A beekeeper in Winnipeg sent some photos of her hives. Her bees are misbeehaving. They broke cluster at minus 8 degrees (around 20 F), masses of bees are hanging out at the entrance, and she wants to know why. Sadly, unusually high numbers of dead bees are lying in the snow near her hives. Here is the background: She has two colonies. Both were reasonably strong, but one, of course, was the star performer, the other just a bit weaker. Each were fed 25 kilos (55 pounds) of sugar dissolved in water in a thick solution. They also had autumn pollen supplements ten weeks ago. Mite counts were low and they were treated with formic acid in the early fall. They are queen-right and had a normal summer season.
I thought maybe skunks were the problem – or some other creature (or stress) was making the colonies come to the entrances and investigate. But when she sent the pictures I’ve posted here, I realized that’s not it. The beekeper is certain it is not a varmint (neither mouse, skunk, nor Winnie the Pooh or some other Winnipeg bear). The bees are guarded by fences and protected from the wind. Could it simply be that the bees became warm, are super-strong, and had to hang out? But then, why the dead near the entrance – and on the bottom board, as you see in the center photo below.
If you can guess why these winter-packed hives are suddenly hanging out like this on a cold wintery day, please send me a note.