Why did my Honey Bees Abscond?

Recently I have taken a number of calls from beekeepers who are telling me their bees have absconded. So what does mean and why is it happening?

Let’s look at what Absconding means first – This is when the entire colony leaves the hive, they will be preparing in advance of going, just like they would if they were swarming. The queen will be slimmed down so she can fly, the workers will have scouted for a new place to move to and they will fill their stomachs with honey when they go. But, unlike a swarm, the whole colony will go leaving not a single bee in the hive. You may find you still have some sealed brood and stores left behind but that will be all.

So, the next question is why have they gone? Well the truth is that there is still very little understood about why bees abscond. There are however some observations that can draw us to certain conclusions for individual cases. It is known that certain conditions have been present when bees have absconded:

  • Nectar dearth – a severe shortage in nectar flow which will inevitably see a reduction of stored food in a colony, especially a colony that is growing fast.
  • Predators – if the colony is constantly under attach by predators, this could be wasps, hornets, ants, wax moths etc
  • Constant disturbance – if the colony is constantly being disturbed by animals, humans or even noise, this can be a driver in seeing them move on.
  • Sever hot weather – overheating in the hive, especially a hive that is overcrowded.
  • Varroa – High levels of varroa cause a lot of stress on a colony.

Honeybees have a natural instinct for survival so you can see why the reasons above make sense – moving to a new home due to lack of forage in their current location, or being invaded by other insects does sound like a good plan! Equally if the bees were being constantly disturbed you can see why they may like it and decide to move home.

Hot weather will generally see our bees bearding. This is where they hang outside of the entrance of the hive. It has been reported, that in prolonged extreme temperatures, the bees have been known to leave the hive and not return. However I have heard of this happening in the UK.

The point about varroa is defiantly worth taking onboard. It is known that in un-managed colonies high levels of varroa have been found in whats left of the brood nest. So, it would not be wrong to suspect that the same can happen in managed colonies where the varroa levels are high too.

I hope that this in someway provides maybe an insight into what happened to your bees. There maybe somethings you can do to mitigate it happening again.