honey bee behavior

Why do honey bees swarm (or abscond) in the fall?

A swarm in a tree. Absconding and swarming are very different.

While swarming is a form of reproduction, absconding results from colony stress. In the fall, what appears to be swarming is often absconding.

It is fall, perhaps September, and suddenly you see your hive swarm. What is going on? Why would a colony swarm just before winter?

Sadly, what you are seeing is more likely absconding. Absconding is the word used when a colony of honey bees leaves its home in search of another. It is not the same as swarming.

When a colony swarms, it splits into two parts: one part stays in the old home and one part finds a new home. Swarming is a form of reproduction. But when a colony absconds, the entire colony (or most of it) leaves and finds a new home—there is no increase in the total number of colonies.

Sometimes the bees leave in a large group that looks like a swarm. At other times, the bees leave in smaller groups over a number of days. They may even leave one at a time.

Absconding is not well understood

Absconding is another of those honey bee behaviors that is not completely understood, but we can draw some conclusions based on repeated observations. Usually at least one of the following conditions exists in a hive before a colony absconds in the fall:

  • There is a severe nectar dearth resulting in a shortage of stored food

  • There has been excessive disturbance from interlopers such as skunks, beekeepers, or even consistent noise

  • The hive is extremely hot due to the weather or severe overcrowding

In general, the environmental conditions in the hive became too stressful for the bees. Somehow they sensed they had little chance of surviving in the present circumstances and decided to leave.

Absconding is a process

Much like swarming, absconding is a process. Preparations are made well in advance of “moving day.” Usually, the queen ceases to lay eggs and slims down in preparation for flying, foraging stops, scouts begin searching for a new home, and honey stores are used up.

By the time a beekeeper discovers an empty hive, there is usually nothing left but wax comb. Comb left clean and neat usually indicates the bees left due to a nectar dearth and impending starvation. Comb that is shredded and irregular may have been damaged by robbing bees or yellowjackets. And comb ruined by small hive beetles or wax moths is often completely destroyed and full of feces and cocoons.

A fall absconding honey bee colony has virtually no chance of surviving the winter. The bees have no comb, no honey, no nectar source, no pollen source, and no time. They left their home because they didn’t know what else to do.

If you can catch such a colony, you may be able to save them by heavy feeding of honey, syrup, and pollen. But don’t put them back where they came from unless you can determine what was wrong and correct it. Otherwise, they will simply abscond again.

But is it really absconding?

An important issue, however, is whether the bees absconded or collapsed from varroa mites. The result can look very similar, but more often than not, varroa mites are the culprit. Please read “Absconding bees or death by varroa?” for the details.

Honey Bee Suite


  • This article on absconding (which I’ve never heard of before today) has been helpful. Recently I noticed a honey bee hanging around me. A few days later a honey bee landed on my neighbor, I placed my hand (gloved) next to it and it crawled onto my hand. It flew away when I lifted it up in the air. I was haunted for several days by this bee. I kept thinking it needed food and I needed to help it. I figured I was just being silly. I began to pour little bits of honey onto a foil tray. Each day the honey would disappear by honey bees. I only see up to 3 – 4 at a time. I noticed in my yard there was a destroyed hive lying beneath a tree in my yard. I feel very right about feeding the honey bees. I keep having a nagging feeling about building some kind of small shelter for them. I have no clue if I should or not, but I will continue looking up information about it so I can help them out.

  • Just found a perfectly healthy hive totally empty too! Two weeks ago—5 heavy boxes high, 2 brood boxes, 3 supers 1/2 to 3/4 full. November 2, 2014 not a bee in sight. Pretty well robbed out by yellowjackets???


    • Hey Mike,

      I think it is disturbing that so much of this is happening. Sure, a certain number of absconding fall hives is to be expected, but this year it seems there are more than usual. I wonder if something else is going on. Was there any brood left behind? Did the queen go with them? Were the combs ripped open or neatly opened? Were there any dead bees? Was there brood two weeks ago? Did you see a queen two weeks ago? I have trouble understanding why they left if they had all that honey.

  • I just discovered my bees have absconded (Nov 8, 2014). I hadn’t checked on them in 4 weeks, but left three 3 full medium brood chambers plus a 4th medium super full of honey. I opened the hive today to install a candy tray. Everything’s gone: comb neatly opened, residual white powder (caps?) everywhere, a few partial brood cells, a few dead bees, no bugs or ants. I’m a first year beekeeper and very disappointed.

    I had re-queened in June with a northeastern queen and was very hopeful that they would make it through the winter.

    I wonder if the hive location was bad or noisy, although they seemed to thrive up to now.
    I guess I I can do now is clean up the hive and start again in the spring. The new bees should inherent a great hive with lots of comb ready for them.

    • Mike,

      It is really sad to lose a hive like that and it’s hard to figure out why. As I said last week, I’ve gotten dozens of reports just like yours this fall. It’s crazy and I don’t know what’s happening.

      Be sure to protect your empty hive from things like mice and wax moths. They can ruin your comb in a hurry.

  • Had the same problem this year. Had installed a new hive in a top bar hive last spring, and was feeding them sugar syrup every day. I stopped feeding them a couple of weeks ago, thinking that the weather was getting cooler and they wouldn’t come out to feed as much, and a week later, they were all gone. There were a few dead bees at the top of the hive, not sure why. The combs were cleaned out, no honey left. There appeared to be a few stragglers lingering. This was also my first hive, pretty heartbreaking.

  • I have 2 new hives that were put in this spring. One has struggled (think it is a queen problem) the other had 2 deep supers with brood, honey, pollen etc. I just opened them to feed candy and winter patties and could not believe my eyes. Same situation as you have described. The strong colony is gone. I live in central Oklahoma. Just wondering if this is a problem in a certain area or nationwide.

    • Alicia,

      Well, I don’t have it mapped out, but certainly I have heard more “disappearing” stories this year than ever before. I even had one disappear this past summer.

  • I started my first year with 4 colonies early spring. I did so well I even harvest a small crop, unusual for first year nucs.

    After harvest, I made 7 nucs using Michael Palmer’s method and got local queens from a reputable breeder.
    Everything seemed fine but… 5 of 7 nucs absconded! I caught one of them and it is currently doing just fine.
    2 weeks ago we inspected all and treated with Apiguard. Today I went to 2 second treatment and noticed one of the hives had all the syrup I have feed them a week ago. There were signs of robbing, so I decided to inspect to see what was going on and… you guessed it! The colony had absconded. All clean, still some pollen and half ripped nectar in some frames, some brood still hatching out of the cells but nothing else.

    This was not a brand new hive, it had been fine since last spring, it had food and 2 weeks ago there were so much bees the we even consider splitting (which we didn’t).

    I can’t really understand this, nobody has an idea why is happening and I have checked all the reasons posted and none seems to apply. I have not heard anyone in my club mentioning about their hives absconding.

    • Martin,

      To me it sounds like a robbing problem, not an absconding problem. If the colonies were being aggressively robbed by either wasps or other honey bees, they may well leave the hive in search of another place to live. Robbing in the fall is often caused by feeding, because even one spilled drop can lure thousands of bees and/or wasps to the area. I never feed in the fall without first reducing the entrances to a 3/4-inch width or using a robbing screen.

      Absconding in large numbers (5 of 7) would indeed be unusual, but robbing can affect a whole bee yard very quickly. It’s hard to say without actually inspecting, but that’s my guess.

      • Rusty.
        Thank you for your answer.
        I can guarantee you this is not a robbing problem. Granted, I found bees robbing, but they were cleaning an empty hive.
        Also, this was one of my strongest colony.
        We had inspected it 2 weeks ago and there was no reason to believe they would be gone.
        Even when found empty, there were just 5-7 SHB running around.
        The only thing out of ordinary was the application of Apiguard, but the dosis we used was low because of current high temperatures. Still it didn’t seem to affect the bees at all.
        We are all puzzled with this situation as we can’t find any logic to it. My buddies at the bee-club have not seen anything like this before, and upon inspection of the hives they have determined they are healthy and strong.

        • Martin,

          LOL. If you know the answer, I’m not sure why you asked. But here’s what worries me: You said the dose of Apiguard was low because of high temperatures. I don’t know exactly what you mean by that, but when using a product like Apiguard you have to use the correct dosage for the indicated length of time. A “low” dosage will only accelerate the breeding of resistant strains of mites. It’s the same reason you are supposed to take the trays out after a certain number of days—you don’t want mites exposed to low dosages because that is exactly what breeds resistance.

          If it is too hot, you don’t put it in the hives in the first place or you take it out. Low dose is a no-no. And if you used it when temperatures were too high, that could definitely cause absconding.

  • I am not a beekeeper but have had honey bees that built a hive in a pillar holding up my deck for the last 10 years. Don’t see them all winter but in spring they are busy and busy all summer. Same was true this year until 3 or 4 weeks ago and I see no more bees. I am not able to see into the hive, just a small opening where they used to come and go, but no more.

    What happened?

    • Well, the colony either left (absconded) or died for some reason. Without inspecting their hive, it is hard to even guess.

  • If I’ve discovered a hive has recently absconded and there is still capped brood, can I move that brood to some of my other hives?

    Too many things happened at once: Yesterday I removed an empty deep from the hive and rearranged some honey frames. Then that same night, a coyote killed a fawn right behind the hive and it was really stinky this afternoon when I discovered it.
    When I discovered the dead deer, the bees were clustered under the entrance and there were no bees inside. I think most have already flown off.

    I just saw the queen yesterday, so if I can save the brood I’d like to.

  • Rusty, I live in central nc. My question, have a couple hundred bees bearded outside of my hive day and night. mostly doing that little back and forth dance. its a large package installed this year, two full deeps, lots of brood, plenty of stores. 4 nearly completely capped supers. great hive. When i harvest the supers in two weeks, where will all the bees go… 4 supers are full of bees. cant see them all fitting in the two deeps. they will be so crowded… will they swarm? please offer some advice.. friend told me to make a split, could get stores from other hives if needed. but i think its too late in the year.

    • Bruce,

      After you extract, put the wet supers back on the hive for the bees to clean up. Then as winter approaches and the colony size shrinks, you can start taking them off. Take off two or three at first, wait a while, and then take off the rest. By then your bees should all fit in the two deeps.

  • We just had an indoor observation hive abscond, was able to collect most of them and move them to another hive offsite, adding them to an existing hive. We’ll see how this goes, but two days after doing this (Friday, now Sunday), I have about a dozen or more dead bees on the landing.

  • I had a hive abscond yesterday. I live in Northern CA. Inspected it two weeks ago, and it was welll loaded with honey, larvae and brood. Two days ago the was a lot of activity around the hive (1000’s of bees flying in and out of the entrance) yesterday the hive was robbed and empty. It had been very hot here the last few days, assuming this is the reason, but reading all these stories makes me wonder. I have been scouring the neighborhood looking for the swarm, but can’t find it yet. Still hoping


    • Bruce,

      This sounds more like straight-forward robbing instead of absconding. Usually, a colony plans in advance to abscond, and reduces brood rearing and honey storing. But 1000s of bees flying in and out is classic robbing, and the robbers may have killed most of the bees (by fighting) and perhaps killed the queen as well. I wouldn’t hold out much hope of finding the remainder.

      During a hot and dry nectar dearth, I never leave robbing to chance. As soon as nectar sources dry up, I reduce entrances to about 3/4 by 3/8-inches, which takes care of it before it starts.

  • I just started in March with my bees. I started with 2- 5 frames from nucs and one either had an old queen or no queen. I replaced the one queen and it must have been too late, because the hive got infested with beetles and they left. I bought 2 more 10 frame hives from a different person and all 3 were doing great. I live in Citrus county Fl, and we have had tons of rain this summer. I inspected the hives on Labor Day weekend and everything was looking great. I went back the next Sat and my best hive was empty of bees and filled with carpenter ants. I went back the next Friday and another hive was empty and filled with carpenter ants. I am so discouraged and upset. Could it have been because of all of the rain and this is where the ants took to the food and shelter. I have one hive left and we put the four legs in containers with oil and water so the ants hopefully can’t get to them. Has anyone else had issues with lots and lots of rain, and the bees absconding? I am almost afraid to see my last hive this weekend. : (

  • I started with two packages in the spring. These are not my first or only bees; but the only ones at my home. I didn’t expect honey this year, CA is just too hot and dry and the drought really make is worse. I didn’t check on the bees often, just enough to make sure they had a queen, but I did walk by them every day and observe the coming and going, they looked like a normal, busy hive; lots of bearding on summer evenings. A few weeks ago I noticed 1000s of bees around the hive and I assumed they were being robbed but life just didn’t give me time to look. So this weekend I had time and I was right, one hive was totally gone and all the honey had been chewed out. The other hive was gone as well but the honey was there and a few capped brood, some even emerging. They left about 30 pounds of capped honey and quite a bit of uncapped. No dead bees in either hive. So where did they go? This isn’t the first time I have lost a hive like this, it is really getting to be an all too familiar story. So what am I doing wrong? Is this absconding or CCD? I make sure they have room, afternoon shade, water, lots of flowers, no chemicals, an orchard, and a garden. They should be happy for longer than 6 months. So frustrating.

    • Barbara,

      I don’t know. I hesitate to blame CCD because it’s such a nebulous thing, but it certainly seems to meet the description. It could be absconding as well, but normally the hive would get emptied out by robbers soon afterward. I know it’s frustrating, but I really don’t have an answer. So sad.

  • Rusty,

    This absconding behavior just happened with one of my hives. I have 2 hives not far from each other. They gave us 190 lb of honey. They are in 3 boxes, their top box was completely full of honey, and very heavy. In addition, both hives had a lot of bees, beautiful queens that laid eggs fabulously all spring and summer.

    After harvesting, I treated them with Apiguard. I have used this product in the past with success.
    I came back 3 days later to collect something in the bee yard, then I saw to my complete dismay that one of my hives, had maybe 50 bees walking on the frames, ALL combs were clean and dry with no damage, no queen and absolutely no dead bees to be found.

    Yes, they had left their home. I was wondering if adding a medication, can do that? The other hive is perfectly happy with lots of honey and pollen and ready for winter.

    • Karine,

      It is sad to lose a colony, especially one that is so productive. That is a lot of honey for just two hives. But to answer your question, the Apiguard could have caused them to abscond, especially if the internal hive temperature got too high. You will never know for sure, but it definitely is a possibility.

    • I lost 7 colonies by absconding this year. Besides what could have been a high level of mites, which I treated with Apiguard, there was no other possible reason.
      I would say that Apiguard has something to do with it. Maybe applying when it was too hot like Rusty is suggesting, who knows.

      My friend 5 miles up the road applied to 12 hives at the very same time and he lost nothing.

  • Hi Rusty!
    I have two hives (of five) with swarm cells going full tilt! Both hives are happy, thriving, filled with bees and lovely brood. No sign of a queen in either hive (herself or larvae). Swarming plans in mid October? I have applied no chemicals although I know I do have a mite problem. I thought I’d use oxalic acid in a month or so.

    • Kit,

      Where are you? If you’re going into winter you need to think about this. Are you sure they are swarm cells and not supersedure cells? Are there any drones around? Can new queens get mated?

      • Thank you Rusty and I apologize for not telling you I’m in Seattle, West Seattle to be exact. I do have some drone brood but I haven’t seen a drone in a while. Yes these are swarm cells, an interesting cluster of about five of them in one case. One has even hatched!

  • I just lost a hive, I think to absconding. There is a handful of remaining bees and I would like to save them. They still have a lot of honey stores. Is it ok to move brood from another hive into this hive at this point? What would some of the detriments be? If I were to do so, should they create their own queen or should I get a queen?

    • Mo,

      Since I don’t know your location, I can’t be much help. But you have to decide if a “handful” of bees can take care of brood, defend the hive, keep the colony warm, etc. More than likely the answer is no. I would take the remaining bees and introduce them into one of your other hives.

  • Hi Rusty, just discovered lost hive. Checked them last time a month ago, doing great. Harvested honey, made sure no swarm cells and room for laying queen, and not honey bound. Two deeps, bottom box brood, pollen and outer frames honey. Top box all 10 deeps honey. Harvested medium super from top with 4 frames of honey. I am first-year beek this was a 5 frame nuc. Checked on them yesterday no queen, no bees, no brood. Found a few eggs and larvae. Think it is a laying worker. About 40 pounds of honey left and about 40 bees.

    Can I requeen? I think now they are being robbed. What do I do with the rest of bees and honey? Save the frames of honey pollen for next year? Thank you.

    • Stacey,

      You cannot requeen if you have only 40 bees. They will die and she will die. If your hive is being robbed, chances are you won’t have any honey remaining in a couple of days. I would take what remains out of the hive as soon as possible, and save what you can for next year. There’s nothing you can do for the remaining bees.

  • Yep, in the last 2 or 3 weeks, there has been a rash of “absconding” among my beek friends’ hives, and then it happened to me last week. One friend lost 3 of 6 hives, another one lost both hives, about 3 weeks apart. Then my own top bar colony, which was my strongest and most robust…disappeared. On a Friday, I put in some 2:1 syrup, and everything looked fine. Two days later, I went to refill the syrup (because my other hives are taking a quart every day). In this hive, the syrup was untouched (I could see from the observation window). I waited another day and when I returned, the hive was surrounded by clouds of robbers. This hive was too big and strong, with only a small entrance to defend, to be vulnerable to robbing. Sure enough, the colony was gone (not dead, only a handful of bees on the hive floor) and they left their honey (7 big fat bars of it). There is no chance they could survive outside now (in Massachusetts) so this was suicidal on their part. Here in New England, the hardest part is getting a hive through the bitter snowy winters; it’s devastating to lose them before the winter even starts with no reasonable explanation given. Bummer, man.

    • Mary,

      I wish I knew more about absconding. I hear about it all the time, and I’ve had it happen once, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense. This year in particular seems especially bad with vigorous colonies that just up and leave for no apparent reason. It’s almost as if something in the environment is setting them off.

      • I lost 2 out of 6 hives in ontario Canada with no sign of trauma. My suspicion is we just had 5G installed in the neighborhood this fall and they wanted no part of that.

        • Steve,

          But elsewhere, all around the continent, honey bees are living with 5G (including my own) with no issues. I think 5G is a red herring. It’s easy to point to but impossible to prove.

          • Thanks for chiming in Rusty. This is year 4 for me and now I have lost 2 more being 4 out of 6 lost and gone. The 5G went operational middle of October and all hives were thriving. I dunno but insects work on a level we have no idea of. What if RF energy is like some screeching sound they can’t bear and against all common bee sense they leave to get away from it. I appreciate the red herring analogy but our world is saturated and relatively new 5G is about 30 feet from the hives. All bees gone. Brood frames with some capped brood and honey around and to the sides of the box. Larva is white…some are almost fully formed bees. I would almost feel better if they were dead and I could know the cause. If the remaining 2 stay and make it through the winter I’ll drop the RF aspect. I very much appreciate you hosting this forum and especially your time. Warm regards, steve

  • Here’s another ‘data point’ – colony from a hive in MA absconded in December!! The hive started from a package in April, developed well but didn’t have any surplus honey. I started feeding in September and noticed towards the end of that month that the colony was queenless. Managed to order a replacement queen from CA and installed her successfully. There was evidence of brood in a strong colony in November and activity of bees coming and going until last weekend. Yesterday, hoping for a broodless colony, I went to dribble oxalic acid against varroa and to install a candy board. The hive was indeed broodless but also ‘beeless’ – neither live nor dead bees anywhere, 2 medium boxes full of capped honey/syrup untouched… It has been unseasonable warm here in the Northeast but days are still getting shorter – all creatures are aware of this

  • Middle of NH bees have absconded. Hit 50 today and I have been concerned not hearing anything when I knock on the hive. Opened it all the way to bottom super. Could see thru to bottom board only a small number of bees dead at the bottom. No other bees present. Both supers full of capped honey. Haven’t investigated any further. It was this hives first winter and they looked great right up till fall. Never heard anything written about absconding until today. I thought it was colony collapse until now. I didn’t think that happened in the first year.

  • Hello. I am in Fort Collins, Colorado and am afraid my bees have absconded. This is my first year of beekeeping. The first Nuc I bought in May was queenless. A week later, I bought another nuc from a different supplier that looked great, but I did notice some mites on my screened bottom board after installation. Additionally, there was a huge die off of my previous bees. I thought that the new bees probably had a virus because of the mites that hit the first bees hard and killed many off. Anyway, I thought I’d be alright not treating at that time. I had lots of bees, lots of nectar, lots of honey, lots of pollen, etc. I thought everything looked great with the exception of more mites on the bottom board. Then, later in the summer I noticed some yellowish brown spots randomly appearing on the bottom board while watching for mites. In August, I decided to treat the mites by shaking powdered sugar over the frames of bees. I did this 3 times over 3 weeks. By the last treatment, I noticed more brownish spots than ever. Many mites were falling to the bottom board after the treatments, but I could still observe bees with mites on them. There was also evidence that some pupae were dead in the comb and the workers were removing them. There was also some sparatic egg laying from the queen that I noticed. I thought maybe it may have been because the bees were hygienic and were cleaning out cells with mite issues. I thought I messed up big by not treating when I got my nuc, and now the bees must have viruses that were affecting the brood. I then read that if you don’t use organic powdered sugar, it can cause dissentary in the bees. Now, I felt I caused the problems by disrupting my bees’ gut health. There were still many bees and lots of honey with heavy brood boxes, just not a great brood pattern to my liking, some dead pupae and the spots on the bottom board. It also seemed like there were a lot of bees fighting at the entrance. I reduced the entrance to a few inches. Now, I was concerned that my not as healthy as they should be bees were susceptible to robbing. Over the next week I noticed less bees at the entrance which concerned me. I decided to buy a special robbing screen for the front and a few days later treated the mites with an oxallic acid vaporizer. I didn’t get into the hive before the treatment because of afternoon thunderstorms. I waited a few days after the treatment to check on them, because there were still a high number of robber bees around. Finally, yesterday I looked inside my hive. The last time I was in the hive was a little over two weeks ago. I found about 1/3 of the bees inside the top brood box. There was still a good amount of honey and some brood. Some young larvae, but not much. There were more uncapped, dead pupae in the top box than I’d ever seen and now uncapped dead larvae which I hadn’t seen before. The bottom box was almost completely empty of honey where it had a lot of honey before. A side note about the bottom box is that I noticed she didn’t like laying in those frames which were almost all old, black comb from the Nucs. I had been trying to switch out some of the frames over time but the bottom box was almost all honey on the outside frames and upper middle frames with lots of pollen stores and some older pupae, some dead pupae being removed, and little to no eggs or larvae). Yesterday, there were still some random capped pupae in the bottom box, but no bees on them. I’m sure they were not viable. I could not find the queen anywhere and with the small amount of bees left, I am pretty sure she absconded. I guess I just want to hear your thoughts on what I should do with the remaining bees and what I should have done differently. I am learning every day. Now looking back, I am still thinking of all that I would do differently in hind site. I feel so awful. Thank you for your time.

    • Hester,

      Your bees did not abscond, they are dying of varroa-mediated viruses. Please see: “Did they abscond or die from varroa? Everything about your story points to varroa: lots of phoretic mites, random capped pupae, small number of bees, honey remaining, rapid population decline, robbing. Three powdered sugar treatments won’t control mites and the oxalic came too late. The non-organic sugar has nothing to do with it (it’s organic sugar that can be bad for bees) but to control mites sugar dusting needs to be done at least weekly. I would say that you are right in your assessment: if you had treated for mites in the beginning, the rest of the year would have gone differently.

  • My whole hives just died from varroa-mediated viruses. I want to know if the honey that left behind still safe to consume? And can you suggest the best way to clean the bee hive and all the frames in order to reuse it again? Thanks!

    • Kashuen,

      The honey is perfectly safe to use and so is the bee hive. Neither the mites nor the viruses can live in a dead hive, and in any case the viruses do not affect humans.

  • So… do I need to clean the bee hive before I use it next spring? Or just wipe it clean (with vinegar maybe)? Thanks!

    • Kashuen,

      I would just clean out the dead bees and scrape away any burr comb. The more you leave it alone, the more attractive it will be to the next colony of bees. Honey bees adore a previously used hive.

  • Thank you. So… I should even keep the comb for the next colony? Will the virus get to the next colony? Winter is coming, I guess I should store the old hive indoor, right? I am trying to get the honey from this old hive. There are bee pupae in the old frame. Should I get rid of those fame? Or keep them until next spring? Part of the comb even have honey on them, should I keep them for the next colony? The top box is full of honey, I just crash and strain one frame, but if they are good for the next colony, should I keep all the honey for them? Or should I use extractor instead, so there will be comb left?

    • Kashuen,

      As I said before, the virus cannot survive outside of a host. So no, the virus cannot live in a comb without a live bee. Don’t worry about the viruses. You can store hives indoors or out, as long as they are protected from predators. The dead pupae will just dry up, but do check for American foulbrood. If you see no evidence of brood diseases, you can just give everything—comb, pollen, and honey—to your new colony. You can harvest the honey for yourself or keep it for your bees, but again, if you keep it in the frames you have to protect those frames from predators. Lots of things like to eat honeycomb. If you decide to save it for new bees, honey is the best bee food. But like I said, check the hive for brood diseases before making the decision. Whether you crush and strain or extract is a personal decision but, yes, extraction leaves you with some nice combs.

  • I don’t believe in your theory of varroa causing absconding. Since I am hearing from more and more bee keepers that this situation is continuing if not accelerating. Varroa mites must be wearing capes and an s on their chest. You should follow your own advice and keep an open mind. Absconding is really on the upswing. I prefer to hear you don’t know why this is occurring then “classic case of varroa.”

  • My 12-year-old hive was knocked over by a bear a month ago. The frames were not disturbed and we stacked them back up. The bees attacked like yellowjackets then calmed (we had the smoker going) and went back in. The temps were 35-45 for next weeks and I thought they were in there. Last week I looked and they were gone. A few dead bees in bottom. A full brood chamber and 3 full supers. Still capped and perfect. I took a couple of frames out and jarred the honey. I put the frames on the deck and the bees found them. Course I can’t tell if they are mine or wild ones. I sure would love to have them back or a swarm. They have been around a long time. Very hardy and usually calm and don’t sting. If I can purchase bees in April, could I put them in the hive with all the honey? Nukes are hard to find this spring.

    • CAR,

      That’s a sad story, especially with a colony that lasted so long. But to answer your question, you can put new bees in the hive with all the honey. With pre-built comb and all that honey, they should take off like a shot.

  • I got two packages in April installed in 5 frame nucs. Both queens started laying. Was feeding both sugar syrup and pollen patties. Six weeks later one of the [colonies] was gone. Nothing in the hive, no honey brood no dead bees. That same time I got a call to remove a [colony] from a house, I did and it was a big [colony]. I put bee’s comb with brood, honey and pollen in a ten frame hive. Again feeding. The very next week the other nuc gone just like the first one. The [colony] I moved was doing fine until two days ago, again gone nothing but empty comb. All three had some small hive beetles. I had traps in all three. This is five hives in two years.

  • Hi , I am from Cape Town South Africa, not a keeper but like bee activities. Today mid winter 18 degrees C mid afternoon a swarm of bees passed over the house, there were millions big dark cloud. Not sure why bees would move in the middle of winter, but they did.

    Hope they survive the 9 degree C evenings. I though it best to communicate this as I can see you are also seeing similar migrations.

    • Gwilym,

      I have no clue why they would move in winter, but it sure is interesting. I don’t know how they will survive.

  • I had 3 hives abscond while I was on vacation two weeks ago. They were strong and heavy last I checked four weeks ago when I tried the oxalic acid on paper towel method to treat varroa mites; first time I have used this method. The hives are mostly empty with a small amount of honey on some frame perimeters, 8 to 12 unhatched brood on some frames, and dead very small larva on a couple frames. The paper towel was still intact. Articles I have researched say the bees will remove the paper towel over a period of a month and the removal is the way they treat themselves and emerging brood.

    My first hypothesis is that the oxalic acid paper towel was the cause of the absconding. I have another beekeeping friend that tried the same method on a hive and that hive absconded.

    I would appreciate any thoughts, and has anyone else had the same result or even success with the oxalic acid paper towel.

    • Tim,

      It is a rare event for a colony to abscond, especially in the fall, and practically unheard of for three or four all at once. Everything you mentioned, including timing (October), especially strong colonies, honey remaining, and small amount of brood, point to collapse due to varroa mite.

      First read, “Absconding bees or death by Varroa” and then search your frames for guanine deposits. An especially large colony can collapse within a week if the infestation is bad enough. For temperate climates in North America, mite treatments need to be completed by the end of August in order to have healthy bees going into winter. (Many people now say they should be completed by mid-August.)

      I believe the bees died from viruses carried by the mites. Since the towels weren’t removed, your mites weren’t treated. The towels weren’t removed because the bees were already sick with viruses. Absconding is not part of the picture.

  • Okay, the great thing about a hypothesis is you can can one and start another. I checked for mites by shaker method in early July and found none; which what I read from the above link could mean nothing.

    Just to add observation, I saw ~100 honey bees each night flying like moths around my outdoor lights, and the last month have seen a lot of yellow jackets around these hives.

    Going back and checking my log book I did apply the oxalic acid towels on August 12th; they never touched the paper towels.


    • Tim,

      Ah ha! So now we have “alternative facts!” So okay, let’s scrap my answer and start over.

      I still think your hives died from varroa-mediated viruses. Did you get a chance to look for guanine deposits?

      And here’s another question: After you used the oxalic acid towels, did you check for mite drop or re-sample your hives? I ask because after I used oxalic towels I got zero mite drop, nada, even though my testing indicated about 4% infection rate. I had to go to thymol after that.

  • I did not check mite drop, but will check for guanine deposits this weekend and get back to you on Monday.

    Thanks for your replies,


  • It’s not Monday (rained all day Saturday and snowed all day Sunday) but this is what I found: ~10% of the open cells had white guanine deposits. As I went totally through the hives I did find more capped honey than I thought.

    Questions: Can I reuse the frames that have evidence of guanine (they are plastic frames)? The frames with capped honey have mostly uncapped honey, should I drain off the uncapped honey and harvest the capped?

    I never had a mite problem in the 6 years I’ve been practicing beekeeping, I guess they finally found me stuck up here in the Mountains of North Carolina.



    • Tim,

      1. “Can I reuse the frames that have evidence of guanine (they are plastic frames)?” Yes, the bees will clean up the mess.

      2. “The frames with capped honey have mostly uncapped honey, should I drain off the uncapped honey and harvest the capped?” You can if you want. Or you can save the capped to start new colonies.

  • Rusty,

    I had two hives abscond. I watch often and noticed the bees just fling off but not coming back. I was not sure at first and i put a wire mesh over the entrance and watched. The wire mesh was made to prevent robbing and i noticed most all the bees were stopped by it and did not find the opening out. They just died within a day stuck to the mesh. My observation tells me something was wrong in the hive but a did a visual inspection and found nothing only a full hive of honey. I left the honey and comb in the hive until spring and still did not notice anything wrong with it so i went ahead and processed the honey. Great honey perfect comb and no bees. In august before they left i treated with oxalic vapor on both hives so i thought that may have made them leave. Never found the cause and i have a new group of bees this year. I have suspended the oxalic acid and my bees are growing like gang busters but i have two langs and i am watching to see what happens starting in sept. to oct.

  • Rusty – My bees apparently absconded. Can you help me diagnose why?

    – It was our strongest hive, had wintered over once. Originally, they were a swarm my husband caught.
    -There were two boxes FULL of honey-capped and uncapped, and 2-2 1/2 frames of pollen.
    -A small amount of dead brood. Some of it uncapped with half-formed bees.
    -On the bottom screen there was half-formed bees apparently pulled out of their cells. Not a lot, about 1/2 cup, but who knows how much they had taken out of the hive.
    -There were about three bees inside the hive and 4-6 bees just sitting at the entrance not knowing what to do.

    I closed them up so no one could rob that hive out until I heard from you and my beekeepers assoc., but I would love to distribute that honey to my other hives – I had been worried that the warm weather was going on so long, keeping their metabolism up when it was usually down this time of year, and they were just consuming their stores. I really don’t like to feed sugar syrup, but I have been.

    • Cheryl,

      It’s impossible to diagnose from a distance, but it sure sounds like varroa mites. Bees seldom abscond in the fall, and unless someone actually saw them go, I assume they didn’t. This has all the markings of death by varroa, including 1) a strong hive 2) lots of honey remaining 3) only a small amount of brood remaining 4) partially-formed dead bees (most likely from deformed-wing virus or similar) 5) it’s the right time of year.

      See “Absconding bees or death by varroa?” The two are frequently confused.

  • Continued from an earlier post:

    -As I said, it’s been warm and very dry, our pond is down 4 feet, but there is water to be had.
    -We are on 40 acres between cattle country and nowhere, and I don’t suspect pesticides.
    -They are bringing in a little pollen.
    -We’ve recently had all the fires and smoke here in Northern California (Humboldt County), but that’s been gone for a couple of weeks, but for all I know so have the bees, although they haven’t been robbed out yet, which makes me think it was recent.
    -I had not gone into that hive for over a month and thought they were doing so well. They seemed very strong until a week or so ago, and I looked in today, and they were gone, my first “abscontion” in 7 years of keeping bees.

    Thank you for your help!

  • Hi. I had a hive ascend. It was a strong hive, had two full supers and two mediums, all the honey was gone and only bee bread left behind, no dead bees. Now have bees coming to rob one of my hives when they leave they head towards woods. I think they left because of hive beetles. There was a lot in beetle traps on the empty hive. I put a bowl of sugar water near the woods to see if I can find them.

  • This afternoon I noticed a deciduous tree full of honey bees. They were not in a swarm but all over the tree. The leaves were covered with a shiny substance (honey?) which seemed to be raining down from the tree. Everything was sticky (like honey). The bees were on the leaves obviously eating the shiny substance. Is this a hive that has absconded? I am not a beekeeper. What should I do?

    • Daniel,

      The bees you saw were probably collecting sap or honeydew from the leaves of the tree. This is quite common, especially in the fall and especially in places that have a lot of sap-sucking insects such as spotted lanternflies or aphids. The insects leave a sweet residue after eating the sap of the plants. The bees then collect the residue and make honey out of it, something we call honeydew. Their behavior has nothing to do with absconding.

      • THANK YOU! You’ve solved the mystery. Now we know. It seemed strange and we’re located in a small conference center near Segovia, Spain – so lots of people, and we were concerned to see so many bees. But the bees obviously are honey bees so we were deciding whether we needed to call someone (absconding). Thank you.

  • I discovered a honey bee hive on/behind the shutter of my uncle’s house. The massive overgrowth that was hiding the hive now must come down. I would like to just leave the hive, but after reading about reasons why bees may abscond, I’m concerned about wrecking their peace with loud power tools! (Although, these are tough NY bees living in the neighborhood near La Guardia airport)

    • Lizy,

      I really don’t think your bees would abscond after you cut away the growth in front of their hive. This sounds like a one-time thing rather than a day-after-day assault. Usually colonies put up with noises or disturbances that occur over a short time; what they don’t like is ongoing disruption over the course of many weeks. Just do what you need to do, and then let them adjust.

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