Clinical examination of a hive


  1. Ensure that your bee suit is clean.
  2. Wash bee suit in non-perfumed washing products.  Note angry bees will deposit pheromones and alarm substances on your bee suit and equipment.
  3. Avoid (if possible) manipulations of the hive on cold, wet, thundery or windy days.
  4. Take wind proof matches so you can light your smoker.
  5. Avoid being hot and sweaty – body odour issues
  6. Avoid having perfumed products – this can include hair shampoo
  7. Avoid having any alcohol – this can disturb bees
  8. Handling the combs gently. As with any stock avoid sudden movements.
  9. Do not discard ash from your smoker carelessly. Hot ashes are a fire risk.


Biosecurity considerations

  1. Age of hive and other hives in location.  Have new hives been introduced recently
  2. Has new queen’s been purchased and where from
  3. Has a swarmed hive been collected and introduced recently
  4. Location of hive in relation to other hives – avoid hives in straight lines – to reduce drifting
  5. Location of hive in relation to public path
  6. Location of hive in relation to access by livestock
  7. Note general appearance
  8. Water source
  9. Available food sources – note some food like Canola may need frequent collection of honey
  10. Security measures to stop pests and people – electric fencing
  11. If electric fencing used are the wires clear of vegetation
  12. Is the hive placed on a secure hive stand
  13. Is hive stand clear of vegetation
  14. Is hive stand prepared to stop ants and other insects from entering the hive
  15. Note source of bee equipment
  16. Other bee keepers been recently – especially with their own equipment
  17. Hygiene of bee examination equipment


Observation of the hive entrance and surrounds

Good signs

  1. Bees on active flight path.  Lots of bees with full pollen sacs
  2. Many drones flying – normal in afternoon in late spring to summer

More observation required

  1. Small pieces of wax at entrance – bees uncapping stores
  2. Bees fanning and exposing Nasonov glands – Queening issue
  3. Bees fanning – colony too hot
  4. Bees issuing from hive in a swirling and ascending mass – colony is swarming

Bad signs

  1. Bees covering entrance – too many bees in the hive, colony too hot
  2. Bees walking aimlessly around the front of the hive – possible disease
  3. Dead larvae actively being carried out – disease in the hive
  4. Dead larvae which are shrunken – starvation
  5. Dead larvae all at the same stage of decomposition – starvation or poisoning
  6. Mummified larvae – Chalkbrood (Ascosphaera apis)
  7. Dying bees – dead at bottom and live on top – Paralysis virus
  8. Bees unable to fly and staggering around, bright black bloated abdomens – Virus
  9. Bees fighting at entrance - Robbing
  10. Faecal spotting – Nosema – Dysentery (Nosema apris and Nosema ceranae)
  11. Large pieces of wax at entrance – Mice in the hive
  12. Foul smelling – Death of the hive


Approach the hive

From the side

Do not stand in the flight path of the bees

Measure the infra-red temperature of the hive


Remove top cover

Look for wax moth – Greater and Lesser and also any wasp presence.


Examination of the hive

  1. For each supper note the number of frames with brood on them.
  2. Ensure each supper and frame is numbered.
  3. Is there an active frame replacement programme – 3 frames a year?
  4. Check that the hive is “queen right”.  Is there an active queen present?
  5. If you see the queen - note her marking colour. Is the queen the same as the one placed in the hive?
  6. Note the condition of the queen – especially any thin queen.
  7. What is the condition of the frames – evidence of Wax moths or other pests?
  8. Where is the drone cells – problem if a lot and irregularly spread across comb.
  9. How many eggs are in each cell – if more than one may be workers laying or new queen?

If you think there may not be a queen place a numbered frame from an adjacent healthy hive containing eggs.  If the workers do not raise queens then the original hive has a queen.

  1. Check brood larvae are pearly-white in colour.
  2. If there are a lot (more than 10% of empty cells in areas with capped brood,  are heater bees entering the cells trying to heat adjacent cells – may indicate a cold hive.
  3. Ensure that the older frames are at the end of the super.  Check condition of the combs.  If you cannot see through the comb replace.
  4. Estimate the amount of stores present in the hive.
  5. A hive weight scale can be extremely useful to provide information on the health of the hive.


Examination of the bees


Equipment required

Fine tweezers

Wide mouthed funnel

Hand lens

Wire mesh #8 or #12

White cotton cloth

Starter engine  spray – ether or Washing-up liquid 500 ml

Ultraviolent light 3100 to 4000 A

Lactic acid

Cork board


Wind matches/lighter

Matches – to check larvae

Icing sugar – to assist Varroa identification

Infra-red thermometer


Examination of the bees

Remove a frame and knock down around 500 bees into a container with a lid.

Brush the bees off a comb through a large mouthed funnel into the container.

Ensure the queen is not present.

Add 500ml of windscreen washing liquid –ethanol or alternatively methylated spirits

Varro (Varroa destructor)

Shake the bottle for 1 minute to dislodge the mites.  Examine for evidence of any Varro mites using a hand lens. This can be assisted by passing the bees and alcohol through a wide screen #8 or #12 mesh to remove the bees and then sieving again through cotton cloth.

Nosema –dysentery - (Nosema apris and Nosema ceranae)

Remove 10 bees remove the digestive tract.

Examine the digestive tract, especially ventriculus for evidence of Nosema spores

Acarina –tracheal mites (Acarapis woodii)

Remove 10 bees and section across the thorax

Examine cross-section for evidence of Acarinae


Examine each bee for evidence of deformity – particularly note the wing structure.

Place any bees of interest into 10% buffered formaldehyde

Protein content

Remove the remaining bees and submit for total crude protein concentration as a general indicator of health


Examine the hive debris

Place a sticky sheet into the hive floor 7 days prior to the visit

Place the hive debris into windscreen washing liquid or methylated spirits.

Varro mites will float to the surface count the number

Divide the number of mites by the number of days to get a mite/day estimation.


Bee Sting Management

  1. Remove the sting by scraping out with your thumbnail.  Do not squeeze out the sting – this will empty more toxin from the venom sac
  2. Take pain killers
  3. Be aware of sensitization and antihistamines may be required.



Indicators of the general health of the bees


Protein concentration

The crude protein concentration % can vary in working bees from 21 to 67%.

It is important to maintain the workers with a crude protein concentration above 40%

If the protein concentration falls below 40% the lifespan of the workers will fall from the normal 46-50 days to 20 to 26 days.

If the protein concentration falls below 30% the bees become very susceptible to European Foul Brood (Melissococcus plutonius) and Nosema (Nosema apris and Nosema ceranae).  This is particularly important check in the Autumn, as bees with low protein concentration will generally fail to overwinter.


The weight of the hive

Having the hive on a weigh scale can provide invaluable information regarding the number of stores and general heath of the hive.  This can also be integrated into a wireless system so that the hive can be monitored through the internet.  This can prove to be a deterrent to thieves as your computer/phone can alert the owners of any serious upset.   The progressive loss of weight may also be a helpful early indicator of disorders such as colony collapse disorder.