Colony postmortem: a glistening pile of abdomens
A pile of abdomens. That’s about all I have left of this small honey bee colony. My first thought was to blame the shrews, but shrews don’t seem to fit the situation. On the other hand, maybe there is more to shrew-dom than I ever thought.
This colony, on hive stand #1, was an April split from colony #3. Colony #3 had overwintered and was building up fast in early spring. Because I thought it might swarm, I decided to split proactively. At the time, I failed to find the queen anywhere, so I just made sure that both halves had lots of eggs and young larvae. I figured they could sort it out by themselves.
Note that the new split was housed in equipment that had been scraped, cleaned, and stored in the barn over winter. The frames were filled with drawn comb that was free of moths or any other visible wildlife.
A week following the split it was clear the queen had remained in the original hive. Hive #3 had even more eggs and #1 had none. I added another frame of brood to #1 and soon the new split was queenright with plenty of young larvae.
Four to five weeks later, toward the end of May, I noticed reduced activity around the hive. On inspection I found brood, but not much. The queen, although present, was performing poorly. I re-queened the colony and tried again.
Within a week the queen was accepted and the colony seemed to rebound. The queen was laying and the foragers were hauling in pollen and nectar. In a few more weeks I was able to add a medium over the deep. I believed the problem was solved.
And then came August
Around the first of August, the colony once again seemed to fizzle. On inspection I found a cluster of adult bees spanning about five frames, no queen, no brood, no sign of laying workers, nor any obvious signs of disease.
At that point I decided to combine the colony with another. We were in a dearth, I was fresh out of available queens, and I figured this colony was not to be. I ended up putting the remaining bees back on hive #3.
The only evidence is a pile of abdomens
After combining the hive, I removed the equipment from the hive stand to store it for winter. It was then that I found the abdomens. The bottom board was amazingly clean. There was the usual hive debris under the cluster, but one back corner was empty except for a few dead bees and a pile of shiny abdomens. I was totally baffled.
The only thing I know of that leaves piles of abdomens is shrews. But from what I’ve read, shrews are a winter problem, not year-round residents. Since I put the hive together in April, I can’t figure out how shrews could show up. Or maybe shrews had nothing to do with it.
So there you have it: a postmortem with no answers. If anyone has seen this before or has any ideas, I’d love to hear from you.
Honey Bee Suite