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I am bummed. My only hive died overnight, I need advice, I feel responsible


I checked my hive yesterday afternoon. All seemed well. No sign of ants. This morning I checked the hive and the hive was covered with fire ants and I could not hear any buzzing on the inside. I opened the hive and all of the bees were dead.

There is more to the story. And, if you have time, please read the story and help me…

  • Help me root cause why my bees died
  • Help me not repeat this disaster in the future
  • Help me figure out what to do with frames of brood, pollen, capped honey, and uncapped honey

This is my first hive, I live in the southern US. I installed the 5 frame nuc back in March of this year. Since then, the hive had been very healthy and was growing slowly. As of last week, the bottom box had 8 fully drawn frames and the top box had 3.5 drawn frames (the rest were empty). I was not using foundation (which is an important fact as you will see).

For months we have been creating plans on where to build a new wood shop on my property. Our original shop location had to be cancelled because of power company right of way restrictions. After much deliberation, we decided the new shop location would be where our hive was located. I searched the internet to figure out how to move my hive 150 yards with about a 60 foot elevation change. I found the article below…

Early Saturday morning (2 days ago), I sealed the hive entrance. Around noon the same day, I manually moved the hive the first 50 yards which also took care of the 60 foot elevation change. I could barely handle the weight and had to put the hive down once during the move. Worried I wasn’t strong enough to make it the remaining 100 yards, I decided to move the hive the rest of the way on a dolly. The dolly jostled the hive around quite a bit during the move (I have lots of rocks in my top soil that the dolly had to go over).

I set the hive up in its new home. Kept the entrance sealed and put a large leafy branch in front of the entrance, with my plan being to reopen the entrance 72 hours later (early Tuesday morning). I left a screened ventilation hole on the top of the hive and the hive has a screened bottom board which also provided ventilation. These were the recommendations of the article I referenced above. The idea is that you need to keep the bees sealed in for a few days to trigger their natural desire to redo their orientation flights. The average temperature over the past few days has been about 85 F.

I DID NOT reinstall my ant traps. Here is an old post where I talk about them…

The reason I did not reinstall the traps was this… I inspected them during the hive move. They were full of dead oily bees and no ants. I figured my traps were a waste of time because the dead bees had given ants a way to get past the traps (they could walk over the dead bee bodies without getting stuck in the oil).

On Sunday (day 2 of bee shut-in) I looked at the hive around noon. Everything seemed fine, buzzing bees inside and no ants. This morning, ants were all over the place and all of the bees were dead.

Today I was able to determine that 3 of my combs had collapsed during the hive move. They were freshly drawn comb full of uncapped honey. The honey had pooled in the cookie sheet I was using as a SHB trap. You can see the trap in the photos in this post…

I was in shock and did not know what to do. Only about 10 bees survived. I was worried about something getting into the hive in its unprotected state, so I figured I needed to deal with the situation ASAP. I pulled every frame out to see what I was left with. I left the frames laying next to the hive and I went inside for some quick research on what to do. The internet told me I should seal the hive up or critters will get into the honey. I went back outside and robbing had already begun. At first it was a few bees, but, within 15 minutes there were hundreds. I quickly scraped off dead bees and reassembled the hive with the good frames and sealed it off to stop the robbing. I took the remaining collapsed comb and empty frames and put them in an ice chest and closed it (they probably had 100-200 robbing bees on them). I am at a point in which I think I can take a breather and decide what to do. I think I stopped the robbing because all of the exposed honey is either in a sealed ice chest or in a sealed hive.

Please give me your advice.


It sounds like you weren’t using foundation on your frames, correct? Naturally drawn comb is more prone to collapse than comb on a wired wax or plastic foundation (I use wax foundation) when inspecting and moving. The jostling and bumping (moving your dolly over the rocks) almost certainly contributed to the collapse of the comb.

The collapsed comb almost certainly seems to be the reason why the ants came to rob the hive…and I don’t believe fire ants are loving cuddly insects…

You seemed to have gone about the move the right way in general (i.e. sealing the entrance and doing the move). However, I’m not sure why you would keep the bees trapped in for more than a day. I don’t know what your ambient temperatures are but the bees could have needed some form of water and better ventilation.

So, there are at least two possible factors causing the death of your hive:

  1. Ants
  2. Overheating (lack of ventilation and water)

My advice would be to salvage what you can and be prepared to start again. If you have a mild winter you could consider getting a nuc and starting again sooner rather than later. Otherwise, take winter to improve your setup, plan things out, and plan for a nuc early spring.

It might not be pleasant but death is part of life’s cycle. Chalk it up to experience and move forward; and reinstate the ant traps (vaseline or some form of petroleum jelly on the legs should also work for ants. I use a water trap along your lines but I’ve read of many others using a lathering of petroleum jelly to great effect)


That is correct.

I’d really like to get to the bottom of this. The website I read said 3 days. Can someone with a lot bee science experience tell me if 3 days is too long? In general and during my current mild October temperatures (lows of 65F/18C at night and highs of 90F/32C)? I worry that locking them in killed them too, but, I am surprised a well meaning website would recommend that without more warnings. Especially if it was that easy for the bees to die after 2 days.

Is it possible that the collapsed comb in combination with the pooling honey caused the bees to behave in a way that led to their demise? For example, if the collapsed comb caused them to get frantic and overheat the hive when normally they would have stayed fairly calm for the 3 days?

I will certainly learn from my mistakes. I feel terrible about it.


Take a look at this PDF https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/14-098

It is an official research publication from the Australian Govt. Take a look under s7 where it talks about moving hives short distances. There is also a recent thread on this forum about moving hives short distances that might help you get answers and comments from others. The temp ranges you quote seem to fit reasonably well with what we experience here in Oz…

This general forum search might help: http://forum.honeyflow.com/search?q=moving
As might this article: http://www.bushfarms.com/beesmoving.htm#between


Also, the “mild” temperatures you reference are still actually quite warm. The temps you are talking about would be warmer than ambient temp for most things you read online (I don’t know your source though). At an ambient temp of 32degC that is almost the same temp as what the bees keep the hive. I’ve been monitoring my hive and it sits around 33-35degC constantly (even in 18degC weather). So when you have an ambient temp close to the temp from general hive activity they will need water to help cool the hive, as there is less heat loss naturally.

For your temp range, advice I’ve been given by olthers (but never had a reason to use) was to move the hive in the evening after the bees have returned. Block the hive entrance while doing the move, settle the hive and wait a short while (i.e. 20-30mins or so). Change the method of blocking to loose paper or a pile of leaves. The bees will get themselves out during the course of the next day and re-orient themselves. Next time you inspect the hive remove any remaining debris.

The other alternative is shift the hive a minimum 3mi/5km one day (as the crow flies, not road distance), and then come back a day or two later and shift it back to where you want it. This second method is meant to give you a better outcome…

…that’s the short hand version of it anyway. It is coming up 1am so I need to get to bed. Goodluck, and don’t feel too bad. These things happen - and you are looking to understand so as to not repeat the process and learn from what happened.


First can I say…what a horrid experience and I am so sad for you.
Don’t beat yourself up about it.
First use foundation. It is more robust. I know folk here go on about bee created frames but really there is nothing at all wrong with foundation.
Free combs are designed for tree hollows where the combs are never moved.
Next. you have to plan any move carefully.
Boxes are always better moved with two people who can carry them freely without jiggling them about too much.
I would have moved the hive a few feet a day or right away to another location some miles away fro three weeks then returned to the new place.
Once again…so sorry


@Dee and @SnowflakeHoney, What should I do with my frames? I don’t have freezer space for them.


You might as well scrape away all the useable honey. Put that in the fridge and it will keep while you eat it. Render the wax. Clean the frames and start again. And breathe. A rotten start but times will be good again. Good luck


This sounds very much like the bees have overheated and perished. I don’t understand why people are recommending locking bees in for such long periods of time. When collecting swarms we have to provide huge ventilation openings to ensure the swarm doesn’t overheat moving it from the recovery location to the new apiary. After even 5 minutes if you put your hand over this ventilation the amount of heat being generated is huge.

When relocating hives, ensuring the process is quick is critical, and we never lock bees in during the day. To move short distance we always move away (to a different site) and back again.


I feel terrible about killing my bees. damn. I should have done more research about moving them instead of stopping after reading only 2 articles. I am starting to convince myself their demise was due to overheating and not the ants.



At the end of this season I lost 2 of the five hives I started this Spring. I’m guessing I’m also partly responsible for my loss.

My loss was not for the same reason as yours but equally a loss. They were my girls ! I’d just Sugar Rolled all my hives for mite count. The two I lost had the highest number of mite per bee ratio. I was waiting only two weeks after the mite check to do treatment. Weather n available time were a big factor , At treatment I followed all the step by step processes. Within one week of treatment one hive outwardly seemed down on foragers. I couldn’t find babies or the queen. But there was a partly open used queen cells but colony number n time of year prevent me from trying re queening or stealing brood. So I knew I’d Iost “Pine Hive” :joy:. Another week one more stronger hive was off a little also … SBB was still seeing some mite drop.

My mentor came by … Old brood hatching was running low but we found a small new queen n open supercedual cells but not sure if she was a layer or not. I rechecked a week later n didn’t find her or any brood … Brood was really falling too in “Cedar Hive”. Within less than two more weeks it was near die-out n susptible to yellow jacket n other hive robbers so I shut the entrance with a bee entrance device that still allowed for veneration only… That’s history sad as it might be … Like you … I’m studying my records n what I might have done right or better. Heck of a learning curve!

I was able to fatten up my winter honey supplies with frames from the “Die-outs”. Beekeeping has lots of lumps n bruises Bro. I’m lucky as I still have 3 healthy hives. I’ve since rechecked for mites n only found 0 to 2 per 300 bees. But I did sugar shake with powdered sugar to see if my girls would clean themselves plus remove a few mites I might not of detected.

Several days ago now I ordered (3) three new Nuc’s for Spring 2017 delivery. Crossing my fingers that my 3 healthy colonies make/survive our long damp cool winter ahead. Now it’s out of my hands mostly. It’s wait n see time.

Again Lorne … Sorry you lost your girls. Chin up bro … And let’s plan a better season ahead.

It’s a tough beekeeping world out there,

. Pix of me harvesting a partial frame … At least it wasnt back totally to square one. I have comb n honey to start season 2017 with. :+1::honeybee:


I’m bummed for you too Lorne :pensive:

It’s a nail-biter in the beginning - I’ve only got the one hive too & could easily lose it, according to the stats.

But chin up bro, like Gerald says, and better luck next year :wink:


Yes and No.
To understand why that is only partially correct, you have to know why you move them 3 miles.
Bees (like people) remember their surroundings and go into “autopilot” when flying back home.
If you moved to a house in the next street, sooner or later you’d drive home one evening by habit rather than conscious thought and find yourself outside your old house. Bees, navigating by familiar landmarks, do the same thing.
If you move them further than 3 miles, then that’s more than their normal foraging range away, so when they’re out they’re unlikely to recognise an old landmark and return to the wrong [old] location.

If worker bees live for 6 weeks and spend approximately half of their lives foraging, how long do you think it will be before the hive collectively “forgets” the old routes to the old home location?
Yes, three weeks.


spot on


I don’t think this response has added any clarity to your contention as to ‘why’ moving away and back won’t work. Are you suggesting you can’t move away and then back within 3 weeks because the bees will remember their original hive location based on landmarks at the original site when you return it (ie. meters away from the original location at original site) ?

I don’t believe the hive collectively ‘forgetting’ equates to all the bees at the time of the event dying. I was of the understanding that this occurred far earlier than that. I’d be interested to see some research on this.


Here is a reference that suggests total memory loss occurs after 6-9 days


I’m suggesting that if you move the hive back too soon after the first move, then there will be foragers that will still have a memory of landmarks and routes home in the common foraging areas of the multiple locations.
The landmarks aren’t necessarily in the close vicinity of either hive, but anywhere in the foraging area common to the different hive locations.

9 days may work for practical purposes (there will be a much lower population of bees with memory, they may not be foraging in the common areas, and with time the new memory will more strongly override the old) but the “day or two later” as originally suggested is far too quick.

If you’re going through the process of temporarily moving a hive 3 miles, then you will be absolutely sure there is no possibility of memory if you waited until all the bees that were alive at the time of the first move have been replaced by normal mortality before doing the second move.
I’m NOT saying that it won’t work for shorter periods, but I am saying that it WILL if you wait 3 weeks.

Why go to all that effort and then risk it not working for the sake of a few more days?


@lhengst Lorne sorry about your bees - it’s heartbreaking I know. Losing bees when they were stolen really took the stuffing out of me. When my bees are happy I’m happy

Even being locked up for a day the bees will reorient themselves on coming out of the hive.

I’m waiting for a rainy day to bring my out apiary Nuc back home - it is not so easy to lock them in - in the dark it would be possible to break and ankle where the field is so cannot lock them in properly in daylight hours unless they are not flying - hence waiting for a rainy day to collect them.

Spend winter occupied and start fresh in the spring


Thanks everyone for the kind words and sage advice. Yesterday I harvested the honey and comb I could. I left the brood frames outside to be robbed and picked clean by the ants.

Next year I am going to start with 3 or 4 hives and try to make-up for my mistakes. I’ll save up my money for more flow frames for the following year.


Sorry you lost your hive Lorne. Three days is recommended because i is thought that this period of time in the dark causes the bees to reset orientation. I used this method a couple of weeks ago with success, but I moved the hive after closing to a place with a rrelatively constant cool temperature, made sure they had access to food (wasn’t suer they would use it, but wanted to cover all bases) &water & good ventilation. After a couple of hours closed in the hive quietened down,as they do in the evening. I did check on them 3 times a day to make sure the place they were in wasn’t getting too warm & that the colony wasn’t becoming stressed (going by sound). I felt it was a bit of a gamble, but I really had no choice about moving the hive with very little notice, plus I’d already moved them once 2 weeks prior, but incrementally over a period of days. If you think about how they go through winter, there are often periods of time where they aren’t flying, so I felt comfortable with keeping them closed in. If at any stage I had recognised signs of stress I had decided to place in the final position & open the hive. I wouldn’t like to do it again, even though they came through with no problems.
I also had foundation less frames, & carried (with a helper) & used a 4 wheeled trolley. I didn’t break any comb, though.
From what I know of fire ants they move in pretty rapidly. Combined with bees that are closed in & have no way of defending the hive before they get in & the spilled honey seems most likely the reason for the hive being decimated. Leaving the frames outside the hive while researching your next step is not ideal. :wink:
Maybe while waiting to get more bees it’s a good time to research Fire Ant defence strategies?


I just wanted to add that the weather at the time also played a part. We had a week of nothing over 12 degrees, the days they were closed up nothing above 10 degrees & lots of rain. If we were having normal spring temperatures, & no way of ensuring they stayed cool enough, I would have done things differently. I also had a thermometer set up so I could monitor the temps inside the hive.
All up since catching both swarms I’ve had to ‘intervene’ much more than I ever intended or wanted to. However I’ve had a lot of extraordinary circumstances occur from the moment I caught the swarms. If I’d known I, or the bees would have to contend with all these disruptions I think I possibly would have rethought collecting them.


Lorne- if your winters aren’t too harsh- maybe try and get a good 5 frame nuc - and winter it. If you had access to three frames and some shook bees from a donor hive you could raise a small split if there’s still time. Come to think of it- if you save two of your combs that would give the split a real head start. Added to three frames of donor brood,larvae, eggs and stores and a few cups of shook bees- in 8 days you’ll have queen cells capped. 17 days you’ll have new queens. Is there still time for a queen to mate where you are?

I just put a smallish swarm into a 5 frame nuc with 2 really ugly wax/honey mashed up combs with plastic foundation- they looked a real mess- after just 3 days the bees have completely cleaned them up, are making new comb- -and laying in nectar.

Then you’ll have bees- and be ready for a very early start next year.