Queen sickness?

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boywonder

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Having kept bees for a number of years now, I think I have seen most things; at least to the extent that, when things start to happen at a colony (or bee) level, I can generally work out WHY.

This year not so, and it's becoming very dispiriting.

The first thing to say in general is that swarming has been off the scale, in spite of my best efforts, and in spite of most of my Queens having been 2021-mated and of known lineage.

Artificial swarms (mainly nuc method) have not generally suppressed the urge to swarm, and I have gone on to lose bees from both the queenright side (where the urge seems to have resurfaced after a couple of weeks), and the queenless side... having taken these down to one QC.

How so? Well, in at least three instances, I have had the queenless side raise a new queen, who has then come into lay, all looks well, but they have then started to pull new queen cells ... under the swarming instinct (not supersedure).

I am sure of that (i.e. swarming from brand new Queens). Weird.

I am, in tandem with this "super-swarming", now starting to see the demise of a number of these colonies. Queens are failing at an unprecedented rate, which includes turning drone laying (in one case), dying or otherwise disappearing.

In fact, I currently have four colonies on my hands where a new queen has been recently seen and has been laying well, where she has then stopped laying and vanished. In only one of those do I have emergency cells (why the emergency instinct has not kicked in in the other three, I don't know, but I am guessing that they just didn't have young enough larvae to work from).

Clearly, I'm then into the realms of introducing test frames etc...

All my brood and bees look otherwise healthy.

On all counts, I am struggling to fathom out what is happening this year both to induce the swarming, and the queen demise.

It's plainly not the weather, which has been good, and should not have inhibited successful mating (either in the latter part of the 2021 season or any of this year).

Other mating issues (e.g. scant or misfiring drones) may be playing a part, I guess, but do not account for the dying / disappearing queens.

In fact, all signals point to me to dodgy/sick queens.

Any thoughts / ideas ? Does any of this resonate ?? I'd be interested to know. Cheers.
 

jenkinsbrynmair

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How do you tell the difference?
I am, in tandem with this "super-swarming", now starting to see the demise of a number of these colonies. Queens are failing at an unprecedented rate, which includes turning drone laying (in one case), dying or otherwise disappearing
To me, it looks more like the bees weren't happy with the new queen and were drawing QCs as insurance
 

boywonder

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How do you tell the difference?
... Basically the end result, JBM, where they issue cast swarm upon cast swarm... instead of just superseding and cracking on with it.

I am well beyond being overly influenced by the look/location/number of cells as to their cause/purpose. Like I say, it's just been swarming madness for me this year.
To me, it looks more like the bees weren't happy with the new queen and were drawing QCs as insurance
I tend to agree JBM, but the sheer number of "crap queens" is my main cause for concern. There's just no reason why.
 

Leigh

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I've been asking myself the same question, specifically apparently good 2022 queens suddenly disappearing, often surprising the colony (evidenced by emergency cells rather than supercedure). Saw this too last year, but 2021 Spring so was weird, I just put it down to that.

I've seen queens that look distressed (abdomens rapidly cycling...a bit like panting...see video) and unsteady on their feet....previously healthy and laying very well. Time will tell, but something may be afoot....hopefully wrong and it is just a quirk of the season. I suppose the more hives you run, the more "odd" things you see, but even so, the number of disappearances seem high.
 

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gwt_uk

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Having kept bees for a number of years now, I think I have seen most things; at least to the extent that, when things start to happen at a colony (or bee) level, I can generally work out WHY.

This year not so, and it's becoming very dispiriting.

The first thing to say in general is that swarming has been off the scale, in spite of my best efforts, and in spite of most of my Queens having been 2021-mated and of known lineage.

Artificial swarms (mainly nuc method) have not generally suppressed the urge to swarm, and I have gone on to lose bees from both the queenright side (where the urge seems to have resurfaced after a couple of weeks), and the queenless side... having taken these down to one QC.

How so? Well, in at least three instances, I have had the queenless side raise a new queen, who has then come into lay, all looks well, but they have then started to pull new queen cells ... under the swarming instinct (not supersedure).

I am sure of that (i.e. swarming from brand new Queens). Weird.

I am, in tandem with this "super-swarming", now starting to see the demise of a number of these colonies. Queens are failing at an unprecedented rate, which includes turning drone laying (in one case), dying or otherwise disappearing.

In fact, I currently have four colonies on my hands where a new queen has been recently seen and has been laying well, where she has then stopped laying and vanished. In only one of those do I have emergency cells (why the emergency instinct has not kicked in in the other three, I don't know, but I am guessing that they just didn't have young enough larvae to work from).

Clearly, I'm then into the realms of introducing test frames etc...

All my brood and bees look otherwise healthy.

On all counts, I am struggling to fathom out what is happening this year both to induce the swarming, and the queen demise.

It's plainly not the weather, which has been good, and should not have inhibited successful mating (either in the latter part of the 2021 season or any of this year).

Other mating issues (e.g. scant or misfiring drones) may be playing a part, I guess, but do not account for the dying / disappearing queens.

In fact, all signals point to me to dodgy/sick queens.

Any thoughts / ideas ? Does any of this resonate ?? I'd be interested to know. Cheers.
It certainly has been an odd season. Lots of swarming! Out of 6 colonies only one didn’t try and swarm. I have had 2 colonies which produced new queens which were mated and started lying then disappeared. I have had to buy in new queens to replace them. Another colony hatched a new queen about 3 weeks ago looks to have now drawn emergency cells when I inspected them on Thursday. Perhaps the queen didn’t make it back from a mating flight?!
 

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Ive had 2 Queens in the teaching apiary tha have swarmed TWICE already and one is looking like it might be going for swarm no. 3!
 

Erichalfbee

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I’ve had a swarm go on two frames of brood and one queen cell. I’m presuming that’s what it is but I’ve removed the QC and put in a test frame just in case
 

boywonder

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Just an update on this, having done another full inspection today. I find I have lost a further 2 queens, and have another colony turn drone laying.

Two weeks ago, whilst not showing huge vigour, both the queen-losses had young, laying queens (the one in the poly was a 2022 queen, arising from a swarming event in that box in early May; the one in the cedar a late 2021 queen who showed early promise, and where I did a demaree to preempt a swarm - but whose vigour had tailed off latterly).

The first has died/vanished mysteriously. The second may have issued a swarm (there are a couple of uncapped cells, the purpose of which it is difficult to determine). There is a miniscule chance there is a VQ in that one, but I doubt it.

... I say that, mainly because when I am opening these boxes, I am greeted by the sad, sad sights below....

PXL_20220626_142855984.jpg

PXL_20220626_155728234.MP_2.jpg

... Barely any bees. Note the poo on the top bars of the poly. Whilst I have not tested for it, I certainly think Nosema is implicated. Some coming out of the winter never really kicked-on.

Note also the bee(s) with K wings on the top bar. There are plenty of these (e.g.).

PXL_20220626_165431001.MP_2.jpg

With no laying queen in situ, I am seeing constant and desperate attempts of various sorts to raise emergency queens in these colonies...

PXL_20220626_154247383.MP.jpg
PXL_20220626_165434138.jpg

PXL_20220626_160703598.jpg

....and a nice bit of bald brood...

PXL_20220626_161838044.jpg

... chalkbrood ...

PXL_20220626_160923531.MP.jpg

...and the odd weird sight. I suspect the goo is from the cell cleaning efforts of a house bee:

PXL_20220626_145308716.MP.jpg

PXL_20220626_160918267.MP.jpg

I have spent a lot of time today satisfying myself that there is no notifiable brood disease at play.

I don't rate my husbandry practices as bad, but there is clearly some kind of perfect storm of factors which have aggressively converged to mean that I am:

- irretrievably losing queens, hand over fist - both to swarming, but I suspect mainly to disease or regicide
- seeing decent colonies collapse in the space of a couple of weeks


Again, any thoughts welcome. I am going to dissect for tracheal mites in the coming days.

In the absence of notifiable disease, I am probably not going to be able to avail myself of the SBI (I understand we have some kind of limited maternity contingency in our region at present).

Failing that, my plan is simply to -
  • Stay vigilant
  • Stay hygienic
  • Be prepared to write off colonies
  • Treat all with MAQS in late summer (formic being good vs. tracheal mites, I think the NBU say)
  • Feed, insulate etc... liberally to get them through the winter
  • Early 2023 shook-swarm all survivors
Dark days!
 

boywonder

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that will do the job of finishing the poor buggers off.

First thing I'd do is have a good look at varroa levels.

Monitoring for varroa, for sure, JBM - for sure. I need to do that apiary-wide, and it might explain the swift vectoring of virus (of which there is evidence).

It's too late for the colonies in this state IMHO. I have some new Queens I've reared, and assuming they don't go down the swanny in a similar way I feel they are better invested in making up new nucs, than trying to introduce them into hives in that state to try and salvage them.

Only robust colonies are going to stand a MAQS treatment, anyhow. Time to show no mercy.

By shook swarming, my thinking would be that only my healthy colonies would make it through anyway (and they're not all duffers (yet) - I have one with 6 full supers on at present)... The shook swarming would be to help prevent issues becoming endemic by getting the bees onto fresh comb and completely clean boxes. A full 2023 're-boot' if you will.
 
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Ive had 2 Queens in the teaching apiary tha have swarmed TWICE already and one is looking like it might be going for swarm no. 3!
A few years ago I purchased a couple of queens from a well known Buckfast breeder, queen cells were produced in the first round of egg laying, When I told the vendor, the reply was "you have Nosema in your hives " (bull) I enquired around and apparently this was the standard reply that others got too.
 

EastEndBees

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I’d be quite minded to do a shook swarm now - something’s not going right within those hives and I don’t think they’ll make it through the winter. I’d take my best remaining queen in the affected hives, cage her up and then shake off the bees from all affected hives into a suitable container with the queen (I use 25kg honey buckets where I cut out sections on the side and hot glue varroa mesh on it for ventilation, plus a good amount of varrroa mesh under the lid that they can hold on to and which covers a hole in the lid where you can feed 1:1 sugar water from a jar with a pierced lid).
I’d then keep that in a cool place for 2 days and in the morning of the third place it into a brood box full of foundation and open the queen cage (but stick some fondant in). If you keep feeding and they are otherwise healthy they should go into winter a decent size - we make shook swarms in late July and they thrive! It would be perfect if you could do a varroa treatment of your choice before the first brood is capped
I’d also discard all the frames from the affected hives and give the boxes, floors and other parts a really good scrub with caustic soda (do wear gloves!).
My thinking is better try save one now and give it as healthy a start as you can than try overwintering a couple sickly hives which might spread whatever it is to your healthy ones and have little chance of surviving winter…
you can of course do that with your other hives now as well without the trip into the bucket by just taking everything out and replacing it with a box of foundation. I’d be minded to do it this month rather than early next year - why wait if you plan on doing it anyways. You can treat super effectively for varroa then and give them a great platform to perform well next spring, without affecting your honey harvest next year. Just keep feeding small amounts and they’ll thrive!
 
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Well I'm just about ready here for a conspiracy theory involving gangs of roaming queen rustlers... Someone has only to lay a little patch of eggs it seems before several queen cells appear and the laying queen isn't to be seen. I don't understand what is going on out there. I treated a hive which had a bad case of CBPV with Apiguard and they're still going, but the same thing has just happened with them after brood break which I put down to the lack of nectar we had. I may as well vape the others which have queen cells but what else to do? (Like you Boywonder, no sign of notifiable disease.) It's been a hideous year so far.
 

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Well I'm just about ready here for a conspiracy theory involving gangs of roaming queen rustlers... Someone has only to lay a little patch of eggs it seems before several queen cells appear and the laying queen isn't to be seen. I don't understand what is going on out there.

This, this, this and this ... Much more succinctly put than me.

In my despair and confusion I had considered the likelihood of "queen rustlers" !

I had previously tried to locate and get to grips with materials on the increasing cases of both queen failure and colony collapse in the UK, but have emerged none the wiser. I know the likes of Roger Patterson have an angle on this. I think, once the stats are complied, the science has caught up and we have the benefit of looking back, history might show this period to be some kind of turning point in UK beekeeping, much like the arrival of varroa, back in the 80s. That's my hunch.
 

jenkinsbrynmair

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I had previously tried to locate and get to grips with materials on the increasing cases of both queen failure and colony collapse in the UK, but have emerged none the wiser. I know the likes of Roger Patterson have an angle on this. I think,
But it always boils down to theories with no foundation, and no real proof it's actually happening, like the perennial guff of queens not mating properly any more, people conflating an isolated incident in one apiary to it being a nationwide 'problem'
Well I'm just about ready here for a conspiracy theory involving gangs of roaming queen rustlers
well, they have them in Anglesey apparently - they do it in the dark of night
 

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Is a lot of 'queen failure' is attributed to the local drone population, or lack thereof?

i was slightly dismayed to see in our area/association magazine a group advocating the forking out of drone brood, all in the name of varroa removal and IPM. Surely by the time the bees are raising the critical winter bees, any varroa removed by drone removal earlier in the year will have been replaced?

Couple that with hives stuffed with only worker foundation, we really are doing our best to mess with half of the genetics!
 

jenkinsbrynmair

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i was slightly dismayed to see in our area/association magazine a group advocating the forking out of drone brood, all in the name of varroa removal and IPM
The usual BBKA mantra, based on ignorance, achieves nothing, and has little effect on varroa
Couple that with hives stuffed with only worker foundation, we really are doing our best to mess with half of the genetics!
the fact it's worker foundation matters not a jot to the bees, they will just re-engineer it to whatever size they want to meet their 20% or so drone population, I have some frames in my hives which started as worker foundation but is now 80% drone
 

TomH

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The usual BBKA mantra, based on ignorance, achieves nothing, and has little effect on varroa
I'm awaiting next months' article complaining about poorly mated queens now! :hairpull:

the fact it's worker foundation matters not a jot to the bees, they will just re-engineer it to whatever size they want to meet their 20% or so drone population, I have some frames in my hives which started as worker foundation but is now 80% drone
Ah interesting. I've been alternating full sheets of worker and starter strips in my BBs, finding the starter strips are invariably drawn as predominantly drone comb, guess it's easier going.

Been reading some interesting papers about the role of drones in thermoregulation of the colony and brood, so perhaps not just the mindless/useless sex machines the mantra would have you believe.
 

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