Memphis Backyard Farmer

Never Before!
October 16, 2012, 6:42 pm
Filed under: Bee Keeping, Urban Ag | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been keeping bees for about 15 years. In some circles, that makes me an authority, even an expert. I’ve seen and experienced a lot over the years. but today I encountered something new.

In late July I started a nuc. That’s unusual for me, but my brother had just tried his hand at breeding queens, and he gave me one. So I pulled a few frames of bees from another hive, dropped her in, and let them go. I really didn’t expect much to happen, but after about a month I opened the hive to check on them, and sure enough, there were some young bees and a new brood pattern. I closed them up and left them alone.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve noticed their activity pick up, so I knew the new bees were finally out doing their thing, but since winter is on its way, I decided I should see just how well they were doing, and feed them if necessary. So Saturday afternoon I cracked open the hive. Upon opening the hive, a few hive beetles scurried out of the way – nothing unusual in that. We have a terrible hive beetle problem here in the mid-south. But the beetles were under control. The bees had put up a little bit of honey, but not much. There was a small amount of capped brood, but the queen had obviously slowed down her laying now that a few cold snaps had come through. They had built out a few combs, and were generally busy on them, but took little notice of me. A nice nuc, but not enough bees to fill out an entire brood box. I’d need to find a nuc box to keep them warm through the winter. But in the mean time, I put a division board feeder in the hive with about two cups of sugar syrup I had made. I shut the hive and went back in the house.

Sunday evening I was driving to church with my son and one of his friends when the friend spoke up to tell me that he had seen “a tornado of bees” outside the hive just before we left (yeah – NOW he tells me!) I asked him what that meant; “Were there just a lot of bees flying in and out of the hive, or a big clump?”

“It was a big cloud of bees, swirling around up in the air.”


By the time I got home it was very dark, and I was leaving town early in the morning, but I resolved to inspect the hive when I returned home Monday evening. So last night, exactly two days after my initial inspection, one day post-swarm, I opened the hive.

You know that scene in “The Mummy” (the Brandon Fraser Mummy, not the Boris Karloff mummy) when the flesh eating beetles come swarming out of the ground to eat the people who have disturbed the tomb? Well, this hive looked a lot like that. I have never in my life seen so many hive beetles. I popped the lid and they came swarming out of the box. I pulled a frame and they were racing in and out of the cells of each comb. I grabbed a comb and “popped” it on a concrete slab next to the hive. The ground was covered. I busted a move right there and then, stepping on every little black bug I could get my shoe on. I pulled another frame. Then another. By that time, my youngest son was standing alongside me, watching, with lots of “Oh my gosh!” and “Wow!” commentary as I killed these little parasites.

Further findings – not a single bee. And in two days, every single bit of the sugar syrup was gone. Not a drop. The feeder was bone dry.

So what happened? Did the beetles smell the sugar and invade the hive? Sensing the danger, did the bees gorge themselves and leave? Or did the beetles eat all the sugar? And how did they move in so fast?

What are your theories? Have you ever seen anything like this before? Leave a comment and let me know!