Deformed wings, dead bees, and crystallised honey in March inspection (March 2018)

March 26, 2018


I carried out a quick inspection of my colony yesterday when it was warm and noted a number of bees with deformed wing virus (though I treated with api-guard x 2 in autumn and oxalic acid in January). There were also some dead bees part-emerged from cells, which I think could also be an indicator of viruses related to varroa? There is quite a bit of crystallised honey in the brood frames. I saw the queen and a few larvae so she seems to have started laying again, and otherwise there was quite a bit of activity going on/pollen collecting etc.

I was wondering if I should change the brood frames to help with disease control and get rid of the crystallised honey? Possibly as a shook swarm around mid/end of April? Does that sound vaguely sensible? And/or should I be undertaking any more varroa treatment at this stage? I’m currently feeding with fondant.

Answer 1:

Viruses can’t replicate outside their host and don’t even survive for long so comb replacement is of limited value for DWV (but still good to do to counter fungal & bacterial diseases). You don’t mention the size of your colony. Something like a shook swarm is quite a stressful experience for a colony and I wouldn’t consider it for a small ailing one. They also need good weather so I wouldn’t consider a shook swarm until mid-end-April (perhaps even May considering our weather prospects this year!)

Deformed wing and dead emerging bees with their tongues hanging out are signs of parasitic mite syndrome – essentially virus overload. Varroa treatment for PMS is a bit like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. The damage has been done and the bees are suffering from viruses. Nevertheless if the Q is laying then there is a possibility that the new bees might develop free of viruses so it is sensible to carry out a varroa count and treat again if necessary. A new product on the UK market claims to be 95-99% effective and can be used in early Spring/late summer – the chemical is Amitraz and proprietary products are Apitraz and Apivar.

Keep feeding if they’re eating the fondant – I’ve found with some of the SBKA bees at WS that they prefer to go up to fresh fondant rather than sideways to granulated honey. There’s very little else to do at this time of year.

Answer 2:

I’d feed pollen supplement/substitute swell as/instead of fondant – depending on how much fondant mixed with pollen. Although the bees are bringing in pollen they are not getting out much at the moment and pollen needs are high.( to produce plenty of healthy young bees.) Also if you want to do a shook swarm in April building up the number of bees now will get hive ready for that. Shook swarm will not clear viruses – but will get rid of the 85% of the Varroa that are in the brood. Amtraz is quoted as being 95-99% effective – but the small print afterwards says – ‘when the brood quantity is low’ – not the case in April!! I also read recently that following a shook swarm if you sacrifice two brood frames after the Q has started to lay in the new chamber you can also dispose of most of the other 15% Varroa that were in the phoretic stage – i.e. on the adult bees when shook swarm done. That leaves a hive with really low Varroa count.

How to get a small hive through winter when no eggs, larvae, or queen found


I’m new to beekeeping this year as I was given a 5 frame nuc early in July which had been left in the nuc box for several weeks.

  • I purchased a new hive and placed the nuc in it.
  • I put on my maisemoore rapid feeder for 2 weeks which I was advised was not necessary but according to the books i’m reading it was.
  • Subsequent inspections revealed eggs, larvae and capped brood including seeing the queen.
  • After removing the feeder I was told the colony needed a super even though they had only filled out 5/6 frames.
  • The colony has increased slightly but does not fill the brood box and the super looks as it did when I put it on, when I carried out my inspection today.
  • There is still plenty of capped brood and some emerging brood but I cannot see eggs or larvae or find the queen.
  • I have put my feeder back on today against advice from the local keeper who said it was too soon.

Should I remove the super and the queen excluder for winter or leave them, and should I be worried about the hive being queenless?

I am tempted to leave well alone and feed them through this coming month into October in an attempt to get them through winter. Any advice would be appreciated.


I don’t know what type of bees you have (Buckfast? Local mongrel? native?). It makes a difference.

I don’t know who has been advising you but they seem to have got a few things wrong. For future reference:

  • The colony should have been moved into a full hive as soon as you had them and been fed continuously.
  • In the first year they should have a super as well as a feeder (you just have to be careful that you don’t extract stored syrup as honey)

Depending on your local weather conditions, you still have time to get things better and help your bees get through the winter. Please note the following:

  • Your bees need something between 15kg and 20kg stores (honey)
  • They need a colony size of 10-15,000 bees through the winter. Say 2-3 frames full of bees but more typically 5-6 frames partially occupied.
  • They need to be healthy and have been treated against Varroa.
  • They will not now draw comb – it’s too cold for that
  • The weather has changed here in Sheffield and it might be too cold for them to take syrup off a rapid feeder – a contact feeder might be more appropriate.
  • With no income, the queen may well be off-lay. One way of guessing whether they have a queen is to assess how “defensive” or “aggressive” the bees are. In a queenless colony they get very agitated and quite often you’ll hear them “roaring”


  • Feed them heavy syrup until they take no more (but be aware of ambient temperatures – a contact feeder might be best in this context)
  • If the supers only have foundation and no drawn comb, remove them.
  • Insert the varroa tray and calculate the average daily drop over the period of a week.
  • Look up the numbers on the Bee Base web site and treat if necessary. (If they have no brood then Api-Bioxal (Oxalic acid) might be good. Otherwise a Thymol based treatment such as Apiguard or Api-Life Var.)
  • Remove Qx and, if supers have honey in them, place the brood box above the super box.
  • Get yourself some fondant as a reserve emergency feed. Place it directly over the nest area.

Let me know how you get on. If you’re in Sheffield you’d be welcome to our monthly meetings or our beginners’ training course that starts every year in March.

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