What’s wrong with these bees?

I have recently acquired a colony of bees at the tail end of the recent good weather. That night, the heavens opened & the temperature dropped. Not all the bees were ensconsed in their cosy new hive, with a beardy bunch hanging outside the entrance & the rest of them hanging just inside the entrance. (I could see them through the observation window in the top horizontal bar hive). They stayed like this for the next day, shifting slightly to the underside of the hive. It was suggested I gently smoke them to persuade them to move in, which was immensely successful. However, that night, they all dropped to the floor & were horribly sluggish. I have subsequently fed them with a sugar solution in the hopes this will give them a boost to survive till the next spell of good foraging weather. (And I was all for total non-intervention!! All very well until faced with life or death. It reminds me somewhat of those birthing plans we fondly make…..the best laid plans of mice & men)  The sugar solution was consumed overnight. The weather has continued to worsen, but I have seen signs of more vigour & verve in the hive, although they haven’t shown any signs of building comb. They certainly are not behaving as I expected & I am also slightly concerned that they are queenless. If this is so, does anyone know what to do with this bunch of bees? Can you introduce a queened colony to a queenless one? If so, how is it done without a full scale bee-war?

Is there anyone out there who can help?

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17 Responses to What’s wrong with these bees?

  1. simplebees says:

    I would continue to feed them for the rest of this week as the weather is due to be poor until at least next weekend. Try 1/2 litre (2/3rds) of a wine bottle a time and replace when it is gone. See here for more details. As to queen issues, wait and see what happens when they have been fed. As to intervention, you are right, facing the loss of a colony due to starvation can make one see things differently.


  2. Lynne says:

    Absolutely agree with Gareth – the bees sound like they were starving. They are probably not building comb simply because they have no spare resources to use to produce wax. Could be for other reasons though, but only time will tell. In any case, feeding is clearly needed to save this colony as poor weather is on the cards for some days to come.

    Chances are that once they have had more food – several more feeds at least – they will be OK. But if you really think they are queenless – or strongly suspect so – then you could introduce just one comb of eggs/young brood from another colony (just the comb, not the other colonies bees) so that they can raise an emergency queen. This would work best if the comb was fairly fresh wax so it could be manipulated into a queen cell. But even if they make a sub-standard queen, as long as she then mates successfully, they can then supersede her with a properly grown queen.

    • salp111 says:

      Thanks for the comments. I have seen other posts regarding a similar situation that recommend leaving them to die as they must be weak & will thus rear weak brood & so on. However, I feel that human intervention has caused this particular colony to be in this state, so I feel quite strongly that it is probably upto humans to help them out until they can get back on their feet, or wings rather.
      As for their queenless state, I am only thinking that, due to the lack of activity & sound. There isn’t much of either at the moment but perhaps they don’t have enough energy output to do much other than hang around & feed whenever possible.
      I read, Gareth, about your recommendation for a bit of a herbal remedy for them (nettle tea!) which I will try. Where did you get the organic vit c from?

  3. simplebees says:

    Where did you get the organic vit c from?

    Good health food stores.

    I have seen other posts regarding a similar situation that recommend leaving them to die as they must be weak & will thus rear weak brood & so on. However, I feel that human intervention has caused this particular colony to be in this state, so I feel quite strongly that it is probably upto humans to help them out until they can get back on their feet, or wings rather.

    It does not follow that a colony that is suffering a temporary weakness due to lack of food will go on to raise weak brood. As you say, this problem is not of the colony’s making. It would be quite different if the colony was failing to prosper despite nectar being available. Feeding such a colony would be a case of throwing good money after bad. I have, on occasion, knocked such colonies on the head. So, when I say give them a chance by feeding them it is not a recommendation driven by sentiment.


  4. Paul says:

    Regarding your comment about merging colonies, queenless or not.

    It’s not entirely straightforward. They need to be accustomed to each others’ smells. This is normally done by putting them in different parts of the same hive with a porous separator (like newspaper) which gives them a day or more to break through, by which time their smells have permeated and merged in both sections. This is often done to merge two weak colonies into one stronger one. We did it last autumn, but the two colonies had related queens, one being the daughter of the other, which probably made their smells very similar and the process smoother.

    We once put a comb of brood in a hive we thought was queenless (due to lack of young – but in retrospect they may have already raised a new queen who had not started laying). What we didn’t know at the time was, you should remove the nurse bees before doing this. We left them on the brood comb to keep the brood warm during the drive from their donor to our apiary. We’ve since learnt that’s also do-able using hot water bottles in the box you transfer them in. Anyway, on putting the comb of alien bees stright into our ‘queenless’ hive, all hell broke loose. The bees were very agitated and stung anyone who came near for 2-3 days. The colony did survive, though.

    • salp111 says:

      It all sounds complicated & a bit beyond a newbee such as myself. I could go with the different parts of the hive but anything else wouldn’t be possible as I don’t have access to a brood from another hive as yet. I am still unsure whether there’s a queen. During the sunny bits (& I mean bits) of the day, there is plenty of activity outside the hive,flying around; going in & out which is great to see after the sluggish half-dead look they had only a little while ago but I haven’t seen pollen carried in yet ( I may not have noticed though as I am keeping my distance during the day so as not to stress them even further, apart from the very brief disturbance feeding them) & they haven’t started building any comb either that I can see. They are feeding on the solution though & I will be putting some more in tomorrow. Looking through the window this evening, I can see they are still in a clump right next to or even on a follower board. Perhaps I should reduce the size of the hive from the other end to help with conservation of energy/heat?

  5. simplebees says:

    Perhaps I should reduce the size of the hive from the other end to help with conservation of energy/heat?

    One of the main reasons that I have recently decided to move from horizontal TBH’s to Warres is the issue of heat management in a horizontal space. The bees’ natural desire is for a space of a certain size (Seeley puts it at around 40 litres). In a vertical configuration, the bees cluster at the top of the cavity, where the heat collects. The empty space is below the bees. This makes it easy for the cluster to generate and, moreover, retain the heat needed for wax production and brood rearing. If the bees are at one end of a horizontal space, heat leaks away into the empty space adjacent to the bees.

    This gives rise to a conflict: swarms prefer hives of a certain minimum volume – and there are those who believe that the correct volume is important in allowing a swarm to express its inherent vigour and desire to build comb. However, in a horizontal hive this volume can cause difficulties with heat retention. If you have a group of bees that does not look happy, then maybe the answer is indeed to reduce the volume.

  6. John says:

    salp111 wrote “I have recently acquired a colony of bees at the tail end of the recent good weather”.
    Where did they come from? If it was a swarm, it should have been hived on the evening of their flight or early next morning at the latest. The swarm bees are oozing with wax and need to make comb. Sometimes swarms are left for a few days in cardboard boxes where they do build comb.

    Transferring the new colony to a hive severely disrupts the new nest building, wastes days of work and the resources consumed; it lowers morale. I have known colonies swarm after, disruption by artificial swarm and ‘cut out’ manipulations; and when moved from a familiar forage situation during early nest building, If the weather turns bad it might prevent swarming.

    On a positive note, it is good to hear the new colony has taken syrup. Watch the entrance for flight activity; if bees start energetic foraging during sunny spells they may well be OK. Minimize disruptive intrusion and leave the colony to settle down. Bees do better if left alone, in my experience.
    John H, Hampshire

  7. John H says:

    Queen-less Bees:
    Sal wrote, “They certainly are not behaving as I expected & I am also slightly concerned that they are queenless. If this is so, does anyone know what to do with this bunch of bees? Can you introduce a queened colony to a queenless one?”

    By the time you realise a swarm is queen-less, giving it eggs is futile, IMO.
    When raising queen-cells prior to swarming, a colony is strong and vigorous with numerous young nurse bees to feed a few queen larvae which get 10 times as much attention as a worker larva. A swarm is about half the numbers of bees which will have will have become fewer and older while you assess the situation. With eggs, the small colony will raise many emergency queens, but of what quality?

    Taking eggs from another colony will cause disruption to that colony and increase the chances of spreading virulent pests and pathogens.

    In nature the queen-less colony would die out with bees migrating to queen-right colonies or dying in-situ.

    Recently, to save queen-less swarm bees (which had been decimated by a scared householder throwing hot water over a prime swarm cluster) I collected 4 separate clusters of confused bees in a box, dusted the bees with icing sugar and placed the open box against the entrance of a queen-right hive. At first, two ‘white’ bees were challenged by guard bees who sniffed and licked them before letting them into the hive. Twenty ‘white’ bees followed; there was no fighting just leaderless bees eager to get in. Minutes later the entrance was congested; but all bees were inside after an hour with only six dead bees in the box. Next day the colony was foraging enthusiastically.

    I have also combined queen-less bees by feeding them then placing their box next to a queen-right hive. Within an hour the queen-less bees were bribing their way into the queen-right hive, without this beek doing any manipulation on the receiving colony.

    John, Hampshire

  8. FollowMeChaps says:

    Sorry, I have only just seen this. I trust that you contacted your mentor? Quite a bit going on here in your questions they need a full discussion IMHO. See you tomorrow?

    • salp111 says:

      Um, What’s happening tomorrow? A meetin? Like wot I said, not getting YAPBee emails as yet.
      I have been in touch with alot of people. It’s been great, actually. Gareth & others ……many thanks for your support. Robin, is there ameeting? If so, what time? And where….library?
      The bees are still alive. I have been feeding them the concoction which has kept them alive & kicking.But they are still not doing much, although `i don’t expect much more than staying alive with this blasted weather. I did find myself horribly conflicted before the wind as my garden was in dire need of water, but the bees needed foraging time, but now….well, there’s no conflict at all, I just hate the wind!!! And I’m guessing the bees don’t much like it either.
      I have looked forward to & been very grateful for the responses to my pleas for help & understanding with these poor bees. Many thanks, John H from hampshire too as I think you may have given me an insight into why these particular bees have been suffering the way they have. I am fairly sure they were actually in a cardboard box for well over an acceptable time & must have used their reserves just coping with that. However, I think they are quite a vigourous bunch as they have responded well to a bit of tlc.
      Here’s hoping for some good weather soon.

      • simplebees says:


        I’ve forward the email about the meeting to you.


      • salp111 says:

        Thanks, Gareth. I eventually found it & the original in my spam box (1000s of emails!) which I never look at but will evidently have to make a new habit & check for yatton bee stuff. Needless to say, I missed the event , not because I didn’t find it in time (which I didn’t) but because I am a bit batty & completely forgot in between last night & this morning! Doh!
        On a more topical note, the bees were out & about today, looking much more bee-like & I even noticed one carrying what looked like pollen. I still don’t know whether the swarm is queenright. Would I necessarily know at this stage of the colony?

  9. salp111 says:

    By the way, does anyone know whether flowers produce the nectar just the once to attract the bees or do they repeat so as to maximise their opportunities?

  10. FollowMeChaps says:

    Sorry you missed the meeting, especially as it was also our annual BBQ so much bee chat in the afternoon in the glorious sunshine. If you have problems with the email you can always use the website – all meetings are posted there – http://yabeep.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/2012-meeting-dates.html
    And stop worrying about their being queenright – trust your bees!

  11. salp111 says:

    I have been feeding these bees during the foul weather & they have lapped it up very quickly. Do I keep feeding them until they no longer are lapping it or do they consume it just because it’s there? I would appreciate some input on this as it’s been on my mind for a few days. I have seen them bringing in pollen etc at a reasonable rate & wonder if feeding is now necessary?

    • simplebees says:

      I would feed them until the weather settles and they are flying well on a regular basis. The weather is supposed to improve this coming week and, if it does, there could be a good flow of blackberry which should mean that no more feeding is necessary. But as with everything this summer, I would assume nothing until you see it.

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