Hive Not Doing Well; Suspecting Disease!


I inspected my hive today, and I noticed some problems with my hive during my inspection (the following text has been copy pasted from an email I sent another beekeeper):
"Hive population seems to be declining rather than expanding. On March 16, I thought it was slightly smaller than a football, and I thought it had expanded a little by April 2, but now, I would say the cluster is the size of a baseball. There were about 3 brood frames on March 20; now (April 15) there are only 2 (each time I inspected, there wasn't much brood on the frames at all). I noticed some problems with the brood:
Perforated cappings; no signs of AFB or EFB, though. I "did" the matchstick test for AFB using a twig I found on the ground, and the pupae didn't have the discoloration associated with EFB. The pupae looked normal. However, there were several dead pupae just sitting in their cells without caps; the bees hadn't removed them yet. There was also a few half-grown dead pupae that the bees had pulled out of the cells sitting on the bottom board.
There was a tiny amount of dead bees in front of the hive, and a few dead bees sitting on the combs. I noticed a lot of poop on the front of the hive (I also noticed a much smaller amount on April 2), and there was some poop on the combs themselves; the bees even pooped on my gloves while I was inspecting the hive. Also, I noticed a few of the bees were acting sluggish/sick during the inspection. I'm suspecting they have dysentery, or maybe even Nosema. Can you tell me what you think is going on?

P.S. I noticed eggs during my inspection, so there was a laying queen present."

Look around for a patch of drone brood and pull them out of the comb. See if there are any mites on the drone brood, they will look like small brown dots and are easy to spot on the white bodies of the immature drones. The perforated cappings can be a sign of mites so plan to treat and checking the drones is a quick down and dirty way to check.

Reading through, and looking at your location in your profile. 
I think the problem is as simple. You have a small cluster coming out of winter that are left in a space that is much too big for them to maintain. 
They cannot take care of the excess space they have nor maintain hive temperatures through spring swings. As a result what you are seeing is chill killed brood with nurse and house bees overwhelmed with the workload.  Cold bees will not leave a developing broodnest to go vent if the doorway is too far.  They will hold it and stay close to keep brood warm.  When they cannot hold any longer, they defecate a bit in the hive.  This is common to see on small clusters in excessive space.
In early spring there is also always population drop before the colony grows.  This is absolutely normal.  Sometimes it is barely noticeable. Other times it may be as much as 50 percent or even more of the colony. The extent of the die off depends on the age of the bees going into winter and how long the winter drags on before the hive gets triggered to start the first major brood cycle .. This (right now) is the period in spring when the old bees are dying off while waiting and holding on as long as they can until new bees from the first brood cycles start to emerge.  If the old die quicker than the new are emerging, there is the dip in population. If large brood patches become unmanageable (too much space) as the old die off, brood around the outskirts gets abandoned and subject to chill-kill. 
Step 1.  Significantly reduce the hive space. Condense and crowd the cluster into fewer boxes and fewer frames by using a follower board. All but 10% of the total frame space should be covered by the cluster at this time. If necessary Move down into a nuc box (4 or 5 frames) to get to that coverage target. You will see a nearly immediate improvement in the condition of the bees, and an upswing in hygiene in a matter of days. Recovery, bounce back, will be well underway within 2 weeks.
Step 2.  Keep an eye on their recovery through weekly inspections. Add space back to them as they ramp into May and June so as to curb swarming. 
You mentioned nosema. Spring nosema is exasperated by environmental stress.  Especially too much space and unhygienic conditions.  The cure regimen is the same.  Significantly reduce the space to what they can manage to care for which will give them a chance to get themselves cleaned up.
Next possibility is mites and associated virus that come with them.  Those shorten bee lifespan and you get that big die-off prematurely.  Mite problem hives are usually dead before christmas and mite injured hives are dead in February. Since your hive survived this far, I do not think that is the core problem right now. It is easy to check for them by pulling some pupae from capped brood, or drone, and looking in the cells and backs of the pupae like suggested. Surely mites are there hampering progress, but not to the degree nor the symptoms you have described for this stage of the bee year. 
Start with getting them moved into a much smaller space. Really crowd them. Wait for them to clean themselves up and show some recovery progress, then apply your preferred mite controls going forward. 

Hope that helps.   Good luck!

Whatever was the outcome of this hive?


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