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Colony absconding after cut out

On the weekend my friend Joel and I did another cutout, however, for the second time in a row now, the colony absconded 1-2 days after the cut out. I’d love to summarise our process and get some feedback from experienced cut-out beeks to understand what may be the cause for absconding, but all comments and questions are appreciated and welcome.

  • The colony was in a roof of a local retreat. It was a new colony, the swarm moved in about 5-6 weeks earlier
  • Joel and I used a padded vacuum (with normal gentle suction) to capture the bees before relocating them to their new hive
  • the colony and comb size was about an 8 frame brood box, if not a bit under
  • there was a small amount of nectar/honey, plenty of pollen, a high amount of brood, larvae and eggs.
  • we were able to cut the comb in beautiful nice chunks, coincidentally most of them were the length of a frame, and didn’t compromise any brood. It filled the 8 frame brood box nicely.
  • we found the queen, caged her, and released her into the brood box once we emptied the bucket of bees into it
  • we relocated the colony at night when all the bees were inside

Fortunately, Joel put a queen excluder between the brood box and base so if they did abscond, they would likely return. We cut out the colony on Saturday and they tried to abscond today (2 days later) but have since returned as they were likely queenless.

My initial thoughts were that we left the brood without the colony for too long and we may have damaged or killed them. The brood frames would have been left without the colony between 1-3 hours but it was a warm and humid 28°C day and the box was placed in part sun with an inner cover over it.

However, I spoke to another local experienced cut-out person who said this has never happened to him, thinks that albeit potentially a tad harmed the brood should have been fine and said that he keeps the queen caged for up to 3 days after relocating the hive. He also believes that young colonies are more likely to abscond as they may be less tied to the young hive, and he feeds the colony sugar syrup if new so to boost them with wax production and entice them to stay. Great advice, I reckon!

Does anyone else have experience with this or have ideas?

The first reveal in the roof:

A gorgeous little colony amongst the horrible insulation:

Perfectly sized comb for the frames:

Positioning for returning foragers:

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Hi Bianca, I’ll tell you what I like to do. I don’t focus much on trying to use much of the comb from the cut-out, maybe two frames. Good full frames of open or bias brood is readily available most of the year, so I opt to use that in preference to using comb from the cut-out. Frames like that will normally hold a colony, especially if it’s more than one. If you must use the comb from the cut-out, you could place them in the established hive/s you took the brood from, or in other established hives, but no more than 2 per hive. The bees in an established hive will readily repair any damage, as well as remove any over exposed brood before any beetles get to it.

Whenever I hear the term ‘abscond’, I naturally think of hive beetle damage & slime which is a bee repellent.

You may have read about the bees in the boat galley. Yesterday I took a frame with open brood to the boat. I broke all the comb that they built (which wasn’t much) down, before replacing it with my brood frame. This morning I took the brood frame, which had the queen on it, out & placed it into my box, flanked with stickies. At lunch time the owner phoned to tell me that no bees are in the cupboard. The only visible bees are at the hive’s entrance.

PS, I’m wondering if emptying the bucket of bees into the brood box was a good idea, because there may have been some dead bees in there which would have compounded any hive beetle problems.

Because you had the queen secure in a cage, you could have put her with some good brood frames into the brood box before resting the bucket of bees on it’s side next to the entrance. With the brood & queen inside, the live bees will march in, leaving any dead bees behind.

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We haven’t caught a swarm for some years (most of them are africanized around here), but when we did, David had a very nice method for hiving them. We caught most of our swarms in a large plastic rubbish (garbage/trash) container, because that way we could usually carry them on the branch they had settled on. We then took them back to the hive site, having put a couple of stickies in the empty hive. We had a piece of plywood which would rest one end on the landing board and the other on the ground. We then covered it with a large old sheet, with the sheet making a large catch area for the swarm (no loose bees in the grass) and lifted the branch into the middle of the sheet. Any loose bees in the bucket were shaken out onto the sheet. Within a few minutes, the whole swarm would inevitably start marching up into the hive. A beautiful thing to watch - it seemed like magic the first few times we did it. The nice thing is that any dead bees are left behind, along with plant parts etc, and there are very few bees in the air. We also never had a colony abscond when they had made their own minds up to march into the hive. May just be luck, who knows?

I am sure that the same sheet and plank technique would work with the loose bees from a cutout. Might be worth a try next time? :wink:

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I like the sheet & plank idea, especially for in this case when the queen was inside the box in a cage. The bees have no other option but to march in to reunite with her.

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Hi Jeff, did you mean to type ‘open or capped brood’? And is that from sourced from another hive?

Hi Bianca, I typed open brood first, because that’s the brood that will hold a colony the best, because open brood needs to be nursed & fed, therefore my thinking is the workers all being females will want to naturally look after the babies. Whereas all sealed brood doesn’t need nursing, my thinking being that a colony will easily depart from brood that doesn’t need nursing. BIAS (brood in all stages) is easy to find & it gives the bees a mix of eggs, young larvae, mature larvae, as well as sealed & emerging bees. BIAS gives a mix of brood that needs nursing & feeding, as well as emerging bees that will boost the population as it emerges.

Yes the brood is sourced from another hive. Ideally a colony without a honey super. It might even come from a recently caught swarm, or a split or something like that. I use all those hives as resource hives, because I don’t have to remove honey supers.

I took 2 frames from 2 different hives to the boat galley, however the colony was too small to cover 2 frames, so I left 1 & brought the other one home. I quickly put it back into a colony (not necessarily the colony it came from) after dark, using a red light torch. The next day revealed no ill effects from exposure on the brood.

Ahaa thanks for confirming. (BIAS I need to remember that one)

For this cut out in particular I believe there were multiple frames with BIAS but maybe not enough. I’m also inclined to think that the colony may have felt overwhelmed by the huge destruction of their hive and lack of honey needed to repair it that they thought of abandoning it might be better. Although, absconding with potentially not enough honey stores to purge themselves on beforehand their next location doesn’t make much sense either.

I’ll take on board your recommendations Jeff and will also feed the colony for the first couple of days for any future cutouts I do and see how that goes. Thanks team!

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