Yesterday I received a phone call from a friend who keeps one of my hives on her property. “I don’t see any bees,” she said, “and all the flowers are in bloom.”
I last inspected that hive a little over a week ago. It had overwintered nicely, had two deep very populous brood boxes, and a field force that was “going for bear,” as the locals say. I had been thinking about how I was going to manage it—section boxes or shallow supers.
When I turned into her long gravel drive, I was awed by the beauty of the meadow in front of her home. Cerulean camas in full bloom made it look like a mountain lake rather than a field. The acreage was bordered on one side by pine trees, and a dusting of tall golden buttercups ran along the split rail fence next to the road.
Once parked, I grabbed my hive tool and approached the hive from the back, but I instantly knew there was trouble. A huge pile of dead bees lie in front of the hive. I ran my hive tool through the pile. It was light and fluffy all the way to the bottom which meant two things: the bees died recently and they died all at once. If the bees had died over time, the pile would have compressed on the bottom and started to decompose.
I dismantled the hive and found the bottom board and slatted rack covered with another fluffy pile. There was plenty of pollen and honey, and no bees in the “starvation position” with heads buried in empty cells. There were no signs of Nosema or dysentery, no chalkbrood, no sign of foulbrood, no mold. There were no supersedure cells and plenty of brood, so it wasn’t queenless.
I sifted through the bees more carefully. They were mostly young, having lots of “fur” still on their backs. About 10% of the bees were drones—about right for this time of year. By this time I was fairly certain it was a pesticide kill, but with bees there is always room for doubt.
I began piling my equipment in the pickup when I spotted something that erased all doubt in my mind. Under the hive stand a hornet had started building a nest. It was still very small, containing only five cells. Right next to it, the hornet queen lie on her back with all six legs in the air. I picked her up. She looked healthy and young. I felt bad for her too. I can think of nothing that will kill both bees and hornets so fast and efficiently as a pesticide.
I don’t know where it came from or how it happened, although I have a couple of theories. But that is a story for another day.