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Why Did my Bees Die?

Too often the beekeeper will eagerly open up the hive after winter and to their dismay, discover their hive has died. It’s important to understand why your hive died in order to learn how you can effectively keep bees. Many reasons and scenarios are present when trying to describe why your bees died or could potentially die. The most common reasons a hive has died is because of either a mite infestation or starvation. Other reasons include Nosema disease, condensation within the hive and of course plain coldness.

You should conduct an inspection even if the hive is dead in order to determine how the hive died. Here are some clues to keep an eye out for:

Check the bottom or debris board. Do you see a lot of Varroa mites? Your hive could have suffered from a Varroa mite infestation.

Evidence of a varroa mite infestation on a debris board

Evidence of a varroa mite infestation on a debris board

 

Look at the bees themselves. Do they have short abdomens? Do they have deformed wings? This could mean your bees died from deformed-wing virus. This virus is vectored by Varroa Mites.

deformed wing virus in bees

An example of bees with deformed-wing virus

 

Do the dead bees look shiny, greasy or darkened in color? This is a characteristic for a paralysis virus like chronic bee paralysis, also vectored by Varroa.

Chronic Bee Paralysis virus from varroa mites

Chronic Bee Paralysis virus from varroa mites

Do the wings on the bees appear to be split or in a K shape. This could be an indication of K Wing Virus which is vectored by the mite.

bee with split wing

The bee’s wing appears to be split, or forming a K shape, which is an example of K Wing Virus

 

Are there many dead and dying bees in the front of the hive? Is their tongue sticking out? This is a good indication that poisoning with a pesticide has occurred.

dead bee with tongue sticking out

The bee’s tongue sticking out can be a sign of pesticide poisioning

 

Do you see dead bees that are inside the cell with their rear abdomen sticking out?  This is an indication that the bees starved. If there is honey present in the hive, the bees could have still perished because they were unable to maneuver the cluster over the stored food.

Bees head-first in cells

Does the hive seem wet? Are you seeing mold? You hive could have died from too much moisture. Moisture in the hive can be very detrimental to bees, which is why one should make sure their hive has adequate ventilation.

Are there brown stains or streaks on the outside of the hive? This could indicate a dysentery or nosema issue.

Signs of possible dysentery or nosema in a bee hive

Signs of possible dysentery or nosema in the hive

For whatever the reason your bees died, it is important to understand why they died. Making sure they have plenty of feed and plenty of bees prior to winter is very critical. Also, having good control of mites is as equally important.

25 comments on “Why Did my Bees Die?
  1. William McNett says:

    Bees cluster “head-first in cells” so just because they died there doesn’t mean they starved.
    “brown stains or streaks on the outside of the hive”
    Bees poop when they fly, they may have been cooped up for a long time. They’re not going to fly X feet away before pooping. The wind is blowing. The poop doesn’t care where it lands.
    All that from a 10 month old 2 hive beek ?

    • Kelley Beekeeping says:

      Hi William – you are correct in that these examples don’t necessarily mean they starved or have nosema, but these examples are possible ways to identify why your bees may have died, but obviously each hive is different, and each case is different.

      • Fanny says:

        Hi
        My friend is bee keeper
        He met this kind of problems
        But strange only one bee hive is happen this situation
        But other doesn’t met this problem die bees
        So if it’s virus
        Is ok the dead one bee hive the inside all honey and wax frame are ok to share give to other bee hive?
        Fanny

        • Kelley Beekeeping says:

          Hello Fanny, Which of the above mentioned problems did your friend encounter as each situation is different. Could you please have your friend give us a call? 1-800-233-2899

  2. William Smithson says:

    Bees are just gone.
    They were alive and seem well in the fall.
    Lost 6 of 7 hives.
    No dead bees to be found.
    It’s like someone come and stole my bees
    Gordonsville TN

    • Howard McEwen says:

      This is the same on three of my four hives. Not a single bee in the hive. Also, no honey. Maybe the all left when ran low on stores?

      • Steve Rose says:

        In late Feb. and early March the bees were bringing in pollen, I assume from Maple trees. There were lots of bees. We had a cold snap including two days of snow in mid-March. When it was over the hive was dead. Maybe a few thousand dead bees in the hive box. There was some capped brood and several dead bees had their heads stuck in cells. There was NO HONEY !. I assume they broke their ball and the queen started laying then the cold snap got them but maybe I should have continued feeding. I stopped because they were foraging.

        • Steve,
          This happens often if the bees finished out winter with low reserves of honey, the days get longer a spring flow starts to trickle in and the queen starts laying eggs to rapidly expand the brood nest and prepare for a larger workforce! Unfortunately, the incoming nectar may not keep up with the increased demand and the beehive continues to lose weight, or at best maintain. A few days of no fly weather and the bees consumed the rest of the winter stores. You may not see evidence of open brood because the bees will eat it as last measure to survive from starvation. Lesson to be learned here is just because they have incoming nectar doesn’t mean that they are gaining weight. We see this often here in the Pacific Northwest when rain prevents them from getting out to collect the plethora of available nectar.

  3. Michael Cox says:

    Beekeeping for dummies Discount 25.00

  4. Martin Anderson says:

    I know this is an old story but hoping someone might see my post.

    First time beekeeper – first season. Langstrom hive with two brood supers.

    I looked in my hive on September 22nd just before a vacation and things looked good. A few days ago I was looking over at my hive from my shed and noted a darkness around the entrance. I inspected and it was a pile of dead bees. I got into the hive and the floor was covered in dead bees. No signs of mites but I did see little flies (attracted by the dead bees no doubt) and a couple of larvae that were about 5mm long. The floor also looked wet so I will need to check the angle and change it to tilt forward if necessary. There are still bees in the hive but they are lethargic. There was a cluster which I assumed meant a queen is still there but I didn’t disrupt them any further. My initial thought was mites but I didn’t see any. After looking around I thought of starvation so I gave them some sugar water. I don’t recall the last time I fed them but it was a long time ago. I fed them once when I installed the package and again a couple of weeks after that but since I had TONS of clover growing in the yard I assumed no more feeding was necessary.

    So I cleaned out the hive as much as I could and fed them. Closed up the hive and waiting to see what happens. I don’t use pesticides in my yard.

    I would post pictures if I could but I don’t think I can.

    Does anyone have suggestions? Everything appeared to be OK 3 weeks ago. I have two bags of dead bees so I will see about sending them off to be inspected.

    Thanks, Max

  5. Michael Gadoua says:

    I’m wondering if they froze.
    If bees can stay warm in a hive because of their numbers, if the hive is too big (too many boxes), could there be an insufficient number of bees to keep the box warm?
    They did in the cells, looks like they died and dropped forming mounds of dead bees, many appear to just have died where they standing.
    It appeared to be a very sudden death for all of them that’s why I’m thinking cold. We’ve had too much rain but it also dropped below freezing.
    Looks like thousands died instantly.

  6. Martha says:

    Bees were alive in Feb. Mid March all are dead in the bottom of the box, a few in the middle of the rack. Small black beetles are in the hive and are dead as well. There is plenty of honey left in the hive. Honey has a fermented taste. The hive is dry and no sign of webbing or larvae of any kind. Any ideas?

  7. Louis Cambell says:

    are bees going instinct?? 🙁 I no want them to ded

  8. Sonya jones says:

    What can I do when all my bees have died except the queen and there is still honey in the hive

  9. Trevor says:

    Hello to all.
    I just opened my hive 2 weeks ago. I live in the Toronto area. The weather is very unpredictable here. When I brought my wrapped hive out from a old shed that doesn’t really have a anything to it just walls and a few missing boards for a roof.
    I put my hive on its stand and unwrapped it. I didn’t want to much condensation in the hive at that time as it was getting above 0. When I opened the hive on the first of April I noticed all my bees were dead. I wasn’t to happy and very disgruntled from it.
    I did notice that at the front of the hive was covered with dead bees and the bottom. In the middle was a cluster of dead bees. Lots of room for them to move around. There was lots of honey but no brood or larvae. I don’t know what happened but that’s the second time I filled the hive with bees and both times the hive was thriving during the summer and fall. But all dead come spring.

  10. Michele says:

    Hello,
    I am now in my second year of beekeeping. Last year went fairly well, but my bees did not survive the winter due to a combination of cold, low numbers, and starvation (plenty of food, but couldn’t get to it). I just got my new honeybees three days ago. I poured them in the hive and placed the queen in the hive with the marshmallow. It has been cold and rainy/snowy the last two days. The low was around 32 degrees. I was worried that the bees got wet as it just stopped raining when I poured them in the hive. I haven’t seen anyone come in or out the last few days, but I thought it was because it was too cold. I just checked on them (three days in) and they are all dead. Today was partly cloudy with a high of 51 degrees. Not warm, but not cold. What happened? How could they all be dead already? I just got them.

  11. Don Koehn says:

    Don
    First cold snap . I found at least 100 dead bees on landing board and on ground in front of hive .
    What happened , What do I look for ?
    First time bee keeper .

    • Kelley Beekeeping says:

      Hello Don,

      Were the dead bees drones or worker bees?

      • Don Koehn says:

        Went back to day all bees seem to be dead . removed opening reducer and found solid packed with dead bees behind mouse guard . have not opened hive due to temp . have bee cozeys and hot box . box top feeder with patties, they had just emptied an external sugar water feeder . Looks like they all died at once .

        • Kelley Beekeeping says:

          Hello Don,

          Where are you located? Did the feeder appear to be leaking? Did the bees appear to be sticky or clumped together?

          • Don Koehn says:

            Located rural , north of Wichita Ks. feeder did not appear to be leaking . It was one I purchased from Kelly , seemed to be working fine . When I would refill there were always a crowd of bees under the jar . It was one that inserted into the opening slot .There were dead bees under the feeder they were not stuck together or to the base of the feeder. It has been quite windy here so I put up wind breaks also. The temp has been on a roller coaster here. Tuesday night was the coldest to date (21) with (18) Wednesday night .

  12. Derek Dickinson says:

    Went out today to take a peek at the hive to find the entire colony was dead. Starvation seems to be the culprit as the hive was totally emptied of honey and there were bees head first in cells throughout. What’s surprising to me is that its the middle of November and they were already out of honey (we never harvested or removed honey supers). Our hive is located in New York City and weve only been getting cold early-winter weather for a few weeks now. This colony was new this spring (package bees) and just seemed to be really low in population and production all season long. The last time we got new colony (a nuc) and put them in our hive (with mostly drawn comb) they went gangbusters all year long. Multiple full honey supers in their first year, and subsequent years. Were still in the same neighborhood but this year the colony struggled to fill a single honey super and just never seemed to be as populous as I’d come to expect from the 5 or so years weve been beekeeping. The couple frames of new foundation we put in for the most part never got drawn out. Sections of drawn frames that we had cut out never got filled in. This colony was our first experience with package bees, so maybe that kind of colony is slower to develop? Maybe we should have fed them in the spring? I saw some evidence of mites (little light specks in the bottom of cells) in places today but by no means enough to suspect that the colony was getting ravaged by mites all year long. What might cause a new colony to be this lackluster? We wondered this spring if we should have scrapped and replaced more of our old founation, if we were leaving too much cleanup for the new colony to deal with. Hard to know when to trash old frames and start new, even if it means making the bees draw new comb…. still a lot to learn for us… any ideas or wisdom would he greatly appreciated.

    • Kelley Beekeeping says:

      Hello Derek,

      Package bees do differ from nucs in how they need to be cared for in the beginning. We recommend feeding for at least the first month while they are drawing out comb in the brood box since the nectar flow is shorter in your area. This will help to gear up production versus a nuc which already has drawn comb, stored honey and a laying queen.

      • Derek Dickinson says:

        That makes sense to me but we installed the package bees into a hive with mostly drawn comb so we didnt think it was necessary to feed them. Maybe some feeding should have been done to help gove them more of a jumpstart? One of the reasons we shy away from feeding the bees is that it seems very unnatural to feed them syrup made from refined cane sugar. As an alternative can you make syrup from last years honey harvest and give that to them instead? Is there a typical ratio for this?

        • Kelley Beekeeping says:

          Hello Derek, you can feed honey back to the bees. If the consistency is too thick you can add just enough water to liquefy it more.

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