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My Hive Has Been Robbed!

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…

Clever Bill. We did go for a walk in the woods and I got some cleansing that way…more on that tomorrow.

16 comments to My Hive Has Been Robbed!

  • Stacy

    Oh Sharon, I’m so terribly sorry about MimiKo. It’s truly awful.

    Kudo’s to NBB for so obviously going out of his way to cheer you up. The shot made me laugh outloud.

    I wish I had info or something useful to say about bees but I don’t. I know you’re attached to them and I’m sorry MimiKo is gone.

  • Jess

    This is sad news. I know how much you loved the Mimiko bees, too– I feel just awful for you.

    Who knew bird feeders needed Bill Baffles? Heh. ;)

  • Loki

    I am really sorry. This is really frustrating.

  • NCmountainwoman

    We have so enjoyed the posts about the bees, so it is only fair that we should share the pain. How awful for you and all the gang. I hope you find the answer for the failing hive.

  • spacedlaw

    Bleak sight indeed. It does look like a village that has been ransacked.

    I feel for you, you must be feeling so helpless.
    Good on NBB for trying to comfort you.

  • Liz Jones

    Oh no!!!!
    I’m so sorry to see that. I really hope it isn’t foulbrood, though I agree it doesn’t sound right. We’ve had (non-bee) catastrophic livestock losses this year too– makes me think twice about re-beeing this winter. I’m not sure I want to open myself up to more of that.
    On the other hand, they’re so delightful when they’re healthy. I hope you get this one figured out soon, and that it’s something simple and easily fixed.

  • Virginia

    Hey Sharon,

    I’m so sorry! It’s such a wrench to lose a colony, and I just feel helpless looking at a hive that didn’t make it.

    The optimist in me wants to remind you that if you had laying workers it could have been a whole lot worse. I had a hive with laying workers last year, and they were mean, like chase you out of the bee yard making a noise like a possessed chainsaw mean. Before they went queenless, that hive could be worked in a t-shirt without smoke, so it came as quite the shock!

  • Anonymous

    I use to raise and race homing pigeons and my hobbu came to a crash when we released our birds in northern Wisconsin. My friend and I waited at the loft for the birds to return and at the end of the day only 5 birds came back of 20 we released! We talked to experts and found out that there is a “magnetic trouble spot” along the south shore where homing pigeons get confused and lost. We were heart broken and we from having 20 birds to 5 birds. So losing your hive reminded me those days of raising homing pigeons.

    Well you can start over next spring with new bees and a queen.

    Mike H.

  • momo

    I”m so sorry to hear about the Mimiko heartbreak. I hope the folks at the beekeeper meeting can shed some light on this. You do your best, and nature still presents us with these cycles of death.

  • Anonymous

    So very sorry. But you are obviously a very cool person to care the way you do and want to learn from this for the good of future bees. Almost typed ‘beez’ LOLbee style.

    Beez, ur doin it right.

  • Heidicrafts

    Our condolences to you and NBB and to Mr. Neil and the Fabulous Lorraine.

    That last photo… it looks like Bill has the most horrendous set of braces ever imagined by an orthodontist, though I assume it’s just another feeder in the background.

  • RuthieJ

    Hi Sharon,
    I’m sorry to hear the sad news about your beehive–the video was hard to watch.
    Will you let us know if you’re ever able to find out anything definitive about the hive failure?

    I’m thinking very strongly about investing in a couple of hives this fall (the catalog is laying open next to my home computer) and trying my hand at beekeeping. I have a 5-acre yard so enough space to have bees and monitor them right close to home.

  • ChicagoLady

    I’m so sorry about the loss of the MimiKo hive. Although I’m no fan of bees, I do appreciate the work they do for nature, and have been fascinated by your tales of starting the hives and working so hard to keep them healthy. Good luck in figuring out what went wrong.

  • birdchick

    You guys are all so sweet, thanks so much for the notes!

    liz jones – I hear ya. But when the hive goes right, it’s just so, so fun. As much as there are bummers, I wouldn’t trade any of my time with a beehive. I hope you try again.

    virginia – I am loving “chase you out of the bee yard making a noise like a possessed chainsaw mean”–best description ever. You know it is weird, because this is the hive that has always been friendliest, we hand fed them all the time and affectionately called them the stoner bees due to their friendly nature and lack of production.

    heidicrafts – lol! That is another mesh feeder behind him!

    ruthiej – I’ll update when I find out but GO FOR BEEKEEPING! Things will go wrong but things will go right. At the end of the day you’ll end up with some honey and some of the best natural history experiences of your life. There’s no one answer for beekeeping, you definitely have to shoot form the hip from time to time, but it’s one of the coolest things you can do.

    I HIGHLY recommend investing in a beekeeping short course if you can find one offered in your area. You will learn so much. Also, check out the forums at Beesource.com.

  • Liz Jones

    Yeah– I think we’re going to do it anyhow. Our old hives need replacing and we had a very crazy year, or we’d have rebee-ed last spring. I’m thinking winter is a great season for assembling new hives and foundation comb, and our local beekeeping community is running a seminar in February, so it will be a good time to introduce the kids to the basics. I always felt like the sheep were worth the trouble, even with the sad times, and well… coyotes don’t have much interest in gutting hives. So I think we’ll be buzzing around again soon!

    Are you going to replace MimiKo hive, or just get a new package of bees? I guess a lot of that will depend on the cause of the trouble, though. Hmm..

  • dguzman

    Aw, that’s terrible. Who knew Kelli hive could be so vicious?