so, that is called absconding. It is typically caused by a very heavy mite infestation and happens at this time of year. Normal swarming does not happen at this time of year.

Our honeybees have only had to live with varroa mites a very few years, in evolutionary terms, and do not understand mites, they just know something is badly wrong, and sometimes an ancient instinct kicks in and the bees abandon the hive and try to start again somewhere else. These absconsion swarms are normally doomed, unless captured by a skilled beekeeper.

So back to the brood being thrown out, it could have been drone brood, which is a common enough happening at this time of year, or it could have been mite infested worker brood, which some bee strains will also remove.

In your post you said that no mites were "immediately apparent". However, to a new beekeeper, they are never immediately apparent. Takes most folks a few seasons and a few fails, before they see the signs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Agreed, some hives will throw out drone brood this time of year.


However the hive that you describe as having swarmed and left the hive barren, do you mean all the bees swarmed and left no bees behind? If so, that is called absconding. It is typically caused by a very heavy mite infestation and happens at this time of year. Normal swarming does not happen at this time of year.

Our honeybees have only had to live with varroa mites a very few years, in evolutionary terms, and do not understand mites, they just know something is badly wrong, and sometimes an ancient instinct kicks in and the bees abandon the hive and try to start again somewhere else. These absconsion swarms are normally doomed, unless captured by a skilled beekeeper.

So back to the brood being thrown out, it could have been drone brood, which is a common enough happening at this time of year, or it could have been mite infested worker brood, which some bee strains will also remove.

In your post you said that no mites were "immediately apparent". However, to a new beekeeper, they are never immediately apparent. Takes most folks a few seasons and a few fails, before they see the signs.
They didn't leave any bees behind - absconded for certain. Is a heavy mite infestation the sole cause for this behavior?
 

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Pretty much, yes. There is also what used to be known as starvation swarms, which was absconding caused by starvation, and in a last ditch attempt at survival, the bees leave en mass to try their luck in a better place. You can tell which is the cause by wether the bees had food stores or not.

Most of our honeybees have lost their absconding instincts and will not abscond at all, if faced by starvation or impossible mite pressure they just die without absconding. But a small percentage of bees will still try absconding as a last measure.

In our modern environment, mites are a much more common cause of absconding than starvation.
 

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Actually there is something you could do at the other hive. Take a look at the brood that is being thrown out. If it is drone brood, this can be normal. If it is worker brood, there is a problem. Which could be mites, or could be starvation. There are a few other rarer causes but mites or starvation are by far the most common.
 

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>Is a heavy mite infestation the sole cause for this behavior?

They were absconding long before mites arrived in the US. Absconding can be because of disturbances by the beekeeper or by pests like skunks or by being overwelmed by small hive beetles etc. Some bees are more prone to absconding than others. Some you can't get them to give up on a home no matter what you do and others leave with little provocation. AHB are notorious for swarming and absonding when they are disturbed or starving. EHB usually sit tight but not always.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
After reading these replies and checking the literature I have it seems most likely that starvation was the cause. I'd scrutinized the bees, the brood, and the comb and there's no mites present at all. The combs are barren- not a thing left behind.
When they initially swarmed it was a split swarm - 2 that formed on nearby trees. I captured both but one left the hive by the third day having never settled into the frames. I'm thinking they were both small swarms having split into two the way they did, and would have a lot of catching up to do to get enough honey stored. We had a wet and cold Spring. I fed them some, but should've done so continuously - I'm in deep woods with no fields for many miles. By the time I realized they were probably struggling and I began fall feeding it was probably too little too late and they absconded. Though I'm a novice at this I believe that an infestation that would drive them out should leave some sign, yet there's none. Just the empty comb and nothing else. Terrible novice mistake on my part that'll likely result in their not making it through the winter. I started beekeeping because of the lack of honeybees in the area and much more important than ever getting any honey is seeing honeybees on the blooms in my garden, apple trees, and where I'd never seen them. My remaining hive seems relatively strong and hopefully the fall feeding will strengthen their reserves. Thanks for all the replies and advice. I appreciate it. Daniel
 

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The only good way of determining your mite load is to do an alcohol or powdered sugar wash and counting the mites you get. I have only once seen a mite on a bee. If you were actually able to see mites on bees then you would be very infested. Since you're a beginner, the alcohol wash is the best to get an accurate count. Search this site for instructions. There should be lots of references here or you can search Youtube for videos. Good luck!
 

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..... Just the empty comb and nothing else. ...
Yeah, by this time in the season there must be stores in place (even if not sufficient, but there must be some stores).
So you missed that part.
 

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Your strong hive with honey stores that you are feeding is pulling out all stages of brood? This is not starvation. While I can only "internet guess" because I can't see it, it sure sounds like a heavy mite load. So, how have you treated? Maybe post some pics?
 
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