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NZBF High Queen loss rate - not sure why

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An interesting puzzle to help you get your mind off the craziness going on around the world:

 

I checked a friend's hobby hives today.  She found a queenless hive last week and successfully merged it with a queen-right nuc.  Today I went through the other 3 hives at her house and found two more apparently queenless.  No eggs and almost no brood left, although what was there looked healthy, no sign of disease.  I couldn't see any sign of the queens, but they might have been playing hide and seek.  The hives were all strong, the two that seemed queenless were very heavily loaded with drones which tends to suggest that they are indeed queenless.  She has 3 other hives in different locations, all doing well.

 

We put mite treatment in today, so I have ruled out strips as being part of the problem.

 

Two of the queens that appear to have failed come from a reliable local breeder, the other from a split she did herself.

 

I realise that perhaps the queens are on a break so have suggested she wait another week before acting.  If there is no sign of eggs in a week I am thinking that it would be best to re-queen them by merging them with a couple of my spare nucs so they have some winter bees in the hive. 

 

I would appreciate your thoughts.  I am not sure how to explain the (potential) loss of so many queens in one location. I am helping her because her first two hives didn't make it their first winter at this location.  I haven't seen such a high queen mortality rate before in what appear to be otherwise healthy hives.

 

It is quite a cold site in Dunedin and she has ventilated hives floors that are still open.  I have told her to close them up.  While that might cause a weak hive I would have thought that it seems unlikely to explain so many missing queens?

 

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my guess, varroa issues causing the queen to stop laying and therefore looks queenless.

recent brood means the queen was there fairly recently.

where in dunedin?

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Last year lots of queens went on holiday early and stop laying For a while 

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It's amazing how many queens some people can kill and be unaware.

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Queens will fail if mating conditions are not optimal.  This spring for me saw some of the poorest matings ever, and a lot of virgins and supposedly well mated queens were hit on the head.

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A high percentage of my hives today had no eggs and only a a few cells lift to hatch. It's still very warm here but there has been no fresh honey for months. Big strong healthy hives often stop laying before weaker ones.

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Here too.

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