Caring for apiaries affected by smoke and heat

Following a bushfire or prolonged heat event, honey bees can suffer heat and smoke stress. Stressed colonies can take months to recover and some may eventually die. Intensive care is required to help bee colonies recover and minimise losses to the apiary.

If your apiaries have been affected by prolonged heat or a bushfire, thoroughly inspect each hive as soon as possible to minimise any losses.

What is heat and smoke stress?

Under normal summer conditions, bee colonies maintain an optimum hive temperature of 35°C by natural evaporative cooling using water that the bees collect. If the cooling fails under extreme heat conditions, the queen and worker bees can suffer heat stress, and beeswax combs and honey may melt.

Heat stressed colonies can take months to recover to full honey production and pollinating potential. Colonies with partial meltdown of combs can rebuild combs over time, but most colonies suffering total meltdown of combs are unlikely to recover.

Hives in very close proximity or only partially burnt by fire will be severely affected. The bee colonies living in these hives will also suffer from varying levels of smoke or heat stress. Many colonies will be unproductive for a long period of time and some will eventually die.

Signs of a heat or smoke stressed bee colony include:

  • total meltdown of the hive — the entire colony of bees are smothered by melted wax and honey
  • partial melt down of the hive and extensive losses of bees
  • loss of the field bee population
  • failed queen
  • queen not laying for some time after the heat has subsided
  • gap in brood production which becomes evident in the months afterwards.

Managing a heat and smoke affected hive

  1. Replace damaged hive components as quickly as possible.
  2. Clean up melted wax and honey immediately to prevent exposure and the spread of diseases through robbing behaviour.
  3. Consider uniting disease-free weak colonies to limit stress on weak colonies and provide the best chance of recovery.
  4. To help a weak colony regulate temperature and prevent robbing you can reduce the entrance size and the cavity size of the hive. This also reduces the risk of the development and spread of pests and diseases.
  5. Consider requeening your hive when you are able. Queens may stop laying for some time even after the heat has passed, or  fail altogether.
  6. If you notice a sharp decline in the number worker bees in the following weeks — manipulate your hive size to ensure the colony is large enough to maintain the hive.
  7. Monitor honey and pollen stores  to prevent starvation.

How much water do bees need?

Provide a plentiful water supply for your bees. During hot weather a hive can use between 1 to 4 litres of water per day.

Place water in close proximity to the apiary to reduce your bees’ flying time and distance. This can minimise  stress on the bees.

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Page last updated: 18 Mar 2024