Tuesday, April 1, 2014

She's Dead Jim - Autopsy of White Hive: 2014-03-31

Well, I pretty much knew White Hive had died but the weather here was finally nice enough for me to verify the sad news.  At almost 60 degrees, I trudged out to the hive with my wagon to see what exactly led to the demise of the hive.  The bees were flying between Christmas and New Year's and it was right after that when the first "Polar Vortex" hit Michigan with many consecutive days of below zero temps.  A week or so after that a second one hit and even after that the temps barely hovered above the zero mark.  Generally speaking, cold doesn't kill the bees but I think this must have been a bit too extreme for them. 

I began by taking the top box off and it was heavy!  Looking though the box frame by frame revealed solid frames of honey front and back.  A few small clusters of dead bees here and there but nothing out of the ordinary.  After looking at six frames, I finally found part of the main cluster on frame 7.  I couldn't believe that the bees never even really made it to the top box!!  The bees generally start at the bottom of the hive at the beginning of winter and gradually move up to the top of the hive eating the honey as they go.  With only part of the main cluster being in the top box, it seems that the bees never even made it far into winter.  That would confirm my thought that they had died in early January.
Part of the cluster
Looking at the bottom box, frame 1 and 2 had some honey on them but after that the frames were looking mostly empty.  This is probably the area that the bees clustered on at the start of winter and they had eaten all the honey there.  When I got to frame 6, I started to see most of the frame covered by dead bees and a large area of bee bread just outside their cluster.  Frame 7, 8 and 9 were completely covered by bees on both sides of the frame.  On top of that, almost every cell was occupied by a bee.  I was very surprised to find that many bees.  It seems to me like almost four solid frames of bees would have been plenty to generate enough heat to survive.  I brushed my hand through the lifeless bees and tried to find the queen but I didn't find her.  As I did this, I was also looking to see if there was any evidence of mite damage or disease.  I didn't see any deformed wings or k-wings.  I also didn't see any actual mites.  I did see a few brown streaks on one of the frames which could be evidence of Nosema.  My hive that survived last year had A LOT more streaks like that and they survived.  Ugh.

Finally I removed the bottom box and looked at the screened bottom board.  There was a 2 inch thick layer of dead bees there!  On top of that layer of bees were a few crumb lines.  These would be from the bees above them chewing through the wax cappings and the crumbs falling to the bottom of the hive.  This tells me that quite a few bees had died but the cluster remained alive for some time after that.
Dead bees on screened bottom board
It is always frustrating to loose your bees but even more so when there doesn't seem to be any apparent reason for their demise.  My only conclusion is that the cluster was fixed in place by very cold weather and they were unable to move to the honey surrounding them.  Since a small part of the cluster was in the top box, they may have simply been caught in the transition between the two boxes when the cold weather held them in place making them unable to reach more honey.

Well, I guess I have to look at the bright side.  Spring is right around the corner and I have two packages of bees on order due to arrive in May.  All the honey remaining in this hive will be put to good use in establishing two new hives!  Better luck for the upcoming winter too!

wax crumb line on dead bees
As always, thanks for reading!