Dead Out :: An Autopsy

I can guess the reason that this hive died, but I will never know for sure.

Background. My local utility called about a storm damaged bee tree (learn more at this link). I moved the colony from the tree to a hive in the rainy darkness, so the situation was not ideal for the bees. Once moved and hived, the colony struggled.  I added a swarm to it mid-summer, then added a small yet vigorous colony to it mid-fall. I gave it a winter patty and a 4 lb. bag of sugar in 2017, then didn’t visit it until March 2018.

Our winter weather between then and March 2018 contained a wide variety of conditions. The temperature and precipitation covered extreme ranges. Unpacking the hive from top to bottom, I submit the following.

Exhibit 1. Frames of untouched honey comb. I found a medium body and a deep body, both full of frames like this. They are gorgeous looking frames, but I was really hoping to see empty cells, no cappings, and locomoting honey bees.

Exhibit 2. I didn’t get a photo, but imagine a dead cluster smaller than my hand, inside the front face of the boxes, among the honey frames.

Exhibit 3. A deep frame with worker brood. I could see late stage uncapped and then capped, with some brood emerging. This hive had several frames like this. The pattern looks fairly concentric, which is pleasing, but the bees are dead, which is displeasing. There were some adult bees in cells near the front of the boxes.

Exhibit 4. A package’s worth of bees on the bottom board (and a chemical treatment for mites that I was unable to reach).

I came up with two possible reasons for this hive’s death. With all the honey left, I think it’s undisputable to say that the colony died late fall or early winter. I would guess that it died before Christmas.

Reason 1. Chemical overload. I couldn’t get that treatment strip! I followed the label instructions, but is it possible for overexposure to occur when you can’t remove the treatment on schedule? Did I just reach a product design limit and not know it?

Reason 2. Bees were caring for brood, which in the hive mind, takes precedence over self-care activities such as eating. In other words, the bees starved to death because they’d rather tend to the young than to themselves/the old.

What do you think happened to this colony?

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