Why New Bees Leave the Hive
Beekeeping for beginners isn’t always easy. A new beekeeper spends a lot of time and money getting ready for bee arrival. Imagine the heartbreak of going out to the hive to check on your new bees and they are gone! This leaves the beekeeper wondering why new bees leave the hive?
It is natural for a new beekeeper to think they have made a mistake. Did you do something that caused the bees to leave the hive you had created for them?
Yes, it is possible. But that is not always the case. Our bees do some things that seem strange to us sometimes.
When a colony of bees leave the hive, we call this absconding. It is different than swarming.
Swarming bees leave the old hive to create a new home elsewhere. A swarm is usually about half the population of bees.
And, about half the population stays in the original hive. Therefore, you don’t have a completely empty hive.
Sometimes established hives of bees leave the hive (abscond). This is usually due to pest issues or other conditions that the bees dislike. Thankfully, this does not happen often.
It is especially upsetting for the new beekeeper to have a package of bees abscond. Not a very good introduction to raising bees or hoping for honey.
Reasons New Packages of Bees Leave
An Extra Queen in the Package
Package bees are not true swarms. In natural swarming a colony prepares to swarm for weeks in advance.
Commercial bee packages are made by shaking excess workers (and drones) from large populous colonies.
The bees in your package may come from several different colonies. They will them be given a new caged queen to complete the bee family.
Bee farm staff removes the queen from the populous colonies before shaking. But sometimes mistakes happen.
A mated queen can end up in your package of bees. This happen to me one time. I saw a marked queen loose in the bees as I poured them in.
This allowed me to leave her in there for the new colony and use the caged queen somewhere else.
But if you have a loose queen, it is possible that the package my just decide to leave.
Don’t over-stress about this. It is not a common occurrence but it is one possibility for why bees leave all at once.
Package Bees Release the Queen and Leave
Your new package of bees is installed and everything looks okay. The next morning, you see bee flight in front of the hive.
Bees bringing in colorful balls of pollen on their hind legs. All is well in the bee yard.
Then, a few days later you notice a lack of bee flight. You open the hive to find “NOTHING”.
All of the bees are gone – even including the queen bee that has been released from the cage!
Thankfully, this doesn’t happen a lot either. And we don’t have one perfect reason for why this happens.
We only know that the bees did not like the setup for some reason. So as soon as they released the queen, they set out for better accommodations.
Most beekeepers (myself included) allow the queen bee to be released naturally. The queen cage will have a white candy substance in one end.
Over the first few days (3-5) the bees eat the candy and allow the queen to exit.
This time period gives the colony time to get used to the queens pheromones and accept her.
If you are very concerned about your bees leaving, you could keep a cork in both ends of the queen cage.
Then, you would go into the colony after 7 days and release the queen yourself.
Once the bees have begun to drawn out comb, they are less likely to leave. The disadvantages to this method is that you have to open the hive twice and you are delaying egg laying for a few days.
Tips to Discourage Absconding Bees
Prepare your beehive weeks before your new bees arrive. Make sure your box doesn’t smell funky. Painting the hive and any gluing of parts should be done well in advance.
Do you have other beehives in your bee yard? Can you “borrow” a frame with a little brood.
If you have access to a frame of brood (baby bees) this is a big plus. Honey bees are very serious about raising young.
This is one of the best ways (and my favorite) to keep bees in the hive. It is rare for bees to leave healthy brood.
If you are a new beekeeper without other hives, maybe you can buy a frame of brood from another beekeeper.
Using queen excluders on the front of the hive for a few days is a method used by some beekeepers. A strip of metal queen excluder blocks the front.
The bees won’t leave without their queen. Once the bees have settled in, it is removed.
I am not a fan of this method. First of all, sometimes young small queens can get through the excluder.
Also, the excluder traps drone bees inside or outside of the colony. I don’t use this method in my apiary. It seems rather inhospitable.
Making the Bees Feel at Home
Thankfully, having new bees leave the hive is not a common occurrence. In addition to having their hive ready you can also prepare a feeder.
Bees are not lazy but they can benefit from supplemental feeding.
Don’t aggravate your bees by looking in the hive every day. This stress can cause a bee colony to seek better conditions.
Reduce your hive entrance. In nature, bees normally move into places with a small easy to defend entrance.
Some beekeepers suggest that those of us with screened bottom boards should close it with the IPM board.
This gives the new package a more protected feeling for the first couple of weeks. I have not tried this but I understand the reasoning behind it.
There will be times in beekeeping when we never understand bee behavior. We know a lot of facts about honey bees but still have a lot to learn.
Do your best but don’t beat yourself up over failures. The more you learn, the better beekeeper you will become.