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Hundreds of dead bees in and outside the hive

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Oakfield Bees
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Joined: 09 Aug 2015
Posts: 4
Location: Cheltenham

PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:25 pm    Post subject: Hundreds of dead bees in and outside the hive Reply with quote


A friend has a top bar hive and many dead bees on the ground under the landing board (about 50) & under the mesh near the entrance end (about 50). There are clusters of live bees just above the entrance and on the mesh above where the dead ones are, they are not trying to get in the hive and last evening were there as dusk fell. There are many more dead bees inside the hive many blocking up the entrance (about 100-200). The bees, dead and alive, do not look deformed or weak they do not have deformed wings and do not appear to have any verroa mites on them. The dead bees are workers not drones, amongst the dead bees was the head and a shiny thorax of a much larger black insect, maybe a hornet.

The hive is not built to Phil’s design, it is not so deep and came from North Somerset I think and was colonised with purchased bees last year. However all the bees died during the winter, it seems from starvation but there were dead bees on the ground in late autumn as there are now. A new colony was purchased this year. The hive entrances are at either end, though only one end was open. The other end closed off and unused bars in position in the vacant area behind the follower board.

Other observations:
All the alive bees look well with no obvious signs of Verroa
Some of bees seem really small.
Workers are taking the dead bees out of the hive but it looks like they are over whelmed by the numbers, hence the build up.
In turning the hive through 180 degrees, one person at each end, both of us were surprised how light the hive was.
There are 13 bars with comb though the end two are only partially drawn. In my Warre, 8 bars per box, thus 2 box equivalent the boxes would be heavier.
There is a honey store at each end of the colony and maybe on comb around the brood but we could tell, we just assumed
Through the inspection panel (running the whole length of one side) at the entrance end, we can see 20-30 bees are frenetic, but not with a waggle dance.
Bees were actively bringing in pollen and others doing their orientation flight all afternoon.

So why did we rotate the hive through 180 degrees? We decided that the bees needed help in removing the dead ones, so we opened up the closed end, slid all the drawn bars to the unused end and rotated the hive so the entrance was in the same place. Reinstating the follower board allowed us to take away the dead bees as they were now in the unused part of the hive. The comb was not nicely vertical below the bars but went across two bars hence we did not do a full inspection as the bee keeper is following the guidance Phil and others give to intervene in the hive as little as possible.

Does anyone have any ideas what the problem might be and what we can do?

I myself currently have a Warre but expect to build my top bar to Phil's design in the late autumn.

Thank you,
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Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 11:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi and welcome to the forum

I see this is your first post and you haven't started off on an easy one!

Unfortunately the bee inspector is no longer a regular contributor to the forum and the information you have given is beyond anything I have ever experienced, so it's all going to be quess work/suggestion.

First off, having cleaned those dead bees out I would be inclined to re-orientate the hive through 180 again and put the combs back were they were. Two reasons for this.... firstly that section of the hive will have been propolised by the bees and is therefore healthier for them especially as they are clearly struggling at the moment and secondly you have reversed the order of the hive which may cause them problems with robbing and over wintering. A colony generally has a comb or two of stores at the entrance, then the brood nest and the honey stored behind or above that.

When were these bees hived and in what form were they obtained? ie swarm, top bar nuc, national nuc, shook swarm or package? Were they fed and if so, how much and for how long. The weather in July was pretty poor and if they weren't being fed and didn't have enough stores then I would suggest that this may be starvation, especially as you say the hive is light.

Were these bees given the comb from the previous colony that died out?
If so, that should have given them a very good start. Were they thriving initially? Could they have swarmed since they were installed? The clusters on the outside of the hive can sometimes be cast swarms. Strong hives also cluster on the outside in hot weather (this is called bearding) but it doesn't sound like this colony is strong.... far from it.

Was the hive ever inspected? Whilst some people promote leave alone beekeeping, I do not think that is Phil's ethos but rather a more balanced approach between leave alone and convention practices.
I certainly feel that peope should learn how to handle, inspect and get to know their bees before they go hands off. Then if you get to this stage when something is clearly wrong and need to inspect, then you have an idea of what is normal and what is amiss and also, it's not a stressful first time experience for both beekeeper and bees.
If it was inspected, when and what was found?

If there is little or no honey/nectar, then I would be inclined to open it up and do a full inspection and correct the cross comb....prepare top bars with chicken wire hangers to reattach combs that need cutting off and realigning. Normally I would not suggest doing that until spring as the combs are empty of honey then and therefore easier to handle, but it sounds like that is not going to be an issue for this colony now.

I think you need to know if there is a viable queen in the hive and what their stores (if any) situation is actually like. If they are starving, they need feeding urgently, but robbing also needs to be deterred.

Is the mesh floor open? If so, I would cover it. You can do something as simple as fix a length of thick cardboard or thin ply under it using duct tape if there isn't a bottom board with the hive.

What is the entrance like. If it is just a slot at the bottom, then I would find something that I could use to rake out any debris/corpses so that it stays clear. I would also reduce it to a single bee space, especially if they are going to be fed and make sure there are no other access points anywhere in the hive. Wasps can find their way into the smallest holes and wood often warps and twists causing small gaps that you might not notice. Observing the hive regularly will show if wasps are getting in.

Are there any dying bees crawling about under the hive/on the landing board? It would be helpful to clear the dead away and start with a clean area underneath, so that you can assess the daily death toll. Poisoning is a possibility but not something I have seen myself... is there agricultural land near the hive and is it possible that spraying has been done? All hives will develop a pile of dead bees below them particularly in late summer/autumn as drones are evicted, so unless you can be sure it wasn't dead drones last year, I wouldn't read too much into that.

I appreciate that this is a friend's hive and not yours, so apologies for directing my suggestions/queries at you for ease of writing.

Good luck with them and if your friend decides to do a full inspection, photos of each comb should really help us to figure out the problem.


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Silver Bee

Joined: 24 Jun 2008
Posts: 962
Location: UK Cornwall Snozzle

PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 5:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If there are dead bees blocking the entrance & outside close to the entrance my first guess is poisoning.
Sending off a sample for analysis wouldn't go amiss.
Is the brood intact & sealed (thinking hornets would rob out the brood but I've not experienced hornets so just a hunch).
Is there honey stores remaining?
Are you in an area where agricultural pesticides get used, any arable farming nearby?
Welcome to the forum from me & I hope the next lot have better luck.
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Oakfield Bees
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Joined: 09 Aug 2015
Posts: 4
Location: Cheltenham

PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2015 11:13 am    Post subject: Post subject: Hundreds of dead bees in and outside the hive Reply with quote

Barbara & Tavascarow, thank you for your advise it was very useful and appreciated. We will reorientate the bees this evening and discuss a plan of action. Peter
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