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Open to theories


I need your help to solve a mystery…

I started my first hive last spring (2016) in southwestern Connecticut (USA). The bees did well building out the frames and I added a 2nd brood box in June. I did add the Flow frame super in August, but by that time the nectar flow was low and while I did see some bee activity closing up the cells in the Flow super, I did not have any honey in it. I was disappointed, but had enough realism to understand that I probably was not going to get a harvest my first year anyway. So, I pulled the Flow frame in late October, leaving the two deep hive boxes–the bottom box had some brood and honey, while the upper was mostly honey. Not too much pollen in either. I had been feeding in September, but should have started sooner as we had a pretty hot and dry August. Shortly after reducing down to two hive boxes, I added some top insulation and moisture wicking in the form of cedar shavings sitting on top of a canvas bottomed very shallow hive box. I also added a pollen patty and then left them to it.

On a warm-ish (50+ degree Fahrenheit) day in January, I decided to take a quick peek to see if they needed another pollen patty. Lo and behold, the first one was untouched. Furthermore, with my curiosity and concern peaked, I decided to open the hive up more. No bees. Argh! I was pretty bummed and did not investigate any further until just yesterday (mid-April) in preparation for my new nuc arriving this week. I confirmed that there were about 250 dead bees–about 50% on the bottom screen and the other 50% in two small clusters on two frames on the bottom box where I also found what I believe is the dead queen.

There was a good amount of capped and uncapped honey in both the upper and lower boxes–not full capacity by any means, but a decent amount. There were no signs of mice or other infestation. My guess is that my hive swarmed in November shortly after removed the Flow super. It could have been before I added the pollen patty since I only added that quickly (no inspection) to preserve the heat. Swarming would explain why the number of dead bees was a couple hundred vs. many thousands of dead bees. The few that were left behind could not make it through the winter. I don’t recall seeing any queen cells, though my inspections became much less invasive as the weather cooled in the fall.

Any other theories from the experts…?


Hard to know without photos, but it could be varroa, CCD or they absconded. I would be surprised at an absconding in late Fall, but it can happen if the weather is unseasonably warm. They usually won’t abscond without the queen either.

Did you do varroa mite counts? If so, what method and what did you find? Did you treat?

All the best with your new colony.


Sorry no photos, but I did save the 250 or so dead bees and could send photos of them (or the hive) if that would help. I did do a cursory inspection and did not see mites on the bees, but they could have fallen off or I did not look close enough. I did not treat or do a count last year for varroa. When there is varroa do the bees go elsewhere to die? If not, I would have expected thousands of dead bees, not a couple hundred.


This is a very good article all about it:

So the answer is, if you had catastrophic varroa, there may not be many dead bees in the hive. You won’t see varroa on bees, except on the internet or in text books. To get an accurate idea of infestation, you need to do a sugar roll or alcohol wash test.


My betting would be on a failed queen and a dwindled colony.
But…is any of Dawn’s link familiar?


You probably took possession of a mite bomb, hived it, and the timer ran out in late Autumn/early Winter. Couple that with someone else’s nearby hive may have succumbed to mites and your bees robbed them and brought home even more piggy-backers.
Try to hit them with OAV around Thanksgiving at the latest so they go through winter mostly mite-free.



Thank you for taking the time to reply (again) to my post and send the link. Of the symptoms outlined in the article, I would say my hive exhibited most, if not all, of them. I will go back and check for the crystals. I did see a few bees that looked like they died in the process of emerging, but I had assumed that was because there simply weren’t enough bees to take care of them.

From the article…

  1. The colony was big and looked healthy in the fall
  2. A lot of honey is left in the top supers
  3. The cluster is now small, maybe the size of a softball.
  4. There are hardly any bees on the bottom board
  5. Near or just below the cluster is a patch of spotty brood – some fully capped, and some with bees dying on emergence (heads facing out, tongues sticking out).
  6. If you look closely in the cells around the brood, you will see white crystals stuck to the cell walls, looking like someone sprinkled coarse salt in the brood nest.

Just got a note that I can pick up my new nuc today so I will give it another go–this year, I will treat and strive to keep the varroa under control.



Your bees and your psyche will thank you with proliferation and happiness. :smile: