Inspecting a Colony

Bee Health March 19, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF
Inspecting a frame of brood.

To inspect a colony you must open it up and look inside (See Working with a Bee Colony). Once inside, pry the outside frame of the brood chamber loose. Remove the frame from the body and hold it in front of you with one hand on each end of the top bar. If possible, position yourself so that the sun is shining over your shoulder and onto the frame. Observe the bees and the frame.

Honey bee eggs and young larvae.

Inspect the brood frames for:

• Healthy larvae. Larvae should be pearly white. Gray, yellow, brown or black larvae are diseased, chilled or injured.

• Eggs standing in the bottom of cells. Recently laid eggs will be standing on end in the bottom of cells, one egg per cell. As they age, they gradually fall to one side. Two or more eggs on the sides of the cell are from a laying worker.

• Cell caps of healthy brood. These will be convex and tan. Cell caps of unhealthy brood are often concave and perforated with small holes.

A healthy brood frame.

• Area of cells with brood. A prolific queen will have a laying pattern of brood with very few skipped cells over most of the frame. The pattern should be compact and in a semicircle, usually occurring over the bottom half of the frame.

• Honey and pollen stores. Honey should appear adjacent to the brood pattern. Adequate honey stores will vary with colony size. Pollen is stored in cells adjacent to honey. Remove and inspect all of the frames that contain brood. After inspection of a frame, place it in the hive body toward the side from which you removed the outside frame. After completing your inspection, replace the frames in their original order and close the hive. When you open a colony for inspection, you can also perform other tasks necessary for colony maintenance, such as feeding, treating with antibiotics or miticides, replacing damaged combs with frames containing new foundation, adding an empty super or removing a super of honey. Prepare the items you need in advance and have them near when you open the colony.

Items you should bring to the apiary or that you should keep on hand:

  • Extra hive tool or tools, gloves, veil, bee suit and smoker.
  • Matches or lighter.
  • Dry smoker fuel.
  • Extra frames with drawn comb or new foundation, and extra hive bodies.
  • Container to collect wax scrapings or propolis.
  • Jars or sealable bags to collect bees for mite testing or comb for disease identification.
  • Queen excluders.
  • Entrance reducers.
  • Heavy fabric, such as burlap, or extra inner or outer covers to protect uncovered colonies or supers from robbing bees.
  • Newspaper for uniting colonies.
  • Permanent marking pen or pencil.
  • Extra queen cages and queen marking paint.
  • A sting kit for those allergic to bees (Epipen™), first aid kit and other medications for the beekeeper.

Source: Skinner, Parkman, Studer, and Williams. 2004. Beekeeping in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension PB1745. 43p.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.