New beekeepers are often left wondering what is going on when they check their beehive to find it empty. This phenomenon, known as absconding, can occur for many reasons. For the newbie beekeeper, finding an empty beehive can be disconcerting and very disappointing. This can be particularly so upon the realization that, in most cases, the reason a beehive is empty is due to uncomfortable conditions within.
Why Do Bees Abscond?
Absconding is not the same as swarming, which is when a colony will split into two with one group of bees leaving the hive with the queen and the rest staying behind to raise a new queen.
Absconding occurs when all of the bees, including the queen, will leave the hive because conditions have become unbearable. Unfortunately, young bees that do not yet have the ability to fly will typically be left behind, along with the unhatched brood. If you check your hive to find that there is only pollen, young bees, and the unhatched brood left, you can be pretty sure that something is wrong with your hive. Below are some of the reasons a hive can become uncomfortable for bees.
Bees do not like strong smells in their hive and may leave because of it. If you have recently purchased a new hive, it may smell strongly of wood, glue, paint, or a mixture thereof. Bees are unlikely to stay too long in a hive if they find the smell too strong.
To avoid this, make sure you purchase your beehive from a reputable supplier. If you are making your own hive, try to use odor-free glue and paint.
Temperatures that are too high or too low can also lead to absconding bees. When the weather is particularly hot, your bees may be uncomfortable in the hive and you might notice them remaining outside the hive more often. If the hive continues to be too hot, the bees might just leave. It is important, therefore, to ensure that your hive is well ventilated.
Conversely, low temperatures in the winter can be another cause for absconding. It is important that you protect the hive from frost and snow.
Lack of Forage
If your bees do not have access to sufficient amounts of food and water, they will definitely look for a new home. This is a particular problem when a hive is new. It is crucial that there are enough plants and water sources in the areas surrounding the hive, but you will also need to ensure that you are feeding the bees adequately.
It is best to provide plenty of sugar syrup, especially when you are first trying to establish a new colony. Raw honey is another good option for your bees as it provides them with all of the vitamins and minerals they will need. Nevertheless, unless you have honey from another hive, it is important that you only purchase raw honey from a trusted supplier as you will want to make sure you are not introducing any pests to your new colony. Which brings us on to…
Parasites and pests are a frequent problem for beekeepers. If these situations are not addressed as soon as possible, it can result in your bees leaving the hive for good. There are certain mites that will not only feed on the honey in the hive but will also infect your bee population, killing them off slowly. Pests can include tracheal and varroa mites as well as ants and wasps.
If you are wondering why your beehive is suddenly empty, it is essential to establish if there are any problems in the hive that have made life uncomfortable for your colony. Absconding is more common among new colonies that have not sufficiently established, but older colonies will also leave the hive if there are issues such as pests, lack of forage, and extreme temperatures.
It is vital that you monitor your new colony and offer up enough food and water until the bees can make sufficient amounts for themselves. Be alert to the signs of pests, and should you spot them, act immediately to prevent, at worst, the destruction of the colony, or else a mass evacuation.