When honey bees swarm they frequently move into cavities previously used by other colonies of bees. They are attracted to old bee nests by hive odors of beeswax, honey, propolis, pollen, bees, and their pheromones. It is common for a colony of honey bees to occupy a hollow tree for a couple of years and then die after being weakened by parasitic Varroa mites. Even if the combs are destroyed by hive scavengers, like wax moths and small hive beetles, the cavity is likely to attract another colony of bees. The same sequence of events commonly occurs when people attempt to drive honey bees from the walls of their houses. Old colonies are soon replaced by new colonies. Colonies of bees replace one another so frequently that it may appear a hive is occupied continuously when it actually held a series of different colonies. The attractiveness of hive odors makes old bee hives effective bait hives for capturing swarms in the spring and summer. Old abandoned bee hives are attractive to swarming honey bees as well.
I received a call asking me to remove bees from some abandoned hives. I found a very large feral colony occupying a stack of rotting hive bodies. While wood rot and termites had consumed most of the woodenware, combs were held together by propolis. One by one, I transferred the frames of brood into new hive boxes. After all intact frames were moved, a number of broken pieces of brood comb remained. I placed these in a nucleus hive. After several weeks I found the feral queen hiding among the broken combs in the nucleus hive. The bees in the larger hive produced a new queen. I now have two strong hives with good behavior and characteristics. I welcome these locally-adapted feral genes into my bee yards. Was the colony in the abandoned hive equipment truly feral? Possibly, or its queen may have been purchased from a breeding program by another beekeeper. Lucky find.