Unusual Hive Behaviour


This is a follow-up to the previous post.

I just checked the hives to see how well they’re taking up the syrup from the frame feeders. I was able to add another 2 litres of syrup to the feeder in Hive #2 (that’s 2 litres since yesterday afternoon). It’s massive with bees. They still have about 3 empty frames left and they’re going nuts with building and taking up syrup. Nothing wrong with that.

Hive #1 bees in their glory days (August 2010).

The bees in Hive #1, on the other hand, haven’t touched the syrup in their frame feeder, and they’re showing no interest in the frames I installed in the first honey super yesterday. So whatever is going on in Hive #1, it’s got them disinterested in taking feed or building comb.

I read on a forum last night that a full level of empty frames added to a hive in the fall, when the bees are naturally shifting out of their building phase, can sometimes encourage them to swarm. I have my doubts about that, but the bees don’t seem interested in building, anyway, so I removed the frames and put a Boardman feeder over the inner board inside a medium super. Back to what it’s been like for the past few weeks.

The bees in Hive #1 have been acting strange for about the past week. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

1) They’re taking up hardly any syrup and they don’t seem too interested in building comb.

2) They were bearding around the entrance a few days ago.

3) They’re hardly foraging anymore, even though their numbers inside the hive seem normal.

4) They seem to be fighting with each other at times, though I’m not sure it’s fighting. A bee will latch on to another bee. Then other bees sometimes join in. The bees that are attacked look like regular workers, not queens or drones.

All that is from the past week. The bees in Hive #1 also discarded most of their drone larvae pupae two weeks ago, which is not unheard of in hives with foundationless frames. The larvae pupae get the boot to make room for winter stores. Then we got hit with Hurricane Igor which left the bees stuck inside for a few days. The bees began acting strange a few days after the hurricane.

I wonder if the queen is dead. Maybe some bees from the other hive robbed some honey and killed the queen. Maybe that’s what the fighting is. But it sure is a low-key hive now. We’ve had some unseasonably warm weather for the past few days. Even that hasn’t got them excited. I’m not sure what’s going on. Maybe the bees are just in a funk, a low ebb in the cycle of worker bees hatching. If this warm weather continues, maybe they’ll come back to life. Most likely this is just another case of a paranoid, overly worried amateur beekeeper who just doesn’t have enough sense to leave the bees alone.

UPDATE (a few hours later): I just got back from meeting with an experienced local beekeeper. I told him about the strange behaviour, although I forgot to mention the bees fighting. Anyway, he said there might not be anything wrong with the hive. But it’s also possible the queen is honey bound, that she has nowhere to lay her eggs because all the cells are full of honey. The solution is to remove a few frames of honey and replace them with empty frames so the bees can build fast and give her more room to lay eggs until the end of October. The other possibility is that the hive is queenless, in which case I’ll have to combine my two hives to create one big healthy hive for the winter. I’ll do a full inspection tomorrow and decide what to do from there. To be continued…

UPDATE (Oct. 1/10): Well, I must be paranoid, which means I should be ignored when I get worried about the bees. It’s 23 degrees and the bees in Hive #1 look fine today. We plan to do a full inspection later on just to be sure. To be continued… in the next post.

UPDATE (Dec. 23/10): I recently learned through a comment that our bees are a hybrid of Italians, Russians and Carniolans. Russian honeybees react faster — and more dramatically — to environmental changes. The cold snap we had at the time may have triggered a wintering response in the bees, which is natural for Russian bees because they stop rearing brood early in the fall anyway. So all of the above is probably normal behaviour for honeybees with dominant Russian genes. And the fighting I noticed around Hive #1 was probably bees from Hive #2 robbing from them and the guard bees from Hive #1 just doing their best to push them away. Taking a shot in the dark, my guess is the bees in Hive #1 are more Russian and the bees in Hive #2 are more Italian. Either way, I’m beginning to see that much of what I initially thought was strange behaviour is probably normal for our breed of bees.

10 thoughts on “Unusual Hive Behaviour

  1. 1) Check for eggs or queen queen cells within a week

    2) if you have frames towards the end that are not drawn out move a frame that is drawn out (assuming no brood on it) to the outside. That helps to encourage them to build wax on the empty frame.

    3) While doing that give a few squirts of sugar syrup for encouragement.

    Are they filling up the drone comb with any syrup or honey?

  2. The bees in Hive #2 have chewed out all the drone larvae and filled the cells with honey. I assume the same thing is happening in Hive #1, though I haven’t inspected it for awhile.

    At the moment, though, the bees are starting forage again, starting to act like normal bees again. The sun is shining directly on the hive. So maybe it’s nothing.

    I’m meeting up with the A-man at 3 o’clock. I’ll see what he says. In regards to Hive #1, my questions for him will be, what’s going on? Should I add a honey super? Or what?

  3. wish I was there to pick his brain too. My bees are getting really aggressive.

    Ask him about over wintering and also if he ever performs any splits and what he does.

    Does he use any additional pollen substitute in early spring for build up. Just what he.

    Also mention hello and thanks again to him.

    • Too late. I just got back from seeing him. I know what to do about wintering my bees now and feeding them.

      The strange behaviour with Hive #1 could be two things (though I forgot to mention the fighting behaviour):

      1) The queen is honey bound, in which case I should remove at least two frames of honey from the brood box and replace them with empty frames as soon as possible. The queen will be laying for most of October and will need the room for brood. Apparently, I could have put a honey super when there were 2 or 3 empty frames left in the second brood box. So I could have had a honey harvest this year. (And I still might.)

      2) The hive is queenless. In which case, there’s much I can do except combine the queenless hive with the good hive to create one really strong hive for the winter, which might be strong enough to split in the spring and still get a honey harvest from. (I hope that isn’t the case.)

      I’ll post all the details over the next few days.

  4. Remermber I mentioned about this clear plastic shelter. Well today there must have been 2 hundred bees inside, several flying, most stationary. Basically they looked exausted. So I collected most of them and placed them on plastic tray with some sugar syrup. Most started feeding away on it and back in no time they were starting to fly away and head back to the hive. When I went back tonight only 3 or 4 were left on the tray.

    Looks like I saved most of them

  5. They are really aggressive though. Even though I went up and looked at them today they were flying into me. I’m really not certain what to think of it.

  6. I think we have a queenless hive. This is what we found during the inspection:

    – Lots of honey.
    – Plenty of empty cells, the equivalent of at least 5 empty frames.
    – Some capped brood but not much.
    – No 3 or 4 day old larvae. No little grubs in any of the cells.

    I guess it’s too late to order a replacement queen.

    Looks like we’ll be combining our hives for the winter.

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