The mystery of the dead drones
I wasn’t going to write about this until I figured it out, but I’m coming up blank. On July 5, I checked my top-bar hive and saw a massive pile of dead bees on the ground just outside the entrance. My first thought: pesticide kill. I’ve seen pesticide kills before and it looked just the same.
But the hive was churning with bees. With my hive tool, I sifted through the mound of dead bodies and discovered it was all drones—thousands of them. Not drone pupae, but fully–formed adults. Heaps of dead drones are not unusual as fall approaches and drone eviction is well under way, but this was the beginning of July. What was going on?
A cold wet spring
Unlike the rest of the country, the Pacific Northwest coast had a cold and wet spring. In fact, now that July is more than half gone, I am still wearing a jacket on most days. Up through July 5 we were still having days in the 60s and nights in the 40s. The bees couldn’t possibly think it was summer, but did they think it was fall? Were they evicting drones prematurely based on the temperature?
There is no dearth as of yet, the forest and fields where I live are laden with wildflowers producing both nectar and pollen. And since the rainy season wasn’t over by July 5—and it still hasn’t quite given up—water was plentiful.
Someone suggested the hive might be queenless. I’m not sure I follow: Do queenless hives eject drones? I’ve never heard of that. But I checked anyway. Although I didn’t find the queen, I found young brood, sealed brood (including more drones) and scads of honey and pollen.
Now almost two weeks later, nothing has changed. The hive is abustle with bees that are bearding on the front and underside of their home every day even though the days are mild and the nights are chilly. They remained camped outside during several days of thunderstorms, and they were even festooning in long strings from the landing board. I didn’t see any evidence of swarming or swarm preparation.
As far as I can tell everything looks normal except the boneyard out front. I thoroughly checked my other hives—all Langstroths—and found no dead drones anywhere. So, I’m looking for theories. Does anyone have a thought?