We Lose a Hive


After a cold and rainy week, we had a break in the weather and took the opportunity to open up our weak Elizabeth Taylor hive. Sadly, and shockingly, the entire colony was gone. There were no live bees, there were no eggs, and there was no larvae. We saw a few dead bees, like this one, still latched onto various hive surfaces. No developing brood meant that the queen had stopped laying eggs, either because she was preparing to fly away, or because she had died. Did we kill the queen when the hive was knocked over? We don't know. We didn't go hunting for our queen after the hive was knocked over. Opening a hive in the winter can be very damaging to bees, and neither Robb nor I are good at finding our queens. We thought that the best thing to do would be to leave the bees alone, and let them regroup.

Disturbingly, we saw bees that must have starved as they were hatching into the world. An extended tongue on a dead bee is said to be a sign of starvation. This baby bee was born into an empty home, with no nurse bees to care for it.

The strange thing is that this hive had loads of honey stores.

It also had a huge amount of high protein pollen.

However, if you look closely, you'll see that with no bees to maintain the storehouses, the pollen has started to grow mold.

With a heavy heart, I harvested the frames of honey. We had treated these bees with a miticide back in September, and so this particular honey is potentially unsafe for human consumption. Since I don't know what happened to our hive, I did not want to cross-contaminate by feeding it to our other bees, so I dumped the honey on our compost pile. Disposing of the honey was a profoundly depressing act.

I drained the honey out of the wax combs, because I think the wax is still salvageable.

Over the next few days, Robb and I will be reading over our bee books, to try to figure out what went wrong. This particular hive had been struggling all winter long, but we really don't know what caused their disappearance.

Happily, our other colony of bees, the Gloriana hive is thriving. These bees are intensely busy, and all seems well in their world.


Lisa said…
Some folks have asked if this was Colony Collapse Disorder. I don't know. Colony Collapse Disorder is like Alien Abduction. We all fear it, but really don't know what it might be like.
Christine said…
Same thing happened to my two. Apparently it's been a tough year- is it the weather? I do know one thing though and that's only you can photograph a dead bee hive and still make it look beautiful.
Anonymous said…
I'll ask my uncle the bee entomologist- I think that he will say what you already figured- 1 knocking over the hive- 2 the contaminated mold could have sickened or killed them- I bet mostly the knock over did it- but the cold had a good bit to do with it as well- You know how old fashioned bee hives were made from straw? I say buy some straw bales for next year and heap it loosely around and on and OVER the bee hive- then wrap loosely one of those black fruit tree nettings around it to keep the straw in place over the winter months, It should help protect them from weird weather- Many orchard places will keep the smokers/heaters on the hives as well as the trees during a cold snap.

Course, it could also have been the early am tuba music?

So sorry about the missing bees-

Kaaren said…
That's weird and sad. The photo of the bee w/its tongue out..wow! Great shot. and sad.
TaylorM said…
My hive looked about the same way when the bees left! There was a huge honey harvest - but only in the top box/"super." There were a few bees that hatched, but didn't even make it out of the frames (sad). And a few dead bees, but not even many of those. I'm guessing that they "absconded," since, last I checked, they looked pretty healthy. They can do this for any number of reasons. Your were at least partly related to mine, so there could be something genetic about it (they were a swarm hive originally, which means they are more prone to swarming later on). Also, I don't think they died, because I seemed to see a few of them visit the yard to "clean up" some of the wax and propolis left in the grass after I cleaned up and took down the hive. And I know exactly how you feel. Heavy heart is right. Harvesting the honey was a real bittersweet experience for me.
Unknown said…
Your photo of the (dead) baby bee hatching is at once chilling and beautiful. So sorry to hear about your hive. ::hug::
Lisa, I'm so sorry. I've heard so many similar accounts this year at our guild meetings. Many of those hives seemed to have been knocked back by varroa, and then the erratic weather just tipped them over the edge. Our neighbor lost his single hive in January and now has to start over. However, you still have the Gloriana hive, and that is the advantage of having multiple hives. I hope your remaining bees do well enough by late spring to early summer that you may be able to split that hive. You're lucky you still have bees. Some of our guild members lost all of their hives this winter.
Meg said…
If the bees lost their queen, could they have started bringing their forage to the Gloriana hive, and been adopted there?

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