Here is what I found:
Of 23 top bars drawn out with comb, bars 13-19 were heavy with honey. Dead bees littered the floor below bars 3-12. The Queen Bee was found on bar 10, surrounded by her attendants, all eerily still. There was a tight cluster of capped brood next to the Queen, adjacent empty cells with anywhere from 2-6 eggs per cell. Worker bees were found clinging to comb and head-first in cells, most densely around the Queen comb. Many more dead were found layers deep on the hive floor. There was no honey in bars 1-13, only capped brood and some pollen cells.
Did this hive starve to death? Were the honey combs at bars 13-19 just too far from the brood chamber as winter drew to a close? I vaguely recall a recommendation to move honey comb to the front of the hive late in winter. This could be our novice fault. 😦 It seems reasonable that the cold snap in February could have weakened the hive, killing off the brood we saw on Feb 13, but the Queen kept laying, and while trying to build up their numbers, they starved to death… This was also the hive that suffered an intial setback resulting in loss of its first honey stores. Plus the open window found in December. These could all have played a role…
I have decided to utilize the diagnostic services provided by the APIS Molecular Systematics lab at Washington State University. If I send them up to 1 c. of bees in isopropoyl alcohol, they will check for incidence and prevalence of common diseases, including nosema, varroa mites, and tracheal mites. I will report back on the findings.
In the meantime, tulips are blooming, the Italians are going strong, and spring is (hopefully) here to stay. It is the best time of year, full of hope and promise for the new year.