I went to check on my bees today and see if they were flying, as it is quite mild and the wind has dropped. There was activity with all of them apart from the very late swarm I collected in August. I noticed my stick entrance block had been dislodged so I presumed a mouse was in there: this is not a good sign…
I peered in the entrance and saw lots of dead bees on the floor. Hmm. Off with the roof, and sure enough, there was the mouse nest, in the tub of cappings I’d fed the bees following them being robbed:
Seeing the nest convinced me that the hive was no longer active; I hesitate to say “dead” as this was a very late swarm, and they were robbed shortly after I moved them in to the WBC for the winter. Bear in mind that bees will rob opportunistically if there is spilt honey or a chink in the bees’ armour somewhere, but they target small and/or weak colonies and the robbing bees can detect a substandard or absent queen or some other failure in the colony. I am not even sure if this colony had a queen – I have found they have a habit of disappearing after swarming – so there is little point in feeding if, in fact, the bees will fail anyway.
Lots of healthy but dead bees on the floor:
There were more on the frames, and it must have succumbed quite recently as the bees looked clean and dry, but there was no sign of any brood and no stores of any description. Also no sign of mouse damage so the little rodent is not guilty of contributing to their demise. You can see these bees have died in the cells which shows a combination of lack of food and low core temperature.
It is important to remember that I could have fed these bees and they might have survived, but I didn’t know if they had a queen, so I would have been feeding them to no avail, and yes, I could have gone through the hive to see if I could find a queen but it was so late in the season I couldn’t have done anything to replace her, and yes, there is always the option of fiddling around with other colonies and borrowing eggs etc but my whole point is to nurture those colonies that are thriving without intervention from me. So, this is the consequence: I sometimes lose colonies that other beekeepers might have saved. And it is sad to see a colony fail but I have 5 others who are getting along just fine under their own steam.
I have swept out the hive and replaced all the frames which have a seam of wax at the top in the hope I might encourage some early swarm scouts to take a look. There was no disease as the combs are clean and sweet smelling, and here you can clearly see the dark patches where the brood has been:
I also replaced the mouse nest so the occupant can keep warm until the spring!