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WHY DID MY BEES DIE? A hive autopsy.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons your bee hive could have died. We have compiled a lit of questions below, to help you try and find a possible answer. Please note: Often times, after a hive is already dead, it can be very difficult, if not impossible to, identify what the problem was. While it is VERY hard to diagnose a hive without actually being able to look at it ourselves, we have put together some possible problems.
#1 Are the bodies of the dead bees deformed? Smaller than normal? Wings all wrinkled up or stubby?
This could be a deformed wing virus, mostly carried and transmitted via Varroa mites. Pull out some capped brood and look for Varroa in the cells, especially any drone cells, check the bottom of the hive to see if there are any signs of Varroa on the dead bees on the bottom or look in cells for a yellowish granular materials that resembles sugar cr
ystals in clusters of cells; this is Varroa pee.
#2 Are the bees black and greasy or look wet?
This may be a paralysis virus such as chronic bee paralysis. Send the bees away to have them tested or contact your state apiary department.
#3 Sunken capped cells or capped cells with holes punctured in the top?
Sunken cells or capped brood that has a tiny hole punched in it is the classic sign that something is wrong with the hive. Now all you have to do is figure it out. Sunken brood cells can be signs of foul brood and holes punctured in the tops of capped cells can be foul brood or Varroa. To better identify a possible problem, you will need to find more clues than just sunken cell caps or punctured holes.
#4 Is there brown or yellow stains on the front of the hive? Sometimes quite a bit of it?
This is usually the first signs of Nosema virus. Nosema is a virus that the bees get that cause them to defecate on the front of the hive. Dysentery is the most common symptom of Nosema.
#5 Are there lots of bees that are dead with their heads in cells and their rear ends sticking out of the hive cells? This generally means that the bees starved to death. You may ask yourself, but there is lots of honey in the hive still? Hive starvation can still occur even if there is honey in the hive. This is because the bee cluster is often too cold to move around the hive to find food due to poor winter insulation.
#6 Is the hive very wet inside? Is water pooling on the bottom board? Is there mold growing anywhere in the hive? If any of these are occurring, you have a ventilation problem and your bees will die or did die from this. When you insulate for colder weather, you can't overdue it, however, you must leave their front entrance open as well as a way for the air to vent out the top of the hive. You don't want too much air flow, but they do need some in the hive in order to control moisture build up
#7 Does your hive have a bad smell? Like wet gym socks or something else that spells "foul"?
As the name would suggest, you may have foul brood in your hive. See #8
#8 Take a toothpick or small stick and put it in a capped call, swish it around like you are stirring your coffee, then slowly pull out some of the bee gravy/cell contents. Does it string out kind of like snot (i know gross)? This is also a symptom of foul brood. If the cells have a sticky substance in them AND they smell bad, then it might be foul brood. While both American and European Foulbrood will be "ropey" when you pull the toothpick out, American Foulbrood will be much stickier.
#9 Do any of the cells have a blue, purple or other colors besides either white or light yellow? This could be a sign of foul brood. Try also #7 and #8
#10 Are there little white worms crawling around in the honey cells or on the bottom of the hive board? These could be hive beetle larva.
#11 Are their little black beetles walking all over the frames and foundation in the hive? Do they scurry away from you when you open the hive, heading down into the hive? These could be hive beetle.
#12 Is there honey in the hive, pollen, but only a tiny amount of bees left? This could be Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Bees with CCD will have the resources they need, but it seems that most of the hive is gone, except for a dozen or so bees and there are no signs of dead bees around.
#13 When you look in the cell, are any of the larva white and powdery or chalky? When you take the frame and tip it on its side, do any of those chalky brood fall out? This may be Chalkbrood or Sac Brood. Sac brood is sometimes confused with Chalk brood, except with sac brood the brood will be incased in a tiny little sac and will also fall out of the cells rather easily. Both chalk brood and sac brood larva can be found on the bottom of the hive board.
#14 Look at the wings on the bees, do some of them make the shape of a "K"? Bees have 4 wings, but they are connected together on each side by Hamuli. These Hamuli help the two wings on each side of the bee body to hook together and act as one wing. If this Hamuli comes unhooked, the wings on both sides of the bee will come apart and cannot function as one anymore. When they come apart, they form the shape of the letter "K". K wing can be the symptoms of several issues like, Varroa, Tracheal Mites or Nosema. Look for more symptoms.
#15 Are there bees wandering around on the grass or ground in front of the hive? Sometimes tracheal mites and other issues can cause bees to wander around in a confused state on the ground
#16 It is winter and there is a pile of dead bees on the ground in front of the hive? This isn't always a bad thing. In most cases, the pile of dead bees, on the ground in front of the hive, is due to the bees in the hive cleaning out the dead bodies when it warms up enough in the winter for them to do a little house cleaning. Often times, in the fall, you will also see more bees than usual on the ground in front of the hive. These are probably drone bees (the males) as the hive kills them off in the fall so they don't eat all the honey over the winter. The only thing a drone bee does in the hive is wait to mate a new queen. They can't make a new queen in the winter, even if they had to, so they kill off the males and dump them out of the hive.
#17 I see little black or brown bugs on my bees; right on their back between their wings?
These are Varroa Mite. You can see them with the naked eye and they almost always attach themseles to the back of the bee, where the bee can't reach them to remove them. Visit our Youtube Channel to see a video about Varroa Mite and what they look like by click here.
If hive beetle isn't controlled and they go into their reproductive cycle they produce hundreds of little worms that will eat everything in the hive, quickly.