Friday, February 18, 2011

Anatomy of a dead hive...

If you read my last post, you saw that my big mother hive, the yellow hive, died without warning.  I was suspicious that the colony died of starvation, but wouldn't know until I did a thorough exam of the inside.  So with the weather being in the 60s for the last few days, I decided to take the hive apart to see what I could find.  And sadly, what I found confirmed my suspicions.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me say that just the other day, I noticed quite a few bees flying in and out of the big yellow hive.  I started to question if the bees in the yellow hive were really dead or if they were just cold and in some type of suspended animation.  Maybe the warmth had stirred them from their slumber and they were now alert and back to being honey bees?  But sadly, I learned that I was right all along and the colony really was dead after all. 

As you can see in the picture above, there is plenty of honey left in the yellow hive.  You can see where the bees ate their way along the honey frame from the bottom.  And the two surviving hives, the orange and the lime, knew there was honey here.  The bees I saw flying in and out of the yellow hive were robber bees from the neighboring hives who knew that a honey gold mine lay next door.  It was easy to tell they were mine because the robbers were darker Carniolans, while the deceased inhabitants of this hive were yellowish colored Italians.

Here is the frame where I found the dead cluster.  Looks are deceiving.  While they look alive and just standing there, they're very much dead.  Its as if they just died where they stood...frozen in time forever.  When I raked the dead bees away, you could see dead bees inside the cells, head down, trying to get food.  While there was plenty of food in several of the frames all around them, and candy patties just above them, they didn't move because of the cold and that caused them to starve to death.

The dead monarch lies among her daughters.  You can see the dead queen here, easily identified by the green dot on her back (indicating she was of 2009 stock).  This cluster on the left was in the same clump of bees as above but they were on the opposite frame.  As you can see, the queen was in the middle of the mass and died where she stood along with her daughters.  I will miss this queen and wish all of mine were of the same dynamic quality she was.  As I mentioned before, she was a terrific layer and kept this colony going with beautiful brood frames ever since arriving in 2009.  

A sure sign that the colony starved.  Here you can see that the bees, trying to get food from the cells, died head down.  These bees were covered by the bodies of their sisters who died where they stood.  It baffles me that the bees didn't move over one frame where lots of honey waited for them.  Instead, they died trying to get what was left out of these cells.  I didn't try to remove the bodies from the cells and will leave that for next colony that moves in the yellow hive weeks from now.

The good news, I have a package of bees coming from Mark Bennett at the Chatham, Virginia, branch of Dadant and Sons in early April.  With the frames in the yellow hive already drawn with wax, and honey still available too, it will give the new colony a leg up on establishing themselves.  And I plan to split the orange hive this spring too, so I should have plenty to keep me busy.

Until next time, "bee" vigilent in keeping your colonies alive until the spring thaw which I hope is very soon.  Until then, you have my very best wishes!


  1. I am sorry to read about the loss of your hive. We still have a month and a 1/2 left of winter here and although my bees are alive now I am afraid it won't be true at the end of March. Our temps are dipping again :( How frustrating it must be for you, especially since you gave them extra in the candy board.

  2. Mark:

    Did you save the queen's body? You can use it to make a swarm lure.

  3. Although what happened to your yellow hive is a very sad and strange thing keep walking Mark!Best wishes from Greece.

  4. When I first saw the pics, (I look at pics before reading on) I thought they were alive. It was as if they were frozen in time. It must be a hard thing to deal with. Sorry.

  5. great photo - really informative post. I suspect one of my hives also starved. will be doing an inspection next month.

  6. Sorry to post a comment a month after your post but I just found your site and will be getting my first bees this June. So can you prevent them from getting too cold? I've followed some other beekeeping sites and in some very far nothern countries, they'll wrap the hives in winter.

  7. Glad you found my blog! Stay tuned for lots of posts about my beekeeping adventures. I don't know that any southern beekeepers wrap their hives. For example, in my area, the winters can be fickle, but normally not harsh enough to wrap the hives. In northern climates of the US and Canada, I know that beekeepers there will wrap their hives for extreme sub-freezing temperatures. In my case, the bees starved to death because they didn't break cluster to get the food within an inch or so of them.



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