I did a hive inspection yesterday. The bees were abnormally angry. I had on my sting-proof suit and so calmly went to the bottom of each hive, took out every frame from the brood boxes. They boiled out of the hive and fought each other as if they were experiencing a robbing war. Lots of honey and bees in both, no queen to be found in either of the two hives I took down; one had plentiful brood, the other none.
Today, after the night of calming down, I expected things to be back to normal. However, hundreds of dead bees lay on the ground in front of both hives as well as a third one some distance away that I did not intrude upon. I used charcoal briquets and jute string for smoke, which I normally do. I have three feral hives in birdhouses about my 2.5 acres.
Somebody mentioned that the standard African attack was to have small swarms with an African queen ready to do battle with an exposed Italian. My Italian queens are clipped and marked. Maybe they're handicapped for a battle?
It looks as if somebody snuck into the yard and sprayed them with malathion while they were outside of the hive. Many living bees still hang beneath the hive mount and won't go in.
Any possibilities leap to mind?
John, here is Kirk's response:
Russell here: I wouldn't make any presumptions about the attack being African (or Australian, Antarctican, or Martian, for that matter), but it definitely sounds like robbing. We hear plenty of stories about it here in Los Angeles this time of year as the bees' food supply becomes scarce.
It happened to one of our hives not long ago, and the carpet of dead bees around the hive made me think the same way you did—that it looked like someone had poisoned the hive. We knew that was extremely unlikely however, and Kirk helped us figure it out: