Winter Hive Loss - Reno, Nevada

by Lynne
(Reno, Nevada)

I'm pretty much a new-bee. I captured a swarm last May. They did well all summer. They had most of the 10 frames built up before fall so I added a deep super. Temps were still mild and some forage available. We had a cold front early fall and temps fell where I live into the teens. Then most of the fall was normal temps followed by a milder winter then normal. Bees started getting active early February. We have had warm days and very cold days.

I did not want to open the hive when it was cold, so I had been concerned all winter about what the temps in the teens could have done to them. When I saw some activity early on I was hopeful that they survived.

Last week I noticed that there was very little activity so I checked the hive and there was no life :(.

I have not taken anything out yet to see if there would be any problem with mites etc. There was still plenty of honey storage so I don't think that they ran out of food supply.

My first thoughts are that the very cold temp caught them off guard since it was 50's during the day then down to 13 that night?? Or, maybe it really didn't need the deep super added at that time and they weren't able to keep warm enough.

Please, any help will be appreciated.
Thank you


Hi Lynne,

Sorry that your hive didn't make it. Unfortunately though, that's part of beekeeping. I hope you won't let it discourage you from continuing.

I'm afraid, though, that I'm not going to be able to be of much help in trying to diagnose what happened. That's tough to do without being able to see the hive and with just minimal info. But I do have a few thoughts for you.

These days, as you know, there are many things that could cause the death of a colony. But as I was reading your narrative, my first thought was that the hive starved. The very cold temperatures you reported would make that even more likely.

You wrote that there was plenty of stored honey, but did you mean that there was plenty in the fall? Or did you actually see honey remaining in the hive after it died? If you didn't see honey remaining in the hive (unless there was time for them to be robbed out before you looked inside), then my guess would still be that they starved.

Failing that, it could be Nosema, mites, or a number of other possibilities. I just can't say for certain.

I can tell you, though, that it likely wasn't the cold temperatures that killed them. Bees can survive incredibly cold temperatures as long as they have enough food.

What can sometimes happen is that after the bees have expanded brood rearing in the early spring, a late cold snap can exceed the bees' ability to keep the expanded brood nest warm enough. When that happens, some brood may be chilled and die. (If that happened, there's a good chance you'd be able to see the removed larvae on the ground in front of the hive).

That wouldn't kill off the hive, though; it would just set back their brood rearing a bit.

You also wondered about the second super, but that wouldn't impact the bees' ability to stay warm enough. They survive cold temps by clustering, and keeping the interior of the cluster warm. They don't heat the interior air of the entire hive.

So even if they had more room than they needed, that shouldn't matter. As long as they had enough honey, and enough of a population to maintain a sufficient cluster, the amount of space inside the hive would essentially be a non-factor.

I know I wasn't able to answer your specific question, but hopefully this helps a little.

Good luck!

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