The MimiKo hive has failed in a big way. I thought maybe last summer, I messed with the hives too much and that perhaps being a bit more hands off would be better this summer. Apparently, I was too hands off.
Lorraine took the Magnetic Fields out to our hives the day before and mentioned that the MimiKo hive was quiet...too quiet. We headed out today and she did seem quiet, but what caught my attention were odd looking drones. They were small, having trouble walking and totally out numbered the workers. The odd drones brought one thing to my mind--egg laying workers. Only queens are supposed to be able to lay eggs. Fertilized eggs become workers and on a occasion a queen, unfertilized eggs become drones. Workers are not supposed to lay eggs, but if a hive is queenless, workers will lay eggs and because they are all infertile, they will all be drones (who do not build comb or gather honey). A queenless colony with egg laying workers is a hive that is as good as dead.
There were dead workers on the roof and so we opened her up. It was quiet and the buzzing that we heard was that dissonant buzzing that you get from a queenless colony. More and more drones were moving all over the hive and I noticed a few non honeybees entering the front entrance. The drones moved as though drunk--another suspicion that they were the result of egg laying workers. Here's a video:
That is just so sad! Further inspection of the colony brought worse news:
Every cell had been ripped open. The colony had been robbed, most likely by the nearby Kelli Hive. All would take is one or two Kelli workers coming to the hive and noticing how weak it was. They fly back and let the other Kelli foragers know and the siege of the MimiKo would be underway.
With few workers, no queen, and lots of blundering drones, the colony didn't stand a chance. Flakes from shredded cappings that covered cells of honey were everywhere. There were even a few other species coming in to take what little honey was left. Notice the two non honeybees in the above photo.
Here's another look at ripped open cells. There were even flakes on the inside. I suddenly remembered that one of the signs of American Foulbrood is scales in empty cells. I'm panicking a little because American Foulbrood is a serious bee disease that would require some drastic measures. I tested a couple of what little remaining sealed brood was left (you poke it with a toothpick and if it's foulbrood, the contents comes out brown and ropey). Nothing I poked came out brown and ropey, the contents of the cells looked like an almost formed bee.
Here's another view of a ripped apart cell. To me, all this looks like bits of capping but if there are any experienced beekeepers seeing this and feel that this is American Foulbrood, feel free to let me know. I'm hoping it's not. American Foulbrood is a big fat downside to beekeeping. We'd have to burn the remains of the MimiKo hive and treat the Kelli hive with some serious drugs since she would have been exposed by robbing the MimiKo hive.
I found a dead worker that appeared to have died while trying to lay an egg in a cell. How long had this hive been queenless?? It has to have been a long time for things to be as bad and as empty as this hive is. How did it happen? Is this American Foulbrood? Did we crush the queen on one of the few inspections? When we took a frame of brood from the MimiKo hive to help the failing Olga hive this summer, did we accidentally brush the queen onto the ground and kill her? Was she just a bad queen?
Here was a sad little drone that died as it was trying to crawl out of its cell. Without any nurse bees around to help it along and the fact that it's a drone that grew in too small of a cell, it got wedged.
We took the hive completely apart and found lots of dead bees but not the huge amount that I expected. I looked over all the dead bees (and a few wasps) that were on the bottom, trying to work out what had happened. What caused things to go this wrong, why didn't I catch it sooner. I've come to a couple of conclusions--if the queen had failed and we caught it early enough, I would not have tried to requeen the colony--we've tried that more than once and it just doesn't seem to work for us. Both hives we've done that too have ultimately failed. We probably would have left this one alone to try and grow a new queen. I wonder why they didn't grow a new queen? Did they not realize they were queenless until it was too late to grow a new one?
So we left MimiKo in pieces so all the bees that were robbing it already could finish the job. I'm not sure what we're going to do next. I have a beekeeping meeting on Tuesday, I'll see what I can learn there. Non Birding Bill suggested I take a frame with me to show, but on the off chance it is American Foulbrood, I think bringing a frame full of it would make me the least welcome member of the club.
I love beekeeping, I love my girls, I love that I get to do it, but a discovery like this is a challenge. My goodness, we started this spring with four hives. We're now down to two and we have to move one of them into the bear proof fence. Will that hive make it?
After all of this, I had to do some digiscoping to try and clear my system. The fall colors made for a perfect backdrop. Usually, taking photos of birds is relaxing and satisfying but I was having trouble getting my focus down or predicting the perch the birds would use. I was getting frustrated, so my dear NBB offered to help...