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Absconding swarms leave an empty hive

When all of the bees—including the queen—leave the hive in search of a new home we say they are “absconding.” This is very different from swarming. Swarming is a reproductive process in which one colony splits and becomes two. From 40 to 70% of the original colony leaves with the old queen to start a new colony elsewhere. The remaining bees are left with a soon-to-emerge virgin queen who will head what’s left of the original colony. If a colony is robust, it may swarm more than one time in a season.

Absconding is not a reproductive process because all the bees leave—the entire colony just moves somewhere else. While absconding does not occur very frequently in European honey bees, it happens enough to be annoying.

The primary reasons for absconding are overheating, lack of food, and frequent disturbance. However, it can also be caused by bad odors, parasites in the hive, or disease. It seems that newly installed packages have a greater tendency to abscond than well-established colonies.

I have had two colonies abscond. The first time was after I installed a package of bees in a brand new top bar hive. I had wired some comb onto a few of the bars to give them a start and fed them with sugar syrup. About three days after the queen was released, I found the entire colony in a nearby bush. I re-hived the swarm and re-caged the queen. Instead of letting the bees release her, I kept her caged until comb building was well underway. By the end of the summer it turned into a huge colony—so it all worked out in the end.

The second time was about two weeks after I split an overly-populous hive. Everything seemed fine, the new queen was laying and the workers were storing pollen and nectar. But we were in the beginning of a long, hot, rainless period with very little forage available. Of course I didn’t know it was coming when I made the split. One day I went out to find the entire colony hanging from the supports underneath the hive stand.

As before, I knocked the swarm into a box, returned it to the hive, caged the queen, and fed sugar syrup like crazy. It turned into a good colony as well.  Once again, everything worked out.

I was lucky to find both these absconding swarms and get a second chance at tending them. In the first case, I think the new top bar just didn’t feel “homey” until more comb was built. In the second case, I think it was the extreme heat and lack of forage that drove them away. If you have a colony abscond try to figure out why it happened, but don’t get discouraged—it’s just another part of a strange hobby.




I live in West Bengal India. I have this huge bee hive (wild and natural) by my window. Every year when summer starts they just abscond everyone and then they come back after summer ends. Now this is happening since a few years now. The hive gets too much sun during summer and that’s why they leave.

But my question is I know the time when they will leave. Can I take the honey just before they leave? Last year for the first time I took very little honey, and 2 days later they left the hive completely empty.

Will they come back if I take most of the honey?




I have never heard of bees absconding from a hive in spring and returning in the fall, so I can’t answer your question. Are you sure they are the same bees? Maybe the bees are leaving in the spring due to heat and others are moving in later in the year?

In any case, if they leave every year at the same time, and you know when they are going to leave, I suppose you could take the honey. The bees can only carry so much with them when they go. Whatever is left will be stolen by some creature, so it may as well be you.

It would be interesting to see if you could track these bees and see where they go and if they actually do come back. What kind of honey bees are these? Has anyone else in your area reporting this behavior? Interesting stuff.

Kevin Whittington


Put a new hive in this spring, my first experience. Harvested 3.75 gallons of honey just from the top box. Noticed the lid had a gap last week and pushed it down on a cold morning. We had a huge wind storm last week here in Utah and today I went to check on the hive and all the bees are gone. Still lots of honey and maybe 100 dead bees but, no movement. Any idea what happened?



I don’t know. Was the lid open during the windstorm? Could they have blown away?

Sounds like you had really good honey production. Too bad you lost them!


I live in central Portugal and this is my first year of beekeeping. I had a great harvest of honey in summer and the bees were still actively foraging – even the last few days although it has got down to freezing at night. There are still eukalypt and rosemary flowers about. Yesterday I noticed that there was a lot of activity in the hive which is unusual. So for the first time this winter I opened it up and looked in. They were eating a lot of the wax and depositing it outside the hive and there was no brood and I couldn’t see the queen. This morning I looked at the hive and they had all gone! There is still plenty of honey and pollen stores in the hive and no sign of disease.



I don’t know what would cause the bees to abscond and leave honey behind, but several people have written about similar experiences this year. Do any readers out there have any idea what’s going on here? I’m eager to hear your theories.


Does the bee hive have honey left after the bees abandon after 3-4 months?


I first noticed something was up when I saw a lot of bees outside the hive and that they were eating the wax. I can only assume these were robber bees or rather bees just scavenging wax after my bees had already left. I therefore took the hives in so that at least I could use the honey and wax that was still there. I’m sure my bees would not come back now. This all happened last week. By the way I only had the one hive.



I’m sure you are right, they were robbers cleaning up after your bees were already gone. They probably were not eating the wax so much as tearing it apart to get every last molecule of honey. Taking in the hive was the best thing to do because robber bees could easily clean out the whole thing in no time. It’s still a mystery why your bees absconded in the first place.


It has happened to me two times and I did not find the bees. Both of the bee hives were found wild. I kept checking on them, I think too much! But the next time I left water 20 feet away and feed them a lot and they are doing good. So who knows why!!!!!


Hi there. I had a similar experience happen to me. On Sunday I went to check my hive which I had not checked on in a while (1 month) and there was no activity. I opened it and there were 2 full boxes of honey, loads of pollen and NOT ONE SINGLE BEE. No brood, nothing. Not even the inkling of dead or unhatched brood…

I checked for varroa of course on the board I have for such a purpose and nothing. Just loads of pollen and wax…I looked under the hive and found a small baseball size of a cluster of dead bees inside one of the cinder blocks I used as a hive stand. Could they have tried to abscond or swarm because of the warm weather and when it got suddenly cold they died? We had a whacky winter in NJ so I don’t know what happened here.

I am hoping part of the hive swarmed to a new home as there are many honey bees in the vicinity, just not in the hive! A funny thing was also that although honeybees were in the yard foraging, they were not robbing the honey in the hive…just strange. There was no sign of disease or varroa although we have many hornets in the area. Perhaps the hornets attacked them? Just so sad to have lost a hive…



Great article. We had a swarm establish a colony in a cherry tree out back. It grew to a pretty large size which thrilled us. The hive did well all summer, even during the hot weeks. Then suddenly, they swarmed (okay, absconded), tried to settle on an new tree and finally just left. There was no sign of die-offs and the colony seemed very healthy up until then.

Your article seems to explain what happened: Our neighbor has been spray-painting his house for a week or so and the fumes were drifting into the colony. Bummer since our backyard garden had tremendous yields this year!


Drea Jones

I found this searching for why my bees suddenly left. I got my first hive up and running in May. I have fed tons of sugar water thru the entire summer. Looked outside yesterday morning to see my bees swarming all up by the house. Later, there were bees at the feeders. Feeders were empty this morning and I filled them again. I notice, though, while there that for the first time ever there were no bees in the entrance. I took off the top. No bees. Had to come back to the house for the hive tool and broke open the seal and got into the bottom super, no bees anywhere! The last time I was in my hive was the first of August when I treated for mites, though I saw none and certainly no moths or beetles. It was clean and full of bees. Apparently mine haven’t moved far as they are still coming in for the sugar water! My brother lives about 75 miles from me and his hive is 3 years old and he found his all gone last Friday, What the heck is up?



Where are you living? It would help me answer.


Also, Drea, is there any honey in the hive? Has it been bothered by wasps or skunks or other critters? Is there any brood in the hive? If so, how much? Any pollen? Did you harvest any honey?

Drea Jones

Rusty, I am in Texas. There was honey in the bottom super in August. I will have to look better this weekend as I didn’t pull any of the frames out as I was in total shock that my hive was empty. The weird thing is they are still living somewhere close because even after discovering the empty hive, they are flying in and hitting the sugar water jars. Blows my mind. I don’t have a lot of predators though we live on 5 acres, two dogs are penned close to the hive and know when something shows up in the yard.

Drea Jones

I forgot to add, I just got bees in May; I didn’t have them long enough to harvest honey. I had a hard time getting started; the first box of bees I ordered arrived dead. The replacement box arrived, but they never released the queen, she died in the cage. I got a frame of brood from a local beekeeper and my hive raised their queen and seemed to be doing well. Until they ran away from home!



My guess it that they were out of honey. Texas was one of the states hit hard by hot, dry weather. The colony probably used up its food stores in the nectar dearth, even though you were feeding them. Bees will often abscond in the fall from an empty hive. It’s almost as though they know they can’t survive where they are—and with few options—they just up and leave to try their luck somewhere else. Of course, chances are very slim that they will find something better. It’s just a last-ditch effort to save themselves.

A colony will rarely abscond with honey stored in the hive unless other conditions are particularly bad, such as predators, poisons, continuous loud noise, or something else along those lines. I will be very surprised if you find honey or brood in your empty hive. The late start you had with a failing package and then a failing queen didn’t help because it put the colony behind schedule in the spring.

Bob Johnson

I have two hives that have left this fall. They both have honey and nectar left in them. I did harvest honey from them about a month ago. I have also been feeding them to get them better ready for winter. I went out to feed them today and both hives were empty. Trying to understand why. My daughter who lives 9 miles away also found that her hive was empty today. The only thing I could see that disturbed me was that some of the comb and wax was very dark, almost black in the hive that is two years old, the other hive is from a split this spring. How can I tell the cause for them leaving?



It’s really hard to know why bees abscond, but it was most likely not the comb. Given a choice between old black comb and new comb, bees prefer the black stuff. Beekeepers are cautioned, however, that pesticides can build up in old comb so it should be rotated out of the hive every three to five years. But two-year-old comb should not be a problem (See Why do brood combs turn black?).

You don’t say where you are writing from, so it’s hard to speculate. Did you have unusual weather this year? Trouble with yellow jackets or other predators? Unusual problems with hive beetles or wax moths? Excessive noise where the bees are? Pesticide spraying in your area? Were the bees pestered by skunks or mice or humans?

Again, I don’t know the climate where you are but when bees abscond just before winter, it’s pretty much a death sentence so something had to be seriously wrong for them to leave. Are you sure they absconded and didn’t die out? Did you try to find them? Often, they don’t go far.

Bob Johnson

I live in Utah. It has been a very warm and dry year. I have talked to the person who I purchased my initial nuc from and he has had several people with the same concerns. His feeling is that is was foul brood, which has been a problem in the area this year. I am going to do a closer inspection of the brood left behind. I have put the word out to look for any bees anywhere, but I live in a city. No unusual activity by the hive. My daughter is also going to look through her hive. I treated them with terramyacin and mites about a month ago (my daughter did not, in fact she did not even harvest any honey), so maybe I did not catch it soon enough is the only thing I can think of for now until I go through the hives for closer inspection.



European foulbrood or American? Usually AFB has an overpowering rotten odor that really can’t be mistaken for anything else. EFB has a more sour smell. From what I’ve heard, EFB is on the rise again, but I haven’t heard much recently about AFB.

Please let me know if you learn more. I’m interested in what happened. Two absconding like that is so unusual.

Julie Wood

I have a two-year old hive that had great honey production this year and I just found today that my bees had absconded. I harvested honey from the hive twice this summer, about 2 months apart, and I take almost all of it from small supers on top, leaving two deep supers for brood and honey for the colony. We had a sudden cold and wet snap here (San Francisco Bay Area) starting last month, directly after record high temps, so I’m not sure if that stressed them out.

Inspection of the racks shows plenty with capped honey, nectar and pollen. No live brood, just some capped, dried out brood in places and no signs of moths or disease.

My bees were having a varroa mite issue this year and I was in the middle of a mite treatment. The mite numbers exploded recently and they lost a generation to the chewed up wings/disorientation. It seemed like the treatment was working because a week and a half ago, there seemed to be plenty of activity in the hive.

I’m wondering if the queen died suddenly or something, because I found three, mostly finished queen cups in the center of the racks (not hanging off the bottom). Could it be that she died and they couldn’t recover in time because of the sudden, cold weather and mites?

Only other hive disturbances I can think of were an unusually high number of yellow jackets around the hive this year (but I never saw them going to the entrance) and a couple of ant attacks that I caught within a day or two.

Any thoughts are appreciated.


Hi Julie,

I’m amazed at the number of people this fall who have reported absconding. You mention several things that are often associated with absconding, including record-high temperatures, parasites (mites), and predators (yellow jackets and ants). Also, you mention that you were in the middle of a mite treatment, so there is the possibility of bad odors, depending on what you were using.

Any of those things could cause absconding, although I’m not convinced it was any single item, but maybe two or more in combination. The presence of a few queen cups doesn’t tell you much because some bees keep a supply on hand just in case. Sometimes they are built and dismantled and then rebuilt, so the presence of queen cups doesn’t necessarily mean there was something wrong with the queen.

You say your bees “lost a generation due to the chewed up wings/disorientation.” Do you mean deformed-wing virus? And what about disorientation? How do you know they were disoriented? You say there was no sign of disease but deformed wings and disorientation are certainly signs of disease. Maybe that is what drove them to leave.

The presence of capped brood bothers me. How much was there? Are you sure it was old and dried up? Are you absolutely sure the queen wasn’t left behind? The fact that the bees left honey, pollen, and a bit of brood behind sounds more like colony collapse than absconding, but that’s just conjecture on my part. It’s unusual for bees to leave their stores behind, especially going into winter.


It is winter here and has been cold. I went out today as the temperature was nice to check on my bees. They are gone. No dead bees were found in or around the hive. I found a mouse in the bottom of the hive. I replaced the hive box with a new one, installed a mouse guard, and replaced the honey that was in the original hive box as the mouse had not destroyed any of the frames when I saw a honey bee out and about fly towards the hive while I was out working.

Has anyone ever had their bees return after they have absconded their hive?



I’ve never heard of a swarm returning, except when they make a false start and return within hours. But that’s not to say another swarm won’t move in.

You might also want to read “Absconding or CCD?”


I am new with bee hives or whatsoever. Currently living in Malaysia. The weather over here is hot like usual, but this time . . . superb hot. No four season a.k.a tropical country. My father and I recently found this bunch of bee hives hanging on the tree. The weirdest part is, our yard doesn’t surrounded with flowers or tree. So, since we saw this beehives, we plan to reproduce it more, therefore we made a house for the bee and put the hives inside it (we made the house for the bee refers to Youtube channel) and successfully transfer it. Only my concern here: do you think this bee will run away coz as I told you our yard has nothing . . . only just a few bunch of tree no flowers plus hot too, or we harvest the hives right away?



If the bees moved into your yard by themselves and built a home, they must think that enough forage is nearby. I think there is a good chance they will stay.

Melissa Gray

Yesterday morning, I got up and pulled the feeder from the bees. I had been feeding them all winter. There is quite a bit of food around here now. There was a lot of bees at the feeder and going in the hive. Check it last night, no bees. It was a small hive, but seemed to be doing well. They did not build a lot because we got them late in the year. Can someone please tell me what happened!



Did you check inside your hive for brood and a queen? Based on your description, it sounds like local bees were going into the hive to eat from the feeder and then going back home. Once you removed the feeder, the local bees stopped coming. I’m just guessing, of course, but that’s what it sounds like.


Checked a split today that raised their own queen. Hadn’t gone through the hive for about 2 weeks. Last time was when the queen cells were capped and I cut out 4 of the 6 capped cells to requeen other splits. Added a feeder and pollen patty to be sure they had enough supplies. Today I expected to find a mated and laying queen. The hive turned out to be empty except approx. 20 bees milling around, some nectar and pollen stores. The queen(s) had hatched from cells but the bees are gone! Two other hives alongside are fine. Hadn’t heard of this absconding thing before. (2nd yr beekeeper btw)



It happens, and it seems to be kind of random. You can go years without having one and then have two or three in a row. Interesting.


I had a swarm which, reading all the comments, means they absconded from somewhere and have made a home under my house tiles which are above my patio doors. I don’t want to harm them but I am worried about what’s going on in the walls of my house, and I can only get at them by taking down all the tiles. Have I got them to stay, or will they go of their own accord? If they go, have I got to have the tiles off and cleaned up?



Are you sure they are honey bees? If so, they can be hard to get rid of. If they are wasps or hornets, they may be easier to eradicate. If you are sure they are honey bees, call a local beekeeper, explain what is happening, and ask if they can advise you or set up a trap for them.


I’ve had a swarm of bees make a hive in a scottish broom to the point of filling it partly with honey. Then absconding. All within afew days. Why?


They changed their minds? Found something better, cheaper, or with a water view? Hard to say.


I just changed my brood box for a new one with a better opening. I took all the racks from the old one and put them in the new one. About 4 days later they are in a close-by tree. We have had some extreme heat the last few days. 40c+ (105F+). I’m not sure if they have swarmed or just left because there are still a few bees in the new box.

Any tips would be great. Thanks



If there were only a few bees left in the box (rather than 30-40%), it means they absconded rather than swarmed. There are many reasons that bees might abandon their hive, but extreme heat is certainly one of them. If it is too hot for the bees to survive, they are forced to leave. It could also be they don’t like the smell of the new box. More likely, it was a combination of the two.

You don’t say where you are: Australia or New Zealand? In any case, for the future you should concentrate on providing as much ventilation as possible. A screened bottom board and/or a screened inner cover would help. A slatted rack can also give them a place to hang out below the nest instead of right in it. Keep the hive in the shade, at least during the hot afternoons. Make sure they have a good water source nearby. You might also consider an upper entrance in addition to the lower one.

Also, it is always a good idea to let new wood air out a few days before putting the bees in it. You just never know what the deciding factor is, but bees can be finicky.


i’m studying in agriculture college and i was growing honey bees and in my hive there is more population and more vigorus, i think that it swarming or absconding. so pls.. give some information abt growing of honey bees.



Perhaps they are getting ready to swarm. There are dozens of articles related to swarming listed on the Swarming page, or you can use the search engine.


This seems like a good place to ask this question. Hoping I get some response.

I’ve had a honey bee swarm in the wall of my house for maybe 3 years. I didn’t want to kill them but I needed to finish refinishing my house, scraping, painting etc. The other day I was out treating my house for bugs and realized the honey bees were gone.

I’m just wondering what the bees may have left behind. I’ve heard stories of the hive melting and creating all kinds of problems. It’s been a week or so since I sealed up the entrance to the hive and need to know if there is any thing I need to do?



It’s hard to say. If they left a lot of honey, the comb could melt and the honey run down inside the wall, especially if you live in a hot climate. Also, it will be hotter in there now that the entrance hole is closed. If they left brood behind, that could begin to rot and smell. If you can get a look by removing a few boards, you probably should.

If the bug spray killed them, that would increase the chances of brood being in there.


I have 2 boxes in my back yard for the past year. I just started over a year ago. Everything was going fine until now, on inspection I saw one empty. I notice that a branch from the tree under which the box stands were brushing against the entrance….where did my bees go and what do I now do?


Well, if the hive was doing fine and now there’s nobody home, I suspect they absconded. Just up and left. It could very well have been caused by a branch rubbing against the hive, especially if it made a noise of some sort. Bees don’t like loud or insistent noise, and it may have been amplified inside the hive. I’m not saying for sure, but it could have been. It could also be they ran out of food or were bothered by predators. What you do now is move the branch and split your other hive. In South Africa you will have to wait till spring, though.


About 2 years ago a friend beekeeper of 60 years experience placed a European bee hive on our land, situated between 2 of our dams, so there is always water nearby even if it is dry season in northern Australia. About 6 months ago, the bees seemed to be swarming on the outside of the box up from the opening, up to 15-20 cm. I told the beekeeper and he put a super on top. This seemed to reduce the swarming and I saw some bees using the hole at the top of the super. He said the were doing marvelously, had grown into very large bees and were producing large volumes of excellent honey that would win an award in an agricultural show. Also the bees were not particularly aggressive and he had few stings when he robbed the honey. Note, I have no bee experience other than eating honey and being stung once as a 6 year old. Last weekend our beekeeper friend came to rob the honey and found the bees are smaller and aggressive and he was stung quite a bit. I checked the hive at 11.00 am this morning, a fine sunny winter 24 degrees Celcius (we don’t really have a winter in Townsville, Queensland) and the bees do appear to be a couple of mm smaller and were very very busy buzzy in and out the main opening and the super hole at the top. This is the first time I have seen the super hole used for several months. He said he thought the first queen had swarmed and flown, leaving a different queen and a hive of aggressive bees. Why would this be the case?



I believe your beekeeper friend is correct. The worker bees in a colony are all sisters, and they are all daughters of the queen. The whole group is closely related and they have similar characteristics, including size, temperament, and the ability to store honey.

Queens don’t last forever and they get replaced by the colony. The new queen then mates with several drones from different colonies, so her children are different from the bees that raised her. As the new queen’s children replace the original bees (a process that takes around six to eight weeks in the summer), the character of the colony changes. The new queen in your case seems to produce daughters that are more aggressive and smaller. This is all very normal in the bee world.


Many thanks for your information. Where would the drones have come from as there are no other bee hives with in a few km radius that I know about? We have several species of bees, including really huge carpenter bees (2 cm long 1 cm wide), blue banded bees, native bees (little black bees that bite not sting) and black bees (look a lot like heavy bodied wasps), but I presume they being different species wouldn’t mate with the queen. Is it likely the original queen died or swarmed away somewhere else? I have just looked at the hive at 8.30 am this morning from a distance of 5 m and they seemed to have even cleaned the wood at the entry to the hive.



I have often thought I would like to visit Australia just to see the bees; I’ve seen so many interesting bee photos from there. But you are right, a honey bee would have to mate with another honey bee. Australia is full of honey bees, though, and even if you don’t know where they live, there are probably plenty in your area. Even if they are not managed by beekeepers, feral swarms often leave their hive and live out somewhere in the wild, just like your bees probably did. Drones will fly long distances to mate; some people think they may fly up to 8 km. They drones meet in special areas called “drone congregation areas” and no one understands how they know where to go every year, but they do.

It’s hard to know what happened to your hive from here, but if your beekeeper believes the bees swarmed with the original queen, he is probably right. It is hard to imagine them swarming in the winter months, but if it is as warm as you say (24C), I suppose they might. I would trust your beekeeper on this one because he has the experience with Queensland bees.

phurba tshering bhutia

It’s my hobby to rear honey bee at my home, at least 10 hives. I love to see article on Apis cerena for rearing.


There are only a few articles here about Apis cerana, mostly written by Maggie. You can search “Apis cerana” in my custom search box and they will show up.


I am trying to get bees out of my external wall. I have been using a screen nozzle to let them out and that is working; I am trying to prevent them from getting in and Ii believe I am doing so.

Now time has passed; when will I know if they have all gone?

I still see a few around. Will one day there will be no bees at all?

thanks, trb



If forager bees cannot bring in food, the others will all die eventually. How much food is stored in there will greatly affect how long the colony can last, as well as how much water they have available. By locking out the foragers, you are just starving the colony, and that could take a while.


I have one for everyone:

I retrieved on three different occasions swarms. I placed in super and place a queen separator on bottom to prevent queen from escaping. When I returned to my apiary and opened the bottom with a reducer on it the bees swarm. They virtually empty the super. On two occasions they swarmed into trees and stayed for several hours and then all of a sudden they dispersed and flying in mass return to the original super. Another time they swarm without landing and after several minutes return to the original super.

1. What is happening
2. What can I do to ensure I do not loose the bees in future swarm retrievals
3. Any other insights or helps




The bees decided they didn’t want to live in that particular hive, so they attempted to go elsewhere. But since you wisely used a queen excluder, the queen couldn’t go with them. When the bees discovered their queen was not with them, they went back to the hive. They cannot survive without a queen, so they had to go back.


That is my conclusion. However, how in the world in one incident did the queen escape with the excluder and I checked all areas and no gaps. How does this happen?



Queens come in all sizes, and queen excluders stop most of them. I find it better to put the queen in a cage until the swarm settles in and starts preparing a nest.


Sorry I have a spelling error in original and thus posted again:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

I have one for everyone:

I retrieved on three different occasions swarms. I placed swarm in super and place a queen separator on bottom to prevent queen from escaping. When I returned to my apiary and opened the bottom with a reducer on it the bees swarm. They virtually empty the super. On two occasions they swarmed into trees and stayed for several hours and then all of a sudden they dispersed and flying in mass return to the original super. Another time they swarm without landing and after several minutes return to the original super.
1. What is happening
2. What can I do to ensure I do not loose the bees in future swarm retrievals
3. Any other insights or helps



I installed a 2nd package of bees into my top-bar hive 8 days ago and I removed the empty queen cage today. The first package I had installed 3 weeks ago absconded so I installed a swarm guard on the entrance. The bees have made 4 full size pieces of comb but I’m terrified that the queen is either dead or not laying. I haven’t inspected the comb further than the observation window or the single piece of comb that I removed the queen cage from today. When should I be concerned? Is the swarm guard a bad idea? I wasn’t sure how long until the bees felt like its their home. Thanks in advance for any advice.




You need to open the hive and look in the cells for eggs and/or larvae. Then you will know if the queen is laying. If she is, the colony won’t leave. The excluder is fine, but it will soon need to come off because it traps the drones inside, which you don’t want to do.


Thanks for the advice Rusty. I opened the hive this afternoon and there are 4 large pieces of comb with a 5th being started. I can’t locate the queen but I’m not very experienced. There is nectar and some pollen stores but no eggs/or larvae. It’s been 9 days since this package was installed so I fear my queen is dead. I’m planning to order a new queen but I’m still worried that my hive, or new queen, will abscond (my heart is still broken by the first bees leaving). Any advice about how long I should use the swarm guard? Does a virgin queen have to leave the hive to be impregnated? I really appreciate your help. This has been a frustrating journey getting started.



If you keep the queen in her cage for a while–a week maybe–you won’t need the swarm guard. Since they are building comb, they will probably stay home. Introduce the queen slowly, and make absolutely sure you don’t have a queen in there before introducing the new one. Yes, a virgin has to leave the hive to mate. She must fly to a drone congregation area, and she will mate in the air.


I have 2 top-bar hives. Both were packages bought in May 2015 from Georgia to Mississippi. They were Italian honey bees. One hive doing good. The other, I think half the bees joined the healthier hive. The smaller colony was doing good, made combs, laying eggs and today they absconded to a nearby 3 ft tall maple tree. I took them out twice and put them back in their hive, to go back to the tree both times. At first. The comb did have larvae in them. No honey or sugar store. Looks like maybe ants rob it. Got the ants out. How can I make them stay? Don’t know if they have a queen still or not. When they get on the tree, they pile on top of each other.

What do you think i can do? Hate to lose them. Less than 500 bees out of 10000 from start. I new to beekeeping. I had sugar water inside the hive with them.



It is not unusual to have this happen, especially when the hives are brand new and don’t seem “homey” to the bees. If the ants are gone for sure, take one frame of brood from the good hive and put it in the troublesome hive. This may be enough to keep them home. You need to know if you still have a queen. If you don’t, 500 bees probably won’t be enough to get things going again. If the big hive is strong enough, you can equalize the strength by adding more than one frame of brood to the weak hive. If it were me, I would buy a queen. Even if you still have her, she may not be strong enough to build up the colony.

Another thing to do is combine the two colonies and split it later, after you are able to buy a queen.


About 10 days ago I did a hive inspection on both my hives and they seemed in great shape. Plenty of honey, pollen, brood and room to grow. I came back from a trip and found that my strongest hive was empty and crawling with tiny ants. There are a few, but not many dead bees on the frames.

The interesting thing is that the hive has no honey, pollen, not much of anything… and it has a dry brittle feel to it now. Where would the all the honey have gone? I left them a full super for the winter and it’s all disappared! (would they take it with them when they left?)

Couple of other data points: It has been extremely hot for the last week or so here (North San Francisco Bay Area) and I had been seeing more and more yellow jackets hanging around this hive. I do give them plenty of water in a nearby bird bath and my other hive seems to be doing fine. I did put in the entrance reducer in case the yellow jackets had something to do with this.

So I am wondering what is the best thing to do now?

If it was disease, I don’t want to try to reuse the hive/frames right? How can I be sure?

Thanks for your help, about all I know about bee keeping I have learned from a book and youtube.




Based on your description, I think the colony absconded for some reason. In other words, unhappy with the conditions at home, they up and left. This is certainly not uncommon especially when you factor in ants, yellowjackets, and high heat. If it was a disease it would not happen so suddenly and there would be piles of dead bees. I surmise that they left, took much of the honey with them, and then the ants and yellowjackets came in and finished off everything else. Unlike honey bees, the predators recklessly tear open the cells which gives the comb the dry, brittle feeling. Here is a post that explains it in more detail: “Why do honey bees abscond in fall?

There is nothing to do but store your hive for the winter. It will be fine to use next spring.

By the way, I used to think absconding was rare, but I don’t anymore. So many beekeepers report absconding, especially, in the fall that I find it remarkable.


First of all, thanks for your wonderful website, I learn so much!! We recently were very disappointed by our “absconding” bees. We live in Washington state. My story is much like the others. New to beekeeping this year everything was going great, we thought. During our high heat in July the hive was actually “bearding” which was what seemed to be a healthy hive. Colony growing but no honey being made. We stopped feeding for about a month because we were told that we didn’t want our honey to taste like all sugar water. My yard seemed to have food enough for them as I have a veggie garden, Dahlia garden, lots of purposely planted perennials just for the bees etc. I also make sure all my fertilizers are safe for bees and stay with organic feedings. Last week they we all gone!! “Absconded”!! So so so disappointed. So my question is should we have continued feeding because the welfare of the healthy honey bee is more important than the taste of the honey?



This is a complicated subject. Bees often abscond in their first year because they get a late start. It might not seem late to us, but in places where summers are dry, most growth and honey collection happens in April, May, and June.

With an established hive, you want the colony to have expanded in spring before the honey flow, which means before mid-April. But most new beekeepers get their packages or nucs during April or May. This is too late to take advantage of the early spring flows, which is the primary reason new colonies are unlikely to produce a harvestable crop the first year.

The situation is worse with packages because the bees first have to build a home, a nursery, and a pantry, so even if the queen lays on day one, it will be three weeks before the first hatchlings show up. By the time the colony is large enough to collect lots of nectar, the nectar is in short supply.

That is the reason many people feed sugar syrup most of the first season—to make up for the late start. Any honey and/or syrup the bees collect is left for them so they can make it through the first year. There are always exceptions, and some newbees manage to get a crop the first year, so nothing is set in stone. I’m speaking in generalities.

If by late summer or fall, the colony “believes” something is wrong—perhaps they don’t have enough honey stored and they know it—they may abscond in hopes of finding a better place to be. They won’t, of course, unless someone catches the colony and feeds it like crazy. Naturally, we don’t know what is going on in the bee brain, but this is how we interpret this behavior.

So yes, I’d say you may have been able to hold onto them by feeding throughout the summer, unless they absconded for some other reason. But if you are finding no stores of food in the empty hive, that would be my guess.

Charles Ray

I have two hives and have had the same queens for two years. I checked the hives last weekend and they looked fine. I went to put feeders on this evening (one day later) and the hives are empty. But there are a fair amount of small yellow jackets in them. The opening was restricted. Did the yellow jackets cause this absconding? There seems to be plenty of honey stored. There doesnt appear to be many dead bees.



It’s hard to tell at this point. The yellowjackets could have invaded the hive so the colonies decided to leave. Or the colonies could have collapsed (or left) for some other reason and then the yellowjackets came in to clean up. Sometimes when you see few dead bees it’s because the yellowjackets already collected them and took them back to their nest.


I live in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania . It is the second year I have tried to keep bees, but no success. The first time they died in January because of moisture in the hive (I covered the small slot on the inner cover, so no ventilation). This year I put again two nucs and they were good till two or three weeks ago but they didn’t have enough honey, so at the middle of September I started to feed them with syrup till three weeks ago (they stopped taking it). During the time I was feeding, many times drops of syrup fall on the ground which attracted yellow jackets. A week ago I saw that 4-5 yellow jackets got in to the hive and didn’t come out, so I decided to open the hive and surprisingly were only thirty bees and a couple yellow jackets, the same thing on the other one. It is enough food on the hive and the colonies was strong, meaning on numbers. I did read all this comments. If I decide to try again next year I don’t know what to prevent such a thing. I don’t know if I did anything wrong.



Try reducing the entrances as soon as the nectar flow is over.


I’m in southwest Ohio, I put in a new hive in May and throughout the season they were very healthy, treated as preventive measure for mites in September. Routinely checked hive and much activity. Decided to leave honey for hive to get through winter. Two weeks ago went to check and the hive was empty except for about 100 bees. Clustered on a single frame in brood box. There is capped honey on several frames. Two questions: can I harvest the honey that was left for consumption? Could the bees have absconded or possible colony collapse? Your insight would be appreciated, as I am a novice!



From the scant information it sounds like either the queen was lost or the hive went down from mites. I am interested to know how you treated for mites.

You can eat the honey as long as you didn’t treat the hive with a hard chemical that would contaminate the honey. On the other hand, if you treated with something like oxalic or formic, you can go ahead and eat the honey.


I used Apivar to treat. Two treatments 12 days apart in late September.


I had the incorrect name: api life var
I followed the directions as on the package and only used a half dose. I chose this product because it was “natural”, comprised of essential oils.
I did collect around 50 dead bees in the brood box and a 2×2 square of brood comb. I sent it to a bee disease lab for further analysis.



Good for you! Please let us know your results.


I’m working my dog yesterday and I look up I see a bee hive. It’s wet and it’s fall time here in NYC. I walk about 20 feet i see another hive which is higher, smaller, wet. We just had 2 days of rain no bees in sight. Wondering is honey in there?



Could you be looking at wasp nests? I can’t tell from your description.

The only way to know if there is honey in a beehive is to look.

harold meinster

I had a strange occurrence this December when it appears that one hive 4 feet apart from another hive all moved in to the hive on the left. The hive on the right was empty and they left with the boxes full of winter storage honey and the hive appearing to be in good order.

The hive on the left is full with bees and I am still trying to understand the mystery. The hive is active and strong. I have no fear for feeding, because I have a hive full of frames in the empty hive.

I sealed it up and I will probably split and re-queen in the spring. Both are Russian bee queens.

Anybody have any similar situations.


Will bees abscond in the winter if the weather has been warmer? I’ve just had an odd occurrence. I’m in GA and went this morning to check on my hive and there was no activity, even with 58 degree temps. So I opened the top and there was nothing but dead bees… looked like they got too cold. I decided to break the hive down and a couple of stray bees appeared here and there while doing so. I put the honey stores in the freezer to use for feeding in spring and started cleaning up the hives which contained many capped brood and larvae that also died (laid I’m sure during a freak warm spell we had a few weeks back). As I was doing so, within an hour or so hundreds of bees began converging on the frames and hive parts I was cleaning. I can’t imagine that every single live bee from the colony was out when I checked the hive. Could the queen have moved to another location nearby, or were these more likely bees from another beekeeper’s hives?



Absconding is extremely rare. I would start with a postmortem check for varroa mites. Bees seldom die from cold, they die from other things, and this sounds like varroa. The hundreds of bees were from other hives looking for food on a warm day. When one found you, she reported the find to her sisters.


I have one hive and the bees have absconded. Preparing now, to dig in and check the conditions inside. I already know there’s sign of mildew around the outside of the hive (a wet winter -as usual in Washington State). Also have caught two mice near the hive (after seeing some slight suspicious signs). Are potential honey stores safe for consumption? Thank you in advance, for any feedback!


It’s probably fine.

Sherry Patterson


A question came up that I can’t find an answer to on anything that I’ve seen. Perhaps you know the answer:

If there is a swarm on to a branch or other area and they are surrounding supposedly a queen, the beekeeper brings an empty hive, wet them with a spray bottle, thumped the limb into the hive and most of them fell into it. He closed the hive in preparation to leaving but there are quite a few bees that did not fall into the hive and are flying around then landing back on the branch in the balled up way they do when swarming.

Did the beekeeper, for sure, get the queen in the swarm, or did he miss he and the rest resumed the ball. The swarm came from one of his nearby single hives and when questioned about the spare bees, he said they would just go back to the original hive, and then he left. This took place weekend before last. This weekend there was still a small swarm of bees in the same place as it was still balled up. Are those the same ones and they have a queen or is it another swarm and the spares indeed go back to the original hive a short distance from them?



Nothing about honey bees is for sure. He probably got the queen but there are no guarantees. The bees that reformed a ball in the same place did so because the odor of the swarm was still there. Those bees probably are from the same swarm and they probably have no idea where the original hive was. If the swarm was their first trip from the hive, they wouldn’t know where to go to find shelter. They will most likely die.


We have caught many swarms this year and put in hives. After a day or two they will leave the new hive. Any ideas.



If you have other hives, give the swarm a frame of open brood. If you don’t, put a queen excluder under the box to hold the queen in until the workers start building comb, then remove the excluder.


I recently had my bees abscond and I am not sure what to do with the frames and boxes that were left there. I had an infestation of ants and what seemed to be a vinegary smell coming from the frames. There were some frames that seemed to be fine and had not been disturbed, while some frames, like I said had a funny smell, and were black. Plz help ASAP.


I recently did a cut out and collected LOTS of bees and comb. The hive was much larger than anticipated from the first inspection so I couldn’t get all the bees or the queen in the first attempt. I had to wait a week until I had time to return and remove what I thought was the rest of the bees, never with any anticipation of getting the queen due to the size and placement of the hive in the block walls and ceiling.

After the first attempt to remove the bees I set them up in a new garden hive double brood boxes. I managed to populate 12 of the frames with cutout and let them draw out the rest. They seemed to take to it well. The next week I returned and removed what I thought was the rest and cleaned up the area, so I thought, but I won’t get into that right now. I placed the box of collected bees next to the new hive and opened it up thinking they where all from the original hive they would just follow the others into it throughout the day.

The next morning I went out to check them expecting to be able to remove an empty box, but to my surprise there was a large beard of bees hanging clustered to the top of the collection box. Figuring that they where all mostly nurse bees from the inter hive I just sprayed them lightly with sugar water, opened the garden hive, inspected the comb I had rubber banded into the frames the week before, noticed what I thought was 6 emergency queen cells and said good for me, I don’t need to buy a queen. Then I lightly sprayed the hive bees with sugar water and dumped the late arrivals in.

All went well, I make a visual check every morning as I take the dog out to see that outside hive activity going on. After about 4 days I noticed that that hive was being attacked by yellowjackets more than one might like to see, and they seemed to be having a hard time running them off. I know the population in there was very high so that should not have been happening. To help out I reduced the entrance to 2 small openings.

As I stepped back into the yard and knelt down about 6 feet in front of the hive, I noticed
movement at my feet. It was a honey bee, unusually large for one of the girls. To my surprise it was a queen that looked like it was in distress. I picked it up and placed it on the hive entrance. It wouldn’t go in, but the guards didn’t seem to have any ill will toward her so I left her there, and figured if she was from that hive she might go in.

The next day the activity was at an all time low but there was activity. So I planed an inspection for the following morning. The next morning came, I opened up the hive expecting to see tens of thousands of bees and only found a few thousand with no queen or capped queen cells. Needless to say, in an effort to save the remainder of the bees, whom have collected quite a stash of pollen and capped honey, that I can’t use because I’m treating for mites before winter, I have ordered a new queen.

What do you think happened, swarm? If so, I don’t know how I missed them leave. It would have been a lot of bees flying off somewhere. Do you think I may have gotten the original queen and introduced her to a hive full of replacements. As I think you once said, “Bee’s do what bee’s do, usually not what you want them to do.” Just thought someone might get some amusement out of my tragedy. If you can’t laugh at it you’ll go insane.



Wow, quite a story. I don’t know where the bees went, but the error I see is re-combing the colonies after they have been separated for a week. The separated bees will not have remembered or recognized their old queen’s odor after that length of time, so it would be like combining two unrelated colonies. Bees don’t “remember” a queen’s odor much more than a few hours, so things can get out of hand in a hurry. It’s possible the two colonies just separated and one left and one stayed . . . but I don’t know. At least you got some of them.

Pepper Caselman


I live in a small farm community in Missouri. We discovered a large empty hive (or comb) in our tree this past week, More accurately we had a HUGE swarm this spring around the top of our tree, but neither my neighbors or I really know anything about bees so when they were gone after a couple days we didn’t give it much thought. Now months later with the hive discovered we wanted to it retrieved from the tree. After finding some wonderful men that could help us get it down we are not sure what to do with it.

I have spent hours researching how we can preserve the natural comb still attached to the tree branch. I haven’t had any luck until I found this website. I am hoping you can give us some insight on how or “if” we can maintain the empty comb as is. It has started to turn white in color on all the smaller pieces and a darker brown/grayish color on the rest of it. Hopefully, that will explain to you the present condition it is in and if it is to far gone to save or perfect for what we want to do with it.

My husband thinks we need to spray it with something to help maintain it but I’m concerned it will affect the comb or make it fall off the tree limb it is connected too.

Any advice, good or bad, is greatly appreciated. If nothing else, it might give you a something a little different to ponder. 🙂 Thank you! so very much!!



It sounds like the swarm that landed there began to build a home, but for some reason the bees decided to move on. Usually if a swarm is just resting and waiting for the scouts to find a permanent home, they don’t start to build comb. So for a while, at least, they must have considered the tree to be their permanent home. That’s interesting.

I don’t know what you want to do with the comb, so it’s a bit hard to answer. Basically, comb is pliable and fairly strong when it’s new. But over time the volatile oils dissipate and the comb will become brittle and flaky. Eventually it will fall apart. You’ve probably noticed how plastic gets brittle with age. It’s basically the same kind of situation.

Spraying the comb with some kind of stabilizer might work as long as the compound isn’t a solvent for wax. Petroleum-based products might just dissolve it, so I would test a small piece before doing the whole thing.

Fascinating question. Let me know what you do and how it works.


Based on your posting, which by the way was very helpful, I think I have a hive that absconded. It was one of my strongest hives this year and it was a nuc that I started this spring. Harvested nearly 100 lbs from the supers and left a full deep on the hive. After harvest I brought back the supers and let them clean them. During harvest I also put an empty super on the hive to allow for room. After they cleaned the supers I put them back on. About a month later when I was starting to put liquid feeders on my hives (2 cups sugar/1 cup water) and this hive was not active at all. Picked up the back to see how heavy it was and it felt empty. Opened it up and all of the bees were gone as well as the honey. After discovering that in a web search I came across your article. Now the funny thing is I thought I would still put a feeder on just out of curiosity. Literally within minutes I had 50+ bees around my hive going to town on the syrup. So, my bees are in the “neighborhood” but not sure where. So if they absconded they didn’t go far. Any ideas of how to possibly locate where they might be? Glad they are still alive and around. This hive that they left was new boxes and it was a “monster” as far as honey production. I actually planned on splitting it in the spring because it was so strong. I put the pulled comb honey deep on the hive and put two feeders on it. Doubt they will stay but would love to figure out where they set up house. Thank you for your very informative blog posts!



Those bees that came to the feeder are just robber bees from some other hive, either managed or feral. They could be close or a of couple miles away.

My very first question to you would be what your mite count was like in August or September. And if it was elevated, how did you treat (or not)?

This to me sounds like a collapse due to Varroa mites, but I can’t say for sure without more information. See “Absconding bees or death by Varroa” for details. After it collapsed, it was picked clean by the robbers who still check it out now and then, which is why they appeared to fast.


Rusty, Thank you for your quick and insightful reply to my inquiry. Yesterday is when I finally opened the hive and found it completely empty. No dead bees, no honey and maybe a total of a dozen capped brood. Your description of the hive population being massive was true of this hive so it may very well have been mite pressure as the hive population declined. Unfortunately I did not have a mite count prior to the disappearance of the bees. One of the things I have learned in my time of keeping bees is there is always something to learn! Doing my level best to help our bees thrive. I really appreciate your insights and teaching! You are a valuable resource!



Thank you. You are right, there is always something to learn. It never stops.


Rusty, in my last comment I addressed you as “Jeffrey” sorry for the mistake. Great insights as I scroll down your postings and learn through your comments! Thank you!



No problem. I’ve been called a lot worse.


Hi Rusty, I have a colony leave, no trace, no queen cells or dead bees in the bottom of the box, but they left 20 pounds of honey in the upper box, and about three full frames of pollen which I scraped off and tossed out because it was very moist and I didn’t want it to mold. There were also a couple of frames with capped brood left. I opened them up and a few had the sour gym sox smell, but the hive didn’t smell, I figured it was the brood may have died and was beginning to rot? I checked on the bees a few weeeks ago did a sugar roll test and got a count of 8 so I treated with mite away. The colony was strong then, I have been hit with my other hive being robbed could that have done it? I had an entrance reducer on it?



It doesn’t sound like robbing because there is honey left. It sounds like classic collapse by varroa. See Absconding bees or death by varroa?. All the symptoms are there: honey left, no dead bees, a small amount of brood, no queen, quick collapse, etc. I’m guessing, of course, since I can’t see it, but it sounds like you had a high mite count and the mites spread viruses throughout the bee population. By the time you applied mite treatments, it was already too late because most bees were already infected with viral diseases. Remember, the mites don’t kill the bees, but the viruses do. It is really important to treat early, usually by mid-August, if you want to raise healthy winter bees.