How can you tell if your bees absconded or disappeared due to colony collapse disorder? Many similarities exist between the two and it can be confusing.
When a colony absconds, the entire colony leaves the hive including all the workers and the queen. The bees usually take everything with them, including the stored honey, and leave only the empty combs behind.
Bees that abscond usually leave for one or more of the following reasons:
- Lack of food
- Lack of water
- Loud and continuous noise
- Fires that cause prolonged exposure to smoke
- Bad odors in the hive
- Frequent disturbance
- Invasion by predators such as yellowjackets, small hive beetles, Argentine ants, or wax moths
- Parasites such as Varroa mites
- Diseases such as American foul brood
Colony collapse disorder also results in a hive without bees, but the circumstances are different. Although we still don’t know the specific cause of CCD, a collapsed colony has specific characteristics.
- Before a colony collapses it may contain much more brood than the small workforce can care for. In addition, the adult bees that are present are reluctant to take feed.
- Once the colony disappears, it may leave behind both capped brood and the queen. The hive may be full of stored food as well—honey, uncured nectar, and pollen are all abandoned.
- Then, after the collapse, a long period of time may elapse before the food stores and honeycombs are attacked by hive pests such as wax moths and small hive beetles.
Most of the time, especially in the spring, a new beekeeper is more likely to experience an absconding hive. A package of bees hived in brand new equipment may easily decide it would rather live somewhere else. Absconding also occurs frequently during a nectar dearth when food and water are scarce. In that case, the colony may decide to try its luck elsewhere.
However, when the bees disappear late in the year, when they leave lots of stores behind, when they leave brood behind, or when they seem to disappear without a trace, careful scrutiny is warranted. Yes, your particular bees may have absconded for some compelling reason and left some things behind. On the other hand, you should at least check for signs of CCD.