Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lesson 97: Dead Bees In The Snow (www.honeybeesonline.com) 217-427-2678

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ituneimageHello From David & Sheri Burns at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. With a tremendous cold winter, we’ve finally experienced a few days of thawing out and the bees have taken advantage of the warm weather to take cleansing flights. Finally!
In today’s lesson we’ll take a look at some dead bees outside the hive and what it means in the winter.






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Lesson 97: Dead Bees In The Snow
Winter ClusterWhile bees are quite capable of surviving the winter, it can be a stressful time for colonies. During the winter when bees are closed up in their hives, they cannot do what bees need to do, fly, gather nectar, consume fresh pollen and nectar and defecate regularly outside the hive.
snowOn the first, not so cold winter day, the bees will break cluster, fly out and finally defecate outside the hive after holding it for weeks and sometimes months. These are called cleansing flights and are very important for the hive to remain healthy. The further north, the fewer days when cleansing flights can occur. Most hives will take these flights at temperatures much below foraging temperatures. The bees simply make a quick flight around and return to the hive.
Lesson97Often, the bees defecate on the hive near the entrance. Many new beekeepers become worried and believe their bees have dysentery or Nosema when they see the spotting on their hives.
defecation on outside of hiveHowever, though that may be a possible problem, usually it is a healthy sign that bees are finally able to take a cleansing flight.  In fact, it is not uncommon to see bees use any crack in the hive for a quick out door potting break.
deadsnowbeesDuring these cleansing flights, house cleaning bees may also take advantage of the nice day and begin carrying out the bees that have died during the winter months. Dead bees laying outside a winter hive often alarms new beekeepers. New beekeepers fear the worst when they spot dead bees and begin wondering if the whole hive is doomed. However, this is a normal activity that occurs throughout the winter and early part of spring. After a snow, it becomes more apparent, not because there are more dead bees, but because the snow make dead bees easier to see. That same number of bees would not be noticeable without the snow.
Why do bees die in the winter? First, bees are aging. Most spring and summer bees can live to be around 35 days old. However, bees born in the fall can live several months through the winter because they have more fat bodies and have not exhausted their glandular secretions, nor worn themselves out foraging like a bee during the summer. Yet, winter bees often still die of old age in late winter.
There are other maladies which can cause bees to die during the winter. The most common causes of individual bees dying in a colony are: starvation, disease, cold and pests.
Starvation. The winter cluster will move gradually to always be in the proximity of stored honey and pollen. Long, cold winters can result in the depletion of stored resources of food for the colony. It is not uncommon to examine a colony that died during the winter and discover the dead colony not too far away from stored honey. Yet, they still starved. It was too cold for the bees to move into stored honey.
winterdeathAlso, once the queen begins laying eggs in mid to late winter, the cluster will remain on the brood to keep it warm and will sometimes consume all food sources near the brood. The bees in this photo died trying to keep the brood warm in the winter with no nearby honey. They were faced with a choice to abandon the brood and move to stored food, or keep the brood warm. Usually the cluster will remain on the brood and starve to death if the weather fails to warm up above 30. If the weather had warmed up prior to the depletion of food, they could have sent other bees into the stored honey and carried it back down to the brood area.
beeswithheadsincellsHow do you know if a colony starved to death? Bees will be head first in cells, attempting to stay warm and eating the last drop of honey out of the bottom of cells such as these dead bees in the photo.
Disease. Nosema is hard on the winter cluster because Nosema is worse when bees are confined and cannot defecate. Nosema is a gut disease so it is most deadly during late winter. If the Nosema level was high in late fall, this can cause bees to perish during the winter and early spring. However, spring can quickly bring Nosema under control as the bees are able to fly, gather nectar and defecate regularly outside the hive.
DefecationBut do not jump to conclusion at the first sign of bees defecating on the outside of the hive box. This is pretty common on the first warm winter day after a long winter. Bees will mess up the outside of the hive, but it will clear up after several good flying days.
Cold. While the winter cluster moves gradually upward into the stored honey, some bees may drift too far within the hive, away from the heat of the cluster and freeze. Bees do not heat the entire inside of the hive, but only the area within the cluster of bees. This is especially true on warm winter days that suddenly turn cold. Inside the hive, the winter cluster breaks up on warmer days and bees begin to search for stored honey on other frames within the hives. But, at the sudden drop of temperature the colony sometimes cannot re- form into a tight cluster. Bees might be stranded to freeze to death outside of the cluster. Or the colony may become divided into several clusters, each too small to produce the heat needed to withstand the rapidly dropping temperature.
Lesson74hPests. Varrora and Trachea mites are extremely hard on the winter cluster and can lead to bees dying. These pests need to be controlled with grease patties during the summer and early fall to reduce the infestation level.
Even though starvation, disease, cold and pests can kill winter bees, do not assume that your bees have a problem just from dead bees in the snow. It is normal to see large amounts of dead bees throughout the winter. Dead bees accumulate on the bottom board and around the outside of the hive. Most hives will quickly clean out the dead bees once spring arrives, but if you want to speed up their work, you can clean out the dead bees from the bottom board. And, expect to see the bees defecating heavily around and even on the hive late winter and early spring. This will clear up once the bees have had several flying days.
Remember, there is nothing you can do to help your bees once they have clustered and it is cold. Feeding bees candy can help if they are starved, but you can only open the hive briefly and can never pull out a frame until it reaches 67 degrees (f) outside.
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See you next time!
David & Sheri Burns

Long Lane Honey Bee Farms




3 comments:

Joe Mehsling said...

I'm a little relieved readin this post. So If I understand correctly, a hive can starve in an unusual cold snap, even if food is available in the same hive?

sarah said...

I suspect my bees are dead. Assuming they are, do I need to somehow disinfect my hive before I put another package in? How do I find out for sure if they died of a disease?

Long Lane Honey Bee Farms said...

Yes, bees can die if they are low in population, from a cold snap in the later winter or early spring.

When bees die in the hive, it is best to knock or shake out as many dead bees as possible to prevent decay and bad smells. However, the new bees from a package or swarm will clean out the bad stuff and unless there is proof of a disease, no need to worry.