How, why and when to autopsy a bee colony

I hear often beekeepers that are both new and old to beekeeping say they lost a hive or lost one of their hives and somehow writing the experience off to these thing just happen, usually with a shrug of their shoulders when asked how or why did they loose it.

This subject is worth discussing here as a lessons learnt segment as it presented itself over the weekend when I was assisting a new beekeeper to check their Flow Hive that suddenly had no bee activity. An inspection of the bees, which he had purchased of a member off a local club member, very quickly identified that they had starved to death due to insufficient food reserved left for them by their landlord, the beekeeper, who negligently failed in his duty of care for the bees in his care in not providing them with enough food stores to get them through winter. Just as importantly he also hadn’t considered supplementing their food reserves noting that the colony they they were contained within was a single eight frame brood box only.

The phenomenon, generally referred to by beekeepers as ‘deadouts’ is very quickly identified and the picture shows typically what you will face;

The heads down, bum up scene of horror (BTW again sorry for not placing a disclaimer pre- warning that dead bees would be seen in the above image), but this image shows that the bees, all of them, were all trying to feed on whatever reserves they had remaining. A fellow beekeeper refers to this site as the coffin scene arguing that they all appear to be in their individual coffins, a sad thought.

Had this beekeeper intervened earlier they would have quickly identified that their was little in the way of food reserves remaining in the hive and hence started supplemental feeding of the colony.

Accepting that their are significant urban myths associated with how, when, what and why to feed your bees, feeding them white sugar, never brown or raw sugar as they contain ash that leads to very real digestion problems for the bees, is the simple fix that helps get a colony through winter.

The myth that you should feed them syrup in the mids of winter is again a furphy but I wont get too far off this subject as its not about feeding bees per-say. That said its probably relevant to add a post soon here on the ins and outs of feeding your bees to help empower people to keep their bees alive in times of need.

Anyway, so I don’t ramble on for too much longer a good post on how to autopsy a bee colony can be found at;

So, please give the link a read, see what you think, I think its a good post and certainly worth sharing with fellow beekeepers…

So, in summary please don’t forget to check your bees and make sure they have enough food available to them to get themselves through winter!

Kind regards to you all and your bees


Nice article Eric.

In never ceases to amaze me the constant ongoing debate about to feed or not to feed bees.
Having grown up in the country I can see many parallels between keeping bees and running other livestock. The most obvious parallel is when to feed and when not to feed bees. In it’s simplest understanding if the conditions are such that the bees/livestock cannot obtain the resources they need then you should supplement their diet.

As a farmer of livestock you would not let your cattle starve in the paddock in times of drought you would supplement their feed with dry feed. Dry feed may not be as nutritious as green feed but it will keep the animals alive without them dropping to much condition. You have invested in this livestock.

As a bee farmer in times of drought (a dearth) then why not do the same rules apply. why would you not supplement your colony with a food source to get them through the hard times.Yes sugar is not as nutritious as nectar but your bees will survive without loss of condition and numbers. You have invested in these bees.

Mother nature is a fickle beast and left to her yes cattle would starve in the paddock and bees will die in the box thats why there are farmers and beekeepers.

I think I will continue to feed my bees in times of need.


Fantastic explanation and resource of Beverly bees. Thank you, Eric :honeybee:

Thank you Eric for sharing such informative article with us.