Seems all the bees are gone - Four days after package install

by michele pence
(white plains, MD)

I installed my package of bees 4 days ago. All went well. Been watching them hang out and fly around. This evening I went out to see if the queen was released and check on the sugar water level. When I took off the top feeder and peeped inside, I did not see many bees... The queen and attendants were released. I believe I saw them on a frame with good comb built. But I did not see many bees at all. Lots of dead one on the floor, which I think were from shaking the package into the hive. The sun was going down, still 65 degrees outside. I expected to see plenty of bees heading in for the night. Will they come back? Is this normal?

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Hi Michele,

Congratulations on getting started in beekeeping. But I hope you're not getting off to a rough start!

I can't say for sure whether you have a problem on your hands, since I'm not sure what "not many bees" actually amounts to. It's one of those situations that's kind of hard to evaluate without a firsthand look, or without a more detailed description.

From what you've told me, though, I would be a little worried.

The evidence of comb building is a good sign, and would be expected after 4 days. But the dead bees on the hive floor is not a good sign.

Shaking the bees into the hive would not have caused that. And though there almost certainly were some dead bees in the package (that's normal), they shouldn't be in the hive at this point. Any dead bees in the package, or that were accidentally killed during the installation, should long since have been carried from the hive by housekeeping bees. So I fear you might have a problem.

What that problem might be, I can't say. But one possibility that comes to mind when there's a sudden, large loss of bees is pesticide poisoning. After 4 days, your bees will have been actively foraging. And it's possible that they could have carried some contaminated nectar or pollen back to the hive.

The only action I can recommend at this stage is just to watch closely, and see what develops. I would also recommend contacting the package supplier. Describe to them in detail what you're seeing, and ask whether other customers have reported a similar problem. (If the problem is pesticide poisoning, it's possible - though unlikely - that could have occurred before the bees were shipped.)

Please let us know how it turns out, and best of luck!

Note: It's also possible for a newly hived swarm or package to decide that their new home isn't suitable, and abandon the hive. It's called absconding. It's very rare with packaged bees; less rare with swarms.

I don't think that applies in your case, though. If that had happened, you'd see NO bees - or at most just a few stragglers. My impression was that you had seen more bees than would be left behind in the case of a colony that had absconded. It's also unlikely that lots of dead bees would have been left behind; the bees would have been keeping house per normal until shortly before they left the hive.

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