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Our Honeybees Died and New Honeybees Moved In

The strangest thing happened this spring. Both of our hives of honeybees, which had survived the extreme cold this past winter (it got down to 9 degrees F, the coldest it's ever been here), died when spring came. I think their numbers just grew too small to keep warm with our cold weather in the spring. After discovering that the first hive of bees had died, we went into the second hive, which seemed like it was still going. But, what I discovered in the second hive was a dead cluster of the original bees surrounding the lower frames and a new cluster of living bees in the top box of the hive. The cluster of living bees in the top of the hive look different from the original bees. They are slightly darker, larger, and more robust-looking. I think they moved in during warmer weather in the middle of spring. I believe they were actually robbing the other hive, too, as the first hive was empty of honey but had bees coming in and out when we discovered the dead colony inside. The reason we went into the hive, to begin with, was that the behavior of the bees seemed different. The robbing had been going on for several weeks, we think, based on when we noticed their behavior had changed and when it was warm enough outside to actually open the hive and see what was going on. Two weeks is plenty long for a new colony of bees to rob all the honey. At least these robbers took the honey to our other hive.

So, what we are now left with is a very small colony of new bees and nearly empty frames of honey in one hive. These bees are probably natives of this area that either lost their home in the spring or were a swarm from a larger hive. I've been feeding them sugar water since their hive is low on honey at this point. I'm not sure how well they will survive since they are such a small colony.

We are sad to have lost both of the original colonies of bees and all our honey, too. We didn't extract any honey last fall because we wanted to give the bees enough to eat so they could overwinter. I won't make that choice again because it surely seems like honeybees surviving the cold season in these parts is pretty slim. I'd rather take some honey and give them sugar supplements.

Below are a few photos of the new honeybees that took over the second hive. These are just the ones that were at the entrance before we went into the hive.

When I went into the hive and found the dead bees in the bottom, I took away the entire bottom box and dumped out all the dead bees that were on the bottom board. There must have been 10,000 dead bees. The larger, robust-looking bees that were alive in the top box came out and pelted my bee suit furiously, angry that I was tearing up their home. My husband tried to calm them by waving smoke from the smoker all around, to no avail. They were pissed off. I quickly put their home back together, all cleaned up. Then, I put a feeder at the lower entrance so it's easy to give them sugar water without having to open the hive. They can still come and go using the upper entrance when the sugar water is in the lower opening.