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Why Do Bees Leave Your Hive? 16 Reasons for Bee Absconding

Updated on April 9, 2017
Jan Saints profile image

Januaris is a part-time gardener and author of farming guides. He loves to write about crops, pest control, fish farming and beekeeping.

Bee absconding is one of the nastiest things that beekeepers would not wish them to happen in their apiaries. In case you didn't know, this is a phenomenon where bees leave the hive for another better home causing an empty-beehive situation. According to keepers of these pollinators, the situation is quite disappointing.

after leaving the hive
after leaving the hive | Source

Some people confuse between bee absconding and swarming. When a colony swarms (especially in fall), it splits into two. One colony moves away with the queen and the other sticks around & brings up a new queen. On the other hand, when a colony absconds, all the insects (including the queen, drones and workers) leave the house.

In this article, I’m going to answer the question- why do honey bees abscond or leave the hive? The article describes all the reasons why bees abscond, so read on to learn about things that cause this heartbreaking phenomenon.

In Brief, Reasons Why Bees Abscond/Leave the Hive:

1. Uncomfortable hive

2. Too high/low temperatures

3. Strong winds

4. Poor ventilation

5. High humidity & poor drainage

6. Frequent disturbance

7. Obstructions in their flight paths

8. Lack of enough food & water

9. Parasite & disease attack

10. Large animal raids

11. Agrochemicals

12. Overpopulation

13. Lack of enough space in the combs

14. Problems with the queen

15. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)

16. The absconding genetics

1. Uncomfortable Hive- One of the Major Causes of the Bees Absconding Problem

There are many things that can make hives uncomfortable for these pollinators. One of the major factors is the smell of lumber and plywood glue or odor of paint. These insects cannot resist 'bad' smell, and would leave immediately if they detect it.

A poorly designed hive can also cause uncomfortable conditions. For example, the top-bar hive is not perfectly designed. It lacks a suitable place for spreading wax. Bees are confused on whether to place wax on the top bars or along the inside walls, and can just decide to move away leaving empty beehive.

Solution

For the decades that I have been keeping bees, I have learnt that uncomfortable hive is the main cause of the absconding problem. I was once using the top bar hives, and I had to replace them with the langstroth hives. I have never been disappointed from that time!

Featuring the right designs, Langstroths (and especially the Goodland hives) are the most comfortable hive out there! They have at least 20 frames for attaching combs and are quite spacious and strong. They don't confuse the pollinators on where to place the combs and wax as they have brood boxes and supers. And they come with electric honey extractor, free informational DVD and queen excluder.

If you are using other types of hives and you are experiencing the absconding problem, I would advise you not to think twice to buy the Goodland langstroth hive. Personally, I replaced 13 of my hives- something which increased my honey production tremendously.

2. Too High or Low Temperatures

Too high temperatures cause overheating in the interior. If you see bees staying outside, you should know the structure is overheating. Lack of ventilation can make the house too hot even in winter.

Too low temperatures can also cause the absconding problem. The apiary structure can freeze or form snow in cold season, and this is one of the reasons why bees leave hives in the winter. Freezing and snow kill bees, so they will have to leave when temperatures get too low to avoid the threat.

staying outside due to extreme temperature
staying outside due to extreme temperature | Source

3. Strong Winds

Strong winds swing 'hanged' hives, causing disturbance. The pollinators do not like disturbance and will have to leave if the interruption is unbearable. Strong winds also bring cold air inside the house.

4. Poor Beehive Ventilation

Like other organisms, bees need fresh air. If your structure is not well ventilated, it is not providing enough oxygen to the insects and this can make them leave for another home with good air flow.

Poor ventilation also causes temperature increase and odor accumulation. As mentioned above, these are some of the things that bees cannot bear with, and they will have to move out if they are present.

5. High Humidity and Poor Drainage

Hive can get too wet in high humid weather- a condition that is not liked by bees The insects will abscond if there is water stagnating inside (caused by poor hive drainage). Water can destroy combs and kill both the young and adult bees, and if it turns into ice, it can damage the structure.

6. Frequent Disturbance

As mentioned earlier, disturbance can be caused by strong winds. Opening the house frequently can also be disturbing to the insects. In addition, regular maintenance of the structure can interfere with their peace.

frequent disturbance not good at all
frequent disturbance not good at all | Source

7. Obstructions in Their Flight Paths

Bees need clear paths when flying: they do not like obstruction when getting water or nectar and pollen. If there are obstructions in their flight paths, they can decide to move to another place that offers clear and smooth flight ways.

8. Lack of Enough Food and Water

Beekeepers have a duty to provide bees with food and water, especially when the colony is new. When the colony grows larger, the pollinators can make their own food and also obtain water from around. Your can find your bees gone from hive if you do not provide these necessities. They can also leave if there are no plants or water sources in the surroundings.

Solution

Many bee foods have been formulated and manufactured, but I don't think if there is any that can beat the Mann Lake FD200. With a variety of nutrients- lipids, minerals and vitamins, this is so far the best food for your pollinators.

I have been using it in my apiary and I have never had issues of bees leaving or dying. It energizes the insects, allowing them to make more honey and reproduce. I actually raise bees for new hives (from the existing colons) with the help of this food!

If you are using less reputable foods that don't develop your bees, I would encourage you to try the Mann Lake food! It significantly increased my honey production as well as the number of bees.

9. Parasite and Disease Attack

Bee parasites feed on the honey and can also harm the insects directly. Some pests that can lead to the loss of your colony include: mites (tracheal & varroa), ants, birds, butterflies and wasps.

Diseases can also cause the absconding phenomenon. Some common bee diseases include: American foulbrood, European foulbrood, chalkbrood, stonebrood, cripaviridae, chilled brood and dysentery.

10. Large Animal Raids

Invasion of large animals in apiaries has been one of the major reasons why bees leave hives. Some animals destroy the structure and eat the honey while others eat the insects. Good examples of the animals are bears, raccoons, skunks and mice.

11. Agrochemicals

Chemicals used in farms can cause the absconding situation. Pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers and other crop & animal chemicals can kill a big portion of the colony and drive away the remaining one.

12. Overpopulation

A colony swarms if it grows extra large, but sometimes it can abscond. When the house becomes too populated and there are other factors interfering with the comfort, all the bees can leave it and split afterwards.

13. Lack of Enough Space in the Combs

This situation is different from overpopulation or congestion. If there is no enough space in the combs to store honey or for the queen to lay eggs, the honey bees can leave. Lack of enough space in the combs can be due to swarming- few worker bees left to make the space.

The colony left can be too small to make new combs, and it can opt to feed on all the honey and leave. If it leaves, it can be absorbed by another bigger colony or die away.

14. Problems with the Queen

One of the major problems of the queen is old age. When the queen bee becomes too old, it stops laying eggs resulting in lack of broods, which replace the dead bees or the ones that have swarmed. The colony grows small due to this situation and can end up absconding.

Another problem is when the queen dies. Loss of queen means there that are no new bees to manage the hive in the future. The colony can raise another queen or pack up and move.

15. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)

Apiary owners can have the absconding problem even when they have done everything to prevent it. Bees that move away without any good reason are said to have the Colony Collapse Disorder. Apiculture professionals and entomologists are doing research on this disorder.

16. The Absconding Genetics

Some honey bees carry the absconding gene and are usually quick to leave the apiary. Any slight uncomfortable condition can trigger them to say bye to their home. The Africanized ones are said to carry the gene.

In Conclusion…

Bee absconding is a situation that can hurt your apiculture business. You can make great losses and even close down the apiary due to empty beehives! If you do subsistence apiculture, your family can lack natural honey when the phenomenon occurs. But the good thing is that you can prevent it by offering solutions to the above causes.

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© 2015 Januaris Saint Fores

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      Christopher Smith 2 months ago

      I ran into some honeycombs filled with two pounds of guey delicious honey. I pulled four sheets of combs out of a tree. There were no bees and the honey was found when I cut into the tree and it started pouring out..Why no bees?

    • Jan Saints profile image
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      Januaris Saint Fores 2 months ago from the Midwest

      Hello Christopher, it's highly likely that they found a new home and moved out immediately leaving behind some honey- after eating enough of it.

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