Bee absconding is one of the horrific things that can happen to a beekeeper. Absconding is when the bees completely abandon their hive and move to another place with the queen. Sometimes they may leave behind unhatched brood, young bees who can’t fly, honey and pollen. This is an indication that something is terribly wrong. When that happens, you have to monitor your beehives and surrounding area very carefully to identify the real reason behind the absconding phenomenon. So you can stop that happening to your other beehives. In general, honey bees abscond when the environmental conditions in the hive became too stressful for them.
Some new beekeepers get confused about the difference between swarming and absconding. Sometimes they use “swarming” to describe a situation that is actually absconding. Therefore it’s very important to know the difference between these two situations. Swarming is when a part of the colony leaves the hive with the queen to a new place when the colony grows bigger and it’s not an indication of poor health. Absconding is when the entire colony abandons the hive due to various annoying reasons. Asian honey bee species tend to abscond their hives more frequently compared to their European counterparts.
Uncomfortable hives are the main reason for the absconding problem. There are several things that can make hives uncomfortable for honey bees including the smell of wood or the odor of paint and glue. They can’t tolerate bad odors and would leave very quickly when they detect it. Other than that, poorly designed hives are also a reason for the absconding problem.
Honey bees don’t like too high or low temperatures. When the temperatures are too high inside, you can see the adult bees bearding outside the hive, helping the internal temperature to stay cool. So if you see this, you should do something to improve the hive’s ventilation. Too low temperatures also affect the hives very badly and cause absconding problem more often. So you need to look after your hives very carefully during the cold season.
Strong winds can badly disturb the hanged beehives and also brings cold air directly inside causing uncomfortable conditions for honey bees. When the interruption is unbearable, bees will leave to find a better place. So you need to install wind barriers if your beehives are in the direction of the wind.
Poor Beehive Ventilation
Sufficient ventilation is essential for sustaining a thriving and healthy honey bee colony. Poor ventilation causes odor accumulation and low oxygen levels inside the beehive. It also increases the hive temperature and when this happens, honey bees will feel uncomfortable and leave for another home with good airflow.
Frequent disturbance is one of the main causes for the absconding problem. When the bees abscond, it affects badly for the beekeeping business by reducing the honey production as well as the profits. Regular maintenance and opening the beehives frequently can be very disturbing for bees. So you must stop doing it unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Poor Drainage and High Humidity
Poor drainage and high humidity in beehives can trigger bees to abscond. If there’s water stagnating inside the beehives, honey bees don’t like it because it can destroy their combs and kill both adult and young bees. If the water inside turns into ice in the winter, it will be the worst case. So always keep your beehives dry and clean.
Lack of Food and Water
Honey bees need nectar, pollen and water to survive. So you need to make sure that they get enough food and water throughout the year. When the food resources are depleted especially in the winter, you must feed them formulated food to keep them alive and happy or they will leave to find a place with enough food resources.
Obstructions in Their Flight Paths
Honey bees constantly face the challenge of choosing safe, efficient and collision free routes. They don’t like obstructions in their flight paths because it disturbs them badly. So you need to remove disturbing barriers from their flight paths and never keep beehives nearby the places where people walk frequently.
Parasite and Disease Attack
Bee parasites including varroa mites, tracheal mites, tropilaelaps mites, wax moths, ants, small hive beetles and wasps can drastically harm beehives and will lead to the loss of your colonies if you don’t treat the infested hives immediately. Except for that, diseases like European foulbrood, stonebrood, American foulbrood, chalkbrood, chilled brood, cripaviridae, dysentery, etc can also cause the absconding phenomenon.
Large Animal Raids
Large animal raids are another major reason for honey bees to leave the hives. These animals destroy the hives to eat bees or honey. So you must make sure to keep raccoons, mice, birds and bears away from your beehives. Bears can destroy your entire bee yard within several hours.
Honey bees are very important for the agriculture industry. But the agrochemicals used in farms can kill or shorten the life of bees. It’s harmful to them even at safe levels and can collapse whole colonies even within a couple of days. No disease can kill a colony like that, only insecticides can do it.
Problems with the Queen
When the queen is dying of old age or when a colony loses a queen, the worker bees notice that and start making queen cells to create a new queen for the colony. If the bees fail to develop a new queen, the hive will be queenless and can end up absconding unless you introduce them a new queen.
Bees need space to live their lives. They need a place to store honey and pollen, to raise brood and more. When the major nectar sources are in bloom, bee colonies usually grow large. During this time, if there are some other factors disturbing them, they may abscond and split afterwards.
The Absconding Genetics
Some honey bees especially the Africanized honey bees carry the absconding genetics. Any slightly uncomfortable situation can trigger them to pack up and move from their homes. European honey bees are less likely to abscond compared to the other honey bee species.
Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony collapse disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear without any good reason. The disorder appears to affect the adult bees’ ability to navigate. Bees leave the hive to find nectar and pollen and never return. Every year CCD causes significant economic losses for beekeepers and agriculture industry.
Honey bees abscond their hives due to many different reasons and when it happens, your apiculture business can get heavy losses. So you need to learn more about what triggers bees to leave the hives and need to take necessary actions early to control it. Sometimes it’s very difficult to prevent it because if your bees have the absconding genetics, they will leave the hives no matter what you do. Colony collapse disorder is also another phenomenon that you can’t control. Therefore the best thing is to control what you can and always buy gentle bee strains for your apiary.