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