I went into my last remaining hive today, and the poor girls were barely hanging in there. It was the smallest cluster of bees I’ve ever seen alive, and I was too nervous to touch then and make sure there was a queen under their ball. Knowing how they fight to keep her warm, I think she’s in there, even though it’s 60F outside.
The curious thing is that they seems to not be taking the food I have in there – both syrup and moist sugar, and even some older dried sugar mix from the winter. Since I’d never seen a cluster that small, I started thinking about all the things that would retard their growth. Sickness, poor food, too cold… And then it hit me. Predators.
Much to my dismay, I quickly found the culprit on the second level of food I had left them (it’s semi-camoflauged in the upper right corner). A decent size mouse had gotten in during the last week, pooped all over the place and terrified my poor bees. The mouse was dead, my guess from being stung to death.
If you’re first reaction is “why didn’t you have a mouse guard?”, I did. The only entrance was a tiny hole in the upper box, big enough for only two bees to pass at a time. On closer inspection, it had been chewed away to open it just a little, and the mouse had crawled in.
I couldn’t clean the entire hive without disturbing the colony, so I cleaned what I could, and let the girls alone. Hopefully without an intruder they can recover, but I doubt it. Very disappointing.