UPDATE: (Oct. 3/10): So it turns out the queen may not be dead after all. The absence of larvae usually means the absence of a queen. But not always. (Deep sigh.) I’ll tell you about it in the next post. Man oh man.
Well, Hive #1 is done for. The queen is dead. We did a full inspection of the hive today and didn’t find any signs of a queen. This is what we found:
— Lots of honey (we originally thought the queen may have been honey bound).
— Plenty of empty cells, the equivalent of at least 5 empty frames.
— Some capped brood but not much, maybe a frame or two in total.
— No drone cells, though plenty of empty drone cells (on the foundationless frames).
— No three or four-day old larvae. No little white grubs in any of the cells.
And that, more than anything, tells us the hive is queenless. A queen lays up to 2000 eggs a day, so if a queen is around, there should be plenty of larvae. There were none. For the past two and a half months, we saw curled up larvae like this every time we inspected the hive:
The absence of larvae is the absence of a queen. So now what do we do?
[Note: What follows is a bit of a rant.]
Or more to the point, how did this happen? As usual, I don’t know, but here are some possibilities:
1) We squished the queen during our last inspection about two weeks ago. 50,000 bees in the hive and we manage to squish the one bee that’s vital to the colony’s survival. This was around the time we discovered the bees chewing out and discarding most of the drone pupae, something not unheard of with fall bees recently introduced to foundationless frames.
2) Water got in the hive during Hurricane Igor 11 days ago and killed the queen. Then we got hit with frost and condensation built up under the inner cover. Something happened around this time, because it was shortly after the hurricane that we began to notice the bees weren’t taking up much syrup and weren’t foraging as much.
3) Wasps got in the hive and killed the queen. Does this happen? I’m not sure, but we’ve seen more wasps hanging around the hives in the past two weeks than we’ve seen all year. And we saw plenty walk right in through the hive entrance. The wasps are everywhere.
4) We noticed the bees in Hive #1 bearding for the first time ever about a week ago. Did the hive overheat? Did the queen die in the heat? Beats me. But it was around this time we noticed the bees apparently fighting with each other, one or a group of bees latching on to a bee and not letting go. At first we thought they were just kicking out some drones for the winter, but I doubt that. They all looked like normal sized bees.
5) The hive was robbed by the bees in Hive #2. They are Italian bees, which are known for robbing, and we did have feeders (internal) set up on both hives, which sometimes encourages robbing. Robbing bees will often kill the queen first, because it’s a lot easier to steal honey once the queen is dead.
So who knows?
Another unusual find during our inspection: We noticed a few bees looked like they were marked, like a queen bee is sometimes marked with a dot of paint so she’s easier to find. But for these bees, the two of three that we happened to notice, the spot looked more like a yellow fuzzy dot. Maybe it was just pollen, though we’ve never see it like that before. I just thought I’d mention it in case it’s a sign of some kind of disease.
Anyway, the hive is still active. They’re still foraging and doing their best, but they don’t appear to be making a new queen, so they’re hooped. So back to the question: What do we do now?
I think it’s too late to replace the queen with another queen. There’s only one beekeeper on the island who sells queens, but I don’t think they sell or produce them at this time of year.
We might be able to steal a frame of brood with open larvae from the healthy hive (Hive #2), and maybe the bees in Hive #1 will feed the larvae some of the royal jelly to create a new queen. But that’s a long shot, and it might be too late in the season to make any difference.
The last option is to combine the two hives and transfer all the queenless bees in Hive #1 to Hive #2. But I don’t know how to do that, so I’ll have to look into it. If that’s what happens — and it seems most likely — at least we’ll have one really strong hive ready for the winter. Then we’ll see what happens next year.
So… Not a great day for us or the bees in Hive #1, but these last 75 days of beekeeping on our own — flying blind most of the time — have been a learning experience. When someone says, “It was a learning experience,” what it usually boils down to is an experience that absolutely sucked. “I hated every minute of it” is usually more truthful. But in this case, not so. Admittedly, I was disturbed when I saw all the dead drone pupae discarded outside the hive entrance a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been a bit on edge ever since. But everything before that was enjoyable. I loved every minute of it.
Don’t ask me what happens next, because I don’t know. I’ll tell you later.
Good night, and good luck.