Dead Bees and Dysentry

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House Bee
May 20, 2009
Reaction score
SE Scotland
Hive Type
Number of Hives
Its been really sunny up here the last couple of days, and so I went up to the apiary to check on the bees.

1st hive seems fine, not a lot of activity, but some bees flying short trips near the entrance, and a quick glance showed they're not running low on stocks, so they'll keep for a few more weeks til it warms up enough to start feeding them.

There was no activity on the other hive though (last seen at the start of January when I did an oxalic acid trickle).

On inspection the bees are dead, the stores are mostly untouched, but there is an awful lot of staining across the tops of the frames. I've not had time to do anything with this hive, so have just sealed it up for now to sort out later this week. It was a weak colony going into winter, with a late supersedure queen, so I'm hoping its just 'one of those things' rather than something nastier like Nosema C. Certainly, there are no signs of it i the other hive nearby. I'll hopefully be able to send some bees off as a sample for testing soon.

Whats the best way to sterilise equipment to re-use it? This is a polystyrene hive, so I'm not sure if acetic acid will be safe to use on it? Are there any other good cleaning agents out there? Also, should I sterilise and re-use the frames (and the wax?), or just consign them all to being burnt and just use the wax for candles?
Hi match,
Does your local association have a microscopists? If so then they should bee able to carry out the test for Nosema for you.

Another alternative is to send them to me and I will carry out the test but I must add I can't tell the difference between N, apis and N. ceranae I would only be able to inform you of if there was an infection. All the best.

Hi match,
Does your local association have a microscopists? If so then they should bee able to carry out the test for Nosema for you.

Another alternative is to send them to me and I will carry out the test

There are a few beekeepers in the local association who have done a microscopy course - however I'm lucky in a sense I work at the Science Campus of a university, so can probably find someone here who'll happily lend me a microscope so I can plate up some bee guts and have a look. The process seems relatively straight-forward (if I can remember my microscopy stuff from school):

(do tell me if thats wrong though!) :)

Your offer of having a look for me is very kind though, and I may call on it if I can't get it done locally - thanks! :cheers2:
You can just grind up complete bees, legs, wings and all - it is not essential to separate the abdomen - but if you only have one sample to process it would preferable.
I used to put my soiled frames after winter in wooden brood bodies and put acetic acid on top of each box. Seemed to work well enough.

I didn't use poly boxes as they were always in use.

Sorry to hear though that you have to ask for this info it's always a blow and a bit dispiriting.

Hi Match

I clean up poly hives with a warm caustic soda solution in a large planting tray, then it's simply a case of scrub/dip and elbow grease. A hose with a spray nossel to wash off after is ideal.

As to the frames it's your time/money, second frames from Thornes work out very cheap(55p-ish) and stick the wax in the melter.

Acetic is a great treatment in piles of boxes whilst being stored, but I really would not bother treating frames from dead-outs.

Regards Ian
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Warm caustic soda is a very good way of sterilising and cleaning poly hives. Don't make it too strong (5%) or it will take the paint off. Farm suppliers will sell you elbow length rubber gloves and disposable aprons which are strongly recommended - plus eye protection, old clothes, dogs and children under lock and key etc.

The alternative is Vircon "S" which you can buy from the same farm supply shops and also some vets. It is used by horsey people amongst others - presumably for cleaning horsey things, or perhaps themselves. Go for the 25g satchets. The big tins will cost more than the hive did. It has the advantage it will kill all the bugs but leave the paint and your skin intact, but it won't clean as well as caustic soda and to be doubly sure you do need to remove as much wax and propolis as well.
Just a follow-up... I took a sample of around 50 bees from the hive to my friendly biology department and had a good look under the microscope, both at individual guts, and at a mixture of many crushed bees. In no case did we see anything that looked like nosema, though it was very interesting looking at bee parts, pollen grains and other exciting things!

Further inspection of the hive frames has shown small patches of mould starting to grow on areas of stored honey. This can only mean that the bees didn't get their honey/syrup 'dry' enough for winter, and that the cause of their dysentery was probably fermentation. Given it was quite a small colony, and winter got cold quite quickly, they probably just didn't have enough time to make enough heat to get all the work done :(

But at least I know that I can give the equipment a good clean and put it back into use, without the need for stringent treatments for nosema.

Thanks to everyone for all the useful advice!
Have you managed to get a small honey sample from a couple of cell's and tested with a refractometer for water content?

I realise that it is a long shot,but if you take a sample from a few combs it would give you an idea.
Do the combs smell a little yeasty?
If it was a weak colony- could it have just been the cold.
Not sufficient bees to maintain heat to survive. I have seen 4 like that local to me and all died from cold. But that chap didn't put any insulation on the top of the hive and had an empty super and an eke over the brood :ack2:- such heat loss.
In that case there should be no need to sterilise to such a degree as no disease.
Heather the cold does not kill the bees.
I put a swarm into a skep one year and left it to its own devices for the coming winter. I did check that they had enpough stores to last them for the winter period and that was it I did not look at them untill March although I did see them out flying before my other hives, The weather during that winter was -5 -6 at times here in the Fens, and the bees were fine in March when I changed them to a hive. So the cold does not kill bees. Its other factors combined together that kills the bees.

The colonies I witnessed were 3 frames of bees -all individually holding on to the comb- with food there - all dead. None covering each other . And a skep is cosy - this was like lying in the London dome- so much air above them
No sign of any disease but I will look at them under a scope (if he hasnt shovelled them off). There was no damp in the hive -just a sad sight.
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It wasn't the cold that killed them - it was indeed a combination of factors. Probably lack of warmth and not enough bees.

Regards, RAB
Thought that is what I inferred. Small colony and lack of warmth.
A :grouphug: wasn't available for them

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