Utter Hive Destruction: Signs of a Dead Beehive

5 Sep

More gross than a thousand creepy ex-boyfriends is this: A wax moth-infested beehive.

Hive overtaken by wax moths

Two months ago, this hive was booming. But when it exuberantly swarmed in July during one of the hottest and driest summers on record in Albuquerque, we already knew the end of the story.

It goes a little something like this…

  1. First, the girls can’t/won’t/don’t raise a new queen.
  2. Next, their numbers dwindle.
  3. Then, the delicate balance of nature tips in favor of wax moths and ants and robber bees.

And thusly skin-crawling putrefaction occurs in the hive as moths build tunnels through wax comb and ants pilfer the remaining honey. It’s a race to the bottom and the few remaining worker bees struggle hopelessly like violinists on the sinking Titanic. They scurry and gather and clean but are destined for death.

Opening such a hive is a visceral endeavor for you’re not sure whether to cry or wretch. If it weren’t for a stiff drink afterwards, I’d probably do both.

A dirty landing board means the end is near.

Wax moth webbing shows they've moved in.

The few remaining bees can't keep up.

Wax moth larva crawl everywhere.

At this point, we’re focusing on our strong remaining hives and will let this one sadly languish until winter’s hard freeze. Both bees and moths will have perished then and we’ll clean and freeze for a fresh start next year.

And so the tale of this hive ends. Except that I happen to know there’s a little Lebowski on the way and that the early spring split from this hive is going strong, strong enough to survive the winter and promise new birth next year.

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14 Responses to “Utter Hive Destruction: Signs of a Dead Beehive”

  1. Angie September 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    I couldn’t do it. I know it’s natures way, I get that, but I couldn’t do it. I’d be fighting for the bees, trying everything I could to pick out the moths, to stop the ants, to do something to help. I know, I know but it’s me, it’s my nature that wants to fight for what we have, wants to fight for the bees, for preserving this amazing gift that we have. I couldn’t do it….

    • mistress beek September 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

      You’re right, it’s so tragic… even though they made the decision to swarm at such an inopportune time, I still feel for their plight.

      If we’d combined this hive with another, stronger hive about a month ago, the wax moths wouldn’t have gained the advantage. We didn’t though and now, there’s little to nothing we can do. It’s so sad to witness.

  2. Lynda September 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    I had the same thing happen to a hive in July…all my fault. I knew they swarmed, checked for a queen, found none, introduced a new queen, negelected to check the hive for several weeks…when I did, no queen and very weak…yesterday I opened the hive: over-run with wax moth. YUCK! I feel terrible. I will hope to never have that happen again.

    • mistress beek September 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

      Ugh… Sorry it happened to you this season as well. It’s such a horrible feeling as a beekeeper. Wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

  3. Jessie Brown September 5, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    Barf. So sad, but so, so gross at the same time. Can you render wax from a hive that has a bad wax moth problem?

    • mistress beek September 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

      Good question, Jessie. I’ve never tried to render infested wax before. When moths got to one of my TBHs, I think we ended up discarding the wax which is too bad.

    • ...a Beehive here Inside My Heart February 23, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

      So so gross. I have a visceral reaction to wormy grubby things. And now have my first wax moths. Am paralyzed with barfy grossness. :|

  4. Amy Henderson Landers September 6, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I lost a TB hive to wax moths this year too. Sadly, I neglected the hive this summer, thinking, “The bees will keep at it, and I’ll catch up with tending later…” I didn’t even realize they’d swarmed until I noticed no activity passing by the hive a few weekends ago. Horror and regret were top among my feelings after prying off a couple bars to find the devastation inside. Yikes. I’m with Lynda about feeling terrible for letting it happen!

  5. karcuri13 September 6, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    As gross as it is, it is still pretty amazing that nature cleans up after itself.

  6. Ron Warnick September 6, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    My condolences. This inexplicably happened to one of our hives a few years ago, and having to clean everything in the hive was, in my words at the time, “a half-assed autopsy” that was one of the most distasteful and dispiriting things I’ve ever done.

    And my wife holds a near-pathological hatred of wax moths to this day.

  7. mistress beek September 6, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    Appreciate the kind words, Ron. It’s the least pleasant part of beekeeping…

    Karl, I’ve heard some beekeepers, usually the more evolutionary-fitness types, speak of wax moths as the cleansing cycle for hives; that when a hive swarms itself out of a home, it’s the necessary role of wax moths to clean out the joint in preparation for the next colony. Despite the creepy factor and sadness at the loss of a hive, I’m inclined to look at it from this big-picture perspective as well.

  8. Sam Smith September 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Yea wax moth infestation’s are really disgusting, I had left an empty box with comb in it in my garage until I noticed that moths had already destroyed all the comb.. Lest it wasn’t a living colony. Although its gross I am glad wax moth exist, I have personally seen old feral hive spaces cleaned up by the critters, bees will use a space for several years until the comb is to dark to lay eggs in then they die having reproduced along the way, then the moths/ants clean up that same cavity so a new swarm can use it :)

  9. Melanie September 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Thank you for your post and blog. My story is parallel. I even posted on FB this morning that I thought the new activity outside was the entrance were from the new brood. I had re-queened just 3.5 weeks ago. Sadly, when I changed the top feeder this afternoon, there were cocoons under it. Nooooooooo! The mess was as horrible as you describe. I did notice something about 10 days ago, and in my desire not to disturb the new queen I did not want to open the hive until at least 21 days has transpired. I observed both hornets and wasps fighting under the hive (it’s up on concrete blocks). There were yellow jackets on the ground. It certainly seemed like “War of the Worlds.” I thought it was due to the syrup leaking down from the top feeder and out the screen bottom board. We’ve been in the dearth with almost no rain. Perhaps, if I had investigated by looking in the hive at that point, I might have realized the population has declined to an unsustainable level. Keep posting.

  10. Salt River Garlic (@saltrivergarlic) September 22, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    Just found your blog. We have this same issue happening with some bees that were abandoned and left to their own devices at the farm. Very sad this happened to you, too.

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