A Mouse in the Hive or No Honey Left in the Hive?

One of my six colonies either has a mouse in the hive that’s scaring all the bees to the very top of the hive, or the colony is completely starved for honey. Either way it seems like most of the bees (and they’re grumpy) are clustered above the top bars and living entirely off dry sugar I added about a month ago. The bees are so crowded above the top bars, they’re constantly walking in and out around the top entrance, as can be seen in this photo I took during my lunch break today:

13-12-23 Hungry Bees

I also noticed many dead bees in the snow in front of the hive:

13-12-23 Hungry Bees in Snow

Not that dead bees in the snow are unusual, but none of the other hives have many dead bees nearby, hardly any. This does not bode well.

When I managed to crack open the inner cover, I saw some sugar over the top bars but couldn’t look closely to determine how much was left because I didn’t want the bees to start pouring out the hive and freeze to death — they were in the pouring-out mode (some beekeepers will know what I mean by that). I quickly tossed in a big crystallized honey patty and left them alone.

What I can’t do: Dismantle the hive and shake the mouse out, if indeed a mouse is in the hive. (I poked around the bottom board with a stick and didn’t find a mouse, but that doesn’t mean one isn’t hiding between the frames.) The risk of chilling and killing the bees is too high, and with most of the bees in a bad mood hanging in a disorganized mass above the top bars, mouse or no mouse, any kind of dismantling of the hive in the middle of the winter is bad news.

What I can do: Assuming the bees have run out of honey somehow (which is strange because I was sure they had a full top deep of honey going into winter), I can add more sugar above the top bars as soon as I have a mild day. The long range forecast is calling for freezing temperatures except on December 30th when the temperature is going up to about 0°C (or 32° F). That’s my chance.

If anyone can suggest another action plan, I’m listening. If a mouse is in the hive (and I’m not sure what I can do about it now), I have a feeling it could be game over for the bees. If the bees have run out of honey, I’ll have to do everything I can to keep them alive with sugar, which is something I’ve never had to do so early in the winter. I know some like to think of the solstice as the beginning of the end of the winter, but let’s be realistic. We’re just getting started.

To be continued…

UPDATE (April 05/14): I found a dead vole shrew in a different hive:

I noticed the bees had pooped inside the hive all over the top bars a few weeks ago, which for me is a sign that the colony has become queenless and will soon die. Now I know why.

The hives are still half buried in snow. I probably won’t have a chance to clean up the mess for another two or three weeks. Note to self: Put those mouse guards on earlier.

UPDATE (April 28/14): I didn’t find signs of a mouse in the hive. What I did find was interesting, though. It’s a three-deep hive. The top deep was nearly empty (the bees have been eating raw sugar above the top bars for a few months now). But the middle deep was jam packed full of honey. I’d say at least six of the ten frames were (and are) filled completely with honey, mostly untouched. Only a few frames in the middle of the box had some honey eaten away. The bees were clustering in the top deep for most of the winter — and ignoring a full deep of honey right below them. That makes me think they were scared up by the presence of a mouse, but I didn’t find any mouse droppings or slivers of chewed up wood or any comb eaten away. Strange. I wonder if the bees would have starved if I hadn’t given them sugar. I’ve never seen so much honey in an over-wintered hive before, though this is also the first time I’ve had a three-deep hive going into winter (at least I think it is). You never really know what the bees are going to do.

9 thoughts on “A Mouse in the Hive or No Honey Left in the Hive?

  1. Try lifting the hive. You will be able to tell how much honey is in it based on whether it is heavy. If there is a mouse, there will usually be a pile of nesting material on the bottom board. Candy boards allow you to put more sugar on the hive at one time, quickly.

    Good luck!

  2. I know candy boards are probably the best way to feed the bees over winter, but I’d still rather stick with dry sugar feeding than messing around making a mess brewing up hard candy. I kind of hate cooking up hard candy.

    The situation with this colony is a bit perplexing because I added a full deep of honey to the hive a little over a month ago just before I wrapped it and gave it dry sugar. Not all the frames had capped honey, but still, that deep weighed a tonne. I can’t imagine the bees eating through most of it in a month.

    Perplexing situation #2: I know up close and personal what mouse damage looks like…


    But I haven’t noticed any unusual debris or nesting material on the bottom board. Not yet anyway.

    I’m not sure what to think. I’ll check on the hive again as soon as I get a mild day. I’ll load it up with about 10 pounds of sugar and hope for the best.

  3. Philip, Did your hives not produce enough honey this year to support themselves through the winter? We had a very good year here in Cape Breton. Just curious, why the sugar feeding?

  4. Most of the hives seemed to have enough honey, but I didn’t top them up with sugar syrup in the fall, so as a precaution, I gave them the dry sugar early. One of my colonies, a huge colony, starved last winter because I waited too long to check on it…


    I didn’t want to risk that again.

    We had a good summer for bees, too, but most of my colonies were not in top honey-producing condition. None of the colonies were requeened this year (I did try, but one queen was a dud and another queen was rejected). Two of my colonies were started from splits made from swarm cells. Another colony superceded its queen. So all of my colonies had either slower old queens or new queens that took at least a month to mate and begin laying well. As a result, I didn’t get much honey from any of them, though I did enjoy watching the bees more or less manage themselves.

    I don’t really advocate the “let the bees be bees” approach to beekeeping, because there are times when you have to intervene, but my mostly hands-off approach this year was as a close as it gets. It wasn’t much for honey production, but overall the colonies were healthy.

  5. I agree, I don’t go for the “let bees be bees” approach either, because then one would not really be a beekeeper. I am guilty of feeding sugar syrup in the past, but I hope to keep it a thing of the past. Sugar is as bad for bees as it is for us. I always made sure my hives weighed at least 100+ lbs going into winter and never lost a hive to starvation. But last winter for the first time my bees had to contend with mites and that was a disaster. This year I am wintering 3 hives (2 are 3 deeps), no treatments, but they are partially converted to small cell so we will see if they survive. Are you aware of Dee Lusby’s the yahoo group? Very good information on natural beekeeping. Sure do hope your hives make it, it really is depressing when we lose bees. All the best to you in 2014.

  6. It’s good to see the bees made it through the winter, even though there was a vole in the colony.

    Scrape off what you can. The bees will clean the rest.

  7. Mouse in hive? UPDATE: No. More honey than I’ve ever seen in an over-wintered hive before. But no mouse. See the last update at the end of this post for the details.

  8. That’s no vole. That’s a shrew. They are extremely efficient predators that need to eat their own body weight to stay alive. You’re lucky that it died likely to cold or you probably wouldn’t have any bees in that hive.


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