colony failure

the bees in my garden got through the winter fine, started to flourish in the ‘spring’, and over the last few weeks declined- lots of oil-seed rape nearby in full flower. The bees leaving the hive began to fall down before flying off, and on return often took ages to enter, then taking off after landing and trying again before going in. one day last week those that came out didn’t have the energy to fly, and dropped off onto the ground. now the hive is empty of live bees, but there is plenty of honey. very few bodies around, and some in the cells with heads sticking out. there is some comb crumbling around the edges of a few combs, and grey deposits. no sign of a queen, though there is one empty queen cell in the centre of one comb.
any suggestions?

signs of comb decay and mould?

signs of comb decay and mould?

dead bees in cells, and mouldy deposits

dead bees in cells, and mouldy deposits


This entry was posted in Natural Beekeeping. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to colony failure

  1. itsonlyausername says:

    Are the grey deposits smooth or furry? Is there any indication of any form of fungus on the cells? Is the comb dry or wet or merely damp? I know that may sound daft but bacteria thrive in damp conditions as do fungal spores. Bacteria prefer damper conditions, even wet. So is the hive dry inside?
    Any signs of predation by a mouse? Hence possibly the crumbly comb. I have seen mouse damage in books which shows huge holes through the comb but if a mouse had got in then left again quickly because of better conditions outside the damage may be limited to edge nibbling.

    It would be too easy to say it was colony collapse disorder but maybe if you got some samples and passed them onto the bee inspector they could advise. The presence of oilseed rape which is definitely all treated with neonicotinoids as a seed dressing (except where it is grown organically) could be a red herring. Then again the disorientation of the bees you observed could also be caused by the neurotoxin and this would inevitably lead to a decline in returning bees. Their behaviour seems to be instinct driven hence their determination to try to fly but hindered by loss of motor neuron control hemce also the inability to get airborne. Sorry to sound technical.
    One last point. The grey deposits in the cells. I have read that in some instances in the US when bees had returned with pollen they deposited some pollen brought in into separate cells (this was later proven to be highly toxic to bees because of contamination with manmade chemicals) from what was later proven to be the good pollen as if they knew the other was toxic. It did not however stop the colony disappearing though. This may well be worth having tested and there is some one I know who may well be interested in getting a sample. I will enquire.

  2. Paul says:

    Don’t eat the honey yet. If there’s a toxin present it would probably be concentrated in the honey. It may not be a dose sufficient to harm a massive human noticeably, but the capped honey will preserve a toxin quite well (better, I imagine, than a decayed / mouldy bee body) until you can pass it to a bee inspector for analysis. If that’s within their powers. I think analysing the level of neonics etc would take some expensive equipment to reliably quantify.
    If you want to try that kind of post-mortem, I think honey from oilseed rape will have a particular colour (don’t know what) allowing you to judge “THIS bit of comb is most likely to be poisoned and easiest to analyse”.

  3. itsonlyausername says:

    Testing for neonicotinoids is possibly something Jayson could help/advise on. I have forwarded the link to him so if he can help then he will no doubt be in touch. Otherwise maybe contacting the NBU at FERA would prove a beneficial alternative solution. They have all the equipment and as a matter of course should be being proactive towards possible cases of CCD and therefore testing the pollen/honey in this comb could supply suitable research data. Only a thought though.
    And as Paul has said don’t eat the honey. Not until you know for absolute certain that what made the bees disappear was more than just upping and offing.

    One last point that occurred to me. Whatever caused the colony failure may be contagious so before even using the hive or any of the equipment you may need to clean it thoroughly. Two methods I know of from experienced bee keepers to clean the hive out. One is using a blowlamp to scorch the hive internally or washing soda in a pretty concentrated mix in hot water and plenty of scrubbing etc. Put each part into a large builders rubble bucket and clean them in that and then just rinse off with clean water and remember to wear gloves and goggles. Obviously goes without saying………..dispose of the washing soda liquid responsibly. 🙂
    Keep us posted as to what you learn of the colony failure.

    • jennylansdell says:

      thank you all for your responses so far. the hive didn’t seem damp, but on closer inspection there are little grey speck deposits in the empty cells as well as the grey look to the outer edge of the cells where affected. it doesn’t look as though a mouse has got in. the only points where the comb seems to have disintegrated are where it’s grey and seemingly weaker than the yellow/white comb (see the second photo). notice too in the third photo that one has a hole in it (this could be the abdomen rather than the head). would testing the honey or pollen be able to detect what I thought would be infinitesimally small amounts of poison?


      • itsonlyausername says:

        As Paul said testing for chemicals is a costly process however if you can persuade the NBU to investigate the cause with some chemical tests then all the better. They may levy a charge but that will be something for you to consider the worth of.
        Glad to be able to offer some ideas. I am no expert but common sense suggests certain scenarios and it is merely down to a process of elimination.
        Keep us posted.

  4. jonbinspired says:

    This is the fifth colony I have heard which just dwindled and died (including one of mine where we saw the 3.5 year old queen leave, alone). No bees left, no brood, but stores. Mold could be because there were not enough bees to keep the hive warm.

    I’m wondering if poor mating conditions at the back end of last year and very long winter prevented supersedure of older queens with well mated queens?

    But chemicals could be another as all colonies were near oil seed rape (who is not) and the effects on queens is unknown. How does a virgin queen raised on a diet neonics navigate properly? No analysis of worker bees will show up a problem, they have a different diet. Lab trials on bumble bees in Stirling indicates this could be a problem.

    So are neonics preventing supersedure ?

  5. Well I have now spoken to the NBU,and had responses from my local BBKA and a bee inspector.
    THe NBU and BBKA say it’s probably not neonics ( there’d be lots of dead bodies outside the hive, and its effects would not be as great as I describe) and the behaviour I describe sounds more like a virus. I inherited the bees from a conventional keeper who had treated them for varroa, and the suggestion is that this developed as I didn’t treat for it, causing a virus to develop . When I first had the bees they showed some signs of deformed wing virus, but this went away as they flourished, and the varroa drop reduced significantly. I’d need 200 bees to send a sample off, and I have no more than 20. the BBKA also thought that they could have swarmed….
    The inspector today thought that it could be chronic paralysis virus,not caused by varroa but passed on from bee to bee. He said I should have contacted them sooner so that they could have got a big enough sample for testing. He’s sending someone round to have a look and I need to provide photos of the crop they might have foraged.

Enter your message here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s