Why Do Bees Leave Their Hives?

Excellent beekeepers know how to be in tune with their colonies and understand the finesse of dealing with bees. This is why it’s especially painful when one finds their colony population decreasing, and realize that some bees have simply up and left their hive. What just happened? Why do some bees just decide to leave their hives?

There are two instances why some bees leave their hives — they either abscond or swarm. Here, we explain the different reasons why bees leave, and how you can avoid this happening to your beehives.

Consider these top points for why some bees leave their hives:

  • Abscond — due to overheating, lack of food, bad odors, or a poor location
  • Swarming — because of poor comb spacing, lack of supers, or improper super sequence.
  • Swarming is dangerous if your beehive is unable to raise a new queen.

When the House is Wrong, Bees Abscond

Absconding is when all of your bees abandon the hive in search of a new place to stay. There can be multiple reasons for bees to abscond, but it’s usually one of the following: 

  • Freshly caught bee swarms may simply fail to adjust to their new environment
  • Overheating
  • Lack of food
  • Bad odors
  • Untreated pest infestations
  • Erroneous beehive transportation can cause your bees to leave in search of their old home

The main idea here is that unhealthy beehives are at more risk of their bees absconding. This is simply their nature, to find a better place to survive.

How to Prevent Bees From Absconding

To keep a healthy colony and avoid absconding, you should:

  • Ventilation: Set your beehive in a well-ventilated place and monitor its temperature to avoid overheating
  • Clean: Periodically clean your beehive and its surroundings to guard against infestations and make sure there are no bad odors
  • Infestation: Monitor your colony for any signs of pest infestations such as beetles, ants, or mites, and quickly proceed with remedial steps
  • Study: Learn about the different types of infestations and make sure you take the necessary preventive measures

How to Prevent Bees From Absconding When in a New Location

You can, however, prevent bees absconding due to a change in location:

  • Relocation time: Choose a suitable time such as late in the afternoon or early in the evening when bees tend to stay inside
  • Well-fed: Feed your bees by spraying them with sugar water, and add tablets of pollen or a protein supplement
  • Queen: You may need to cage the queen bee for more rebellious swarms to avoid them leaving. This is a temporary precaution until they build enough combs for a sustainable beehive

Without Any Warning, Bees Can Go Swarming

Dissimilar to absconding, swarming is when some of the bees leave the beehive with their queen, leaving behind a significant population. This is a natural process that’s sometimes unavoidable. You can tell if your colony is about to swarm once you start noticing a large number of queen cell cups. This means the start of queen rearing, and an initial step in swarming. 

Colonies tend to send out swarms to spread out and populate in wider areas. Swarming is usually not a cause for concern since the remaining population simply raises a new queen, repopulates, and goes back to their normal lives.

The main point here is to make sure that they’re actually able to raise a new queen. Once the colony is queenless, the colony has no direction and control is lost. This can spell the end of the colony.

Another issue can happen for more adventurous colonies — such as Africanized bees — who send out too many swarms that can dangerously reduce the original colony’s population. In some instances, this can lead to the hive being robbed of its honey by larger, stronger colonies closeby.

Making Sure Your Colony Raises A New Queen

The first step is to check whether your hive is queenless or not. To do so, follow these telling signs for the existence of a queen in your hive:

  • Inspect for the presence of eggs, larvae, or capped brood
  • An increase in honey and pollen with no brood
  • Queen cells, together with a lack of brood, means your colony is trying to replace their queen

If you have just one of the above signs, test for the lack of a queen. Put a frame of young brood from any of your other colonies into the beehive under question. Then start monitoring the hive; if your bees start building queen cells on it, then you probably have a queenless colony on your hands.

How do you go about saving a queenless colony? If you’re not confident that your bees can muster up the power to raise a new queen, you can simply purchase a new queen and install it in the colony. Eliminate any queen cells before you install the queen then leave the hive undisturbed for a week.

Effective Methods to Reduce Swarming

Some beekeepers prefer to keep swarming to a minimum. To do so, you must first learn why bees swarm. This is a natural instinct but can be catalyzed by overcrowding, which is due to several reasons:

  • Lack of supers
  • Improper super sequence
  • Poor comb spacing
  • Poor ventilation
  • Combs filled with honey

To reduce swarming:

  • Overcrowding: Reduce overcrowding by rearranging brood chambers to make sure there’s sufficient space for brood rearing and honey storage.
  • Ventilation: Regularly inspect your beehive for any cracks or plugs that may decrease ventilation.
  • Improve honey quality: Supering is also a very effective technique to improve honey quality and keeping your bees from leaving.

Conclusion

Bees are generally quite loyal to their surroundings, so make sure you give them a homey beehive. Work on keeping it healthy, and they’ll be subsequently loyal to you. Once you understand the reasons why bees are leaving their hives, install preventative measures.

Even though swarming is a natural process of bees, you can ensure that the remaining colony is raising a new queen. This will ensure the survival of your beehives.

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