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Bees congregating outside hive in cool weather

Hi Everyone,
Newbie here with a a flow hive we purchased bees and all in Autumn of this year (we’re in Melbourne so coming into spring now). They seem healthy and happy enough, opened the hive on a warm day recently and saw plenty of honey, brood and eggs in the brood box and 1 full frame of honey in the súper with several more filling up. No obvious signs of infestation of any sort.
We were giving a 2:1 sugar syrup over winter that they didn’t take up all that readily until spring started at which time we stopped as there are plenty of flowering trees around.
Twice now in the past few weeks we’ve had days where several hundred bees have started arranging themselves in a vertical line on the netting we have around the hive (placed there to discourage their flight into our courtyard), and instead of going back in at night as it cools down they just stay there, somewhat clumped together the entire night. This is accompanied by an increase of bees on the ground and walls around the courtyard - there’s always half a dozen or so on the ground but on these occasions there are several dozen.
Would love some insights as to whether they are unwell, or thinking about starting to swarm, or something else!
Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
Nathy

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Hello @Nathalie and welcome to the Flow forum! :blush:

How warm is it? If it is warm (over 25°C), they may be bearding. They may also be overcrowded in the hive - how busy did it look when you inspected? If they are moving around normally and not dying in large numbers, I would think that they are not unwell.

As far as swarming is concerned, the best way to detect this is an inspection of the brood box. If you have drone brood, then you are in swarm season. If you see queen cells with eggs or larvae in them, they are very likely thinking about swarming, especially if the queen cells are along the bottom of the frames. In that situation, you would need to do a split very soon to prevent their departure.

:wink:

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Just looking at your photo, it looks like the bees are trapped outside of the mesh. You probably need some sort of barrier that the bees can’t see through, to my mind.

All of the normal swarm prevention tactics need to be adhered to because spring IS swarm season.

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Hi Dawn and Jeff,

Thanks so much for your responses :blush:

I’d read about bearding to cool down the hive however on both occasions it has only been around 15 degrees C during the day (sunny), and down to about 7 degrees C overnight so definitely not what I’d consider warm. They stayed out there all night last night, locked in place and not moving.

We might have to wait until another warm day comes and do another inspection, as we learnt a lot more about what we were looking for after doing the very first inspection a few weeks back. From what I can recall and reviewing the photos we took:

  • There was quite a reasonable amount of brood cells, but not many of them appeared to be the larger drone cells.
  • Don’t recall seeing any queen cells hanging off the bottom but to be honest we weren’t looking for them at the time so we’ll go back and do that.
  • The brood box itself seemed very heavy with bees, almost completely covering the surface of the combs, and the super box seemed to have roughly half that amount. I’m under the impression that the super would need to get a bit more full before it was considered too cramped in there – is that accurate assumption?
  • Also noticed a reasonable amount of condensation on in the inside of the gable roof that sits on top of the false roof, on top of the super. Not sure if that’s anything to worry about or just the water being driven off the nectar being turned into Honey?

I have a spare brood box with frames there ready to go if we need to split, and considering just going ahead and giving that a go since there seems to be a reasonable amount of honey, brood and bees in there to survive it?

Re Jeff’s comments about the mesh trapping them, I had wondered same however I’m having a hard time coming to terms with why they couldn’t find they way around it, it’s been there since day 1 with a large space above it for them to get back into the hive which they always seem to manage to do except on these two occasions. I opened it up today and tried to lightly brush a few of them off the brunt they were insistent on staying there!

Sorry for the long response - very curious as to what’s happening! Have attached a better photo from this morning as the other one wasn’t very good.

Thanks again!!

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It looks to me like they can’t see your screening. Trying to go to the hive entrance directly. Is the screen a recent addition?

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Hi Nathalie, I’m inclined to agree that these bees are not quite sure how to get around the mesh. I think that they are oriented to the location of the hive of course, and are flying up and over to go out and forage, but upon their return the visual cues of the hive box placement and scent of their entrance are overriding the fact that the mesh is a barrier.

It’s a shame, because it does look like you put a lot of thought into your setup, so as to enjoy the bee activity in your yard without creating traffic issues! I wonder if a few strategically placed cutouts, like the ones people put on large glass windows to alert birds, would help? Or, a small shrub or tall flowers on the outer side of the mesh might do the trick.

About your population and super related questions, keep in mind that the bees could still prepare to swarm because of brood nest crowding, even if there’s still room for nectar storage. Sounds like you will be taking a closer look at your next inspection anyway though - let us know how it goes!

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I completely agree with this.

I would l recommend removing the mesh and replacing it with a solid board that blocks light and scent, which will help the bees figure out how to return to the entrance.

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The bees are on the outside of the mesh and they don’t appear to be workers returning to the hive. At least i don’t see any carrying pollen. Perhaps they are young bees after their orientation flights.
The mesh seems to be very high and close to the hive.
Normally, you can put an obstruction quite close to the hive , say half a meter from it and the bees will fly over it. In fact it doesn’t have to be solid, an open trellis will make bees fly up and over too.

There is a similar phenomenum with bees congregating outside open mesh floors and i wonder if the same might be happening here.

The bees land on the mesh outside the hive, and there they get the scent and the phermones from the hive. They think they are home so they stay put.

Because the mesh is so close to the hive and the space is confined I think it likely that the hive scent is concentrating there. Moving the mesh further away from the hive might solve the issue.

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I think you make excellent points Jim, about bees doing orientation flights getting trapped outside the mesh.

While working my bees yesterday I started thinking that it could be that bees returning fully loaded wanted to stay closer to the ground. Actually an amateur pilot agreed with my theory :slight_smile: Young bees doing orientation flights makes more sense.

I think that @Nathalie maybe should try covering the screen on one or both sides with some shade cloth or something to block the view of the hive.

When young bees come out to do orientation flights, I’m guessing that they don’t allow much fuel to do that flight. So therefore they wont have enough fuel in reserve to be able to hang about outside the mesh very long. Once their fuel runs almost out, they’ll only be able to walk back to the hive, which probably wouldn’t happen in the case of these bees.

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this winter- I saw a lot of cases of hives in the shade- where foragers returned- just missed the landing- and ended up on strands of grass or the ground. They literally ran out of fuel just before they could make the heat of the front door. Over a month I picked up hundreds of cold bees, warmed them, fed them a drop of honey. They revive very fast and walk into the hive.

For this reason I am going to try to always avoid having hives that are heavily shaded in winter- especially the entrance. When I can find deciduous trees I like to put hive under them so they have winter sun and summer shade.

also for this reason I prefer to have landing boards on hives. Bees can miss a landing and missing can prove lethal in cold weather. This possibly isn’t such an issue in balmy Budderim- but here in Adelaide the bees for a month or more with chilly daytime temps as low as 4c.

@Nathalie I agree with everyone else- these bees have gotten lost and can’t find their way in. You have to work out some modification to that screen.

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I only mentioned shade cloth as an easy way to make that screen opaque, not as a means of shading the hive.

Jack, you have me confused about the landing boards. I know I mentioned a long time ago that I don’t use landing boards, however I don’t see the relevance in this case on account that I never even mentioned them.

cheers

You could try a few strips of duct tape on the mesh, maybe 20 or 30 cms apart. But ideally move it back so that if they do land on it they’ll realise that they are not yet home.

Sorry- I was just musing about your point about bees only having so much fuel. Wasn’t mentioning shade in relation to your suggestion of cloth.

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Thanks so much everyone for your time. Seems like a pretty strong group consensus that the mesh is too close and the scent of the hive is confusing them so we’ve removed that. We split the hive over the weekend so we’ll wait and see how it goes!

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