In an unexpected turn of events, the Oklahoma open-air colony I wrote about last week absconded from its nest. Even more surprising, the parent colony, the one that had lived for many years in the hollow of an oak tree on the far side of the pasture, absconded at roughly the same time.
Lorieann Bradley, who sent the original photos, told the story:
I am heartbroken! All of the bees have absconded! I have no idea why they left or where they went. I saw them every day when I fed my chickens.
On the 24th, when I saw that the comb was empty, I noticed a small swarm on the end of the limb about 6-7 feet away from the comb. It was terribly hot the last few days. I thought the bees may have gotten too hot, being crowded on the comb, and were spreading out to cool themselves off. Hoping they would go back to the comb when it cooled off, I went down to check on them after dark. They were still on the end of the limb.
Today, the 25th, there was not a single bee left on the limb! I did find just a couple of dead bees, and one barely alive bee on the ground. No sign of any others!
I made it a point to go across the pasture to check on the original colony… THEY ARE GONE!!! No bees anywhere!
The question is why
This is nothing if not unusual. Absconding colonies are not very common, but to have two abscond at the same time is just plain weird.
When a colony of honey bees absconds, it is usually due to some uncomfortable condition. The bees may leave due to lack of food, frequent disturbance, loud noises, overheating, bad odors, parasites, predators, or the presence of chemicals.
Lorieann did mention the oppressive heat, and that is the only thing that seems to make sense, although we will never know for sure.
Honey Bee Suite