Home | About | Products | Blog

Queen-right to queen-less in less than a week!


:cry: The short story:

We had visual on the queen on Saturday, May 25th. The brood she’d first laid had started to emerge. Midway through last week I looked in through the window and saw more bees in the hive than we’d had since we received the package. Yesterday (Saturday, June 1st) we were doing a hive inspection and found, to our surprise, a capped supercedure cell along with a large number of queen cells along the edges of comb. Didn’t see any eggs, didn’t see any larvae. The bees were getting a bit anxious so we closed up. Went back out today for a thorough inspection. No queen. No eggs. Found some uncapped larvae scattered around. The uncapped queen cells were capped, with the exception of one that they were in the process of capping. Over half a dozen capped queen cells. We’ve seen very few drone cells in this hive. Don’t think they swarmed as the numbers of bees haven’t gone down—looks like they’ve gone up as more have emerged.

No idea what happened to the queen, but apparently after the first week or so of new brood emerged they decided they didn’t like her and took action to replace her.

We figure our options are to buy a new queen or let them raise their own. We decided to let them raise their own, which is good because the sources for queens I’ve checked don’t have queens available at the moment. Our second hive has been going like gang busters, so I plan on moving a bar of brood comb from there into Hive 2 later this week to help keep things going.

Comments, suggestions, ideas?

The long story and photos below. If my short story caused questions, you may find the answer to them here.

Background: Hive 1 has done OK but has not been all that strong since the package was hived just over a month ago. They did quickly draw comb, but the combs are not near as large the ones drawn by the package we received an hived a week later. The package was not as large as the second one and we did have a bit of a die-off of unknown cause.

The queen began laying like a champ-fairly solid brood pattern, very few drones. We were expecting the brood to begin emerging in large numbers last week. On the 23th of May, the Thursday before last, we checked the hive and we finally saw the queen for the first time. Brood was just starting to emerge. We saw her again on Saturday the 25th, when we took our granddaughters out to see the bees. Towards the end of this past week I went out and looked in through the window and was pleased to see that I could hardly see the comb any more. The population boom had begun.

Yesterday we went out for our weekly hive inspections. In Hive 1 I was a little concerned that the front comb had not changed in size or shape since the week previous; the only change is that there was capped brood on it, but there weren’t any larvae or eggs. We started getting a bit concerned when we found some queen cells being built at the bottom and on the sides of some of the other combs. We looked for the queen but didn’t find her. We looked for eggs and larvae, but didn’t see any (but we weren’t aggressive about having the bees move out of the way, either. There was at least one capped supercedure queen cell in the upper middle point of one comb, and I think there may have been other capped queen cells. We were going to take a closer look but when we started to do so the colony began a bit of a roar and a few started “posturing” with their abdomens arched and their stingers pointing up. I’d recently read that as being a warning so we decided to close up. It was getting fairly windy, as well.

Today we went back out with a plan. We were looking for the queen, capped queen cells, larvae, and eggs. We didn’t find the queen but we did find about a half dozen or so capped queen cells, one that looked like it was in the process of being capped, a number of queen cups with nothing in them, and a couple of uncapped queen cells with nothing in them but being worked on.

This time we cleared away bees from the comb so we could take a good look for larvae and eggs. We found that pollen and nectar was being stored in empty brood cells and on a couple of combs we found larvae. The larvae was on several combs, but mixed in with the existing capped brood and pollen and nectar cells in a somewhat random pattern. We found no eggs, though we were looking with reading glasses and a magnifying glass to augment our vision. There was still a scarcity of drone cells.

So, we know we had a queen on the 25th. Judging by the fact we had a capped supercedure cell a week later it is possible that somehow we injured the queen while showing her to the girls, but other than Rhonda jarring a bar of comb when putting it back (it dropped back into place) I can’t think of anything that happened out of the ordinary. It is possible that the bees had already decided to replace her and had begun work on that cell but we’d not noticed.

Looking at the photos I took on March 23rd I find no evidence of queen-cell building, but there are larvae visible on the outer edges of some of the brood comb. These could have been made into supercedure cells that look like swarm cells.

The swarm cells on the bottom weren’t capped yesterday, but for the most part are today. There are lots of queen cups as well. There were none on the 23rd when we did our previous inspection.

Using Michael Bush’s Bee Math, the larvae tells me we had a queen a bit over 4 days ago. I don’t think it’s a laying worker because I didn’t see any eggs and neither did my wife. I will grant that, as new beekeepers, we may have missed them, but we were using magnifying technology. Since we have capped cells we should have a queen emerge within 8 days or so but possibly earlier because we don’t know how long the supercedure cell has been capped. I expect that one may be first to emerge.

Options: We see our options as pretty simple: we can order a queen or we can wait and let the hive produce its own. Actually, it looks like we will have to do the latter. BeeWeaver doesn’t ship queens until the 10th, Olympic Wilderness not until July, and a look at a number of other suppliers doesn’t look good, either. I guess we’ll let the hive produce its own queen and see what happens.

We do have Hive 2 going strong. Unlike Hive 1, they build comb from top to bottom and side to side, and they’re being filled with brood. I intend to move one of those combs into Hive 1 when the existing brood starts to run out.

The photos:

From Saturday the 25th, the first (that we saw) capped supercedure cell:


Same cell on Sunday, with larvae visible around it:


Another Saturday photo, queen cell on bottom of comb being worked on by a bee. This cell was capped today, along with most of the rest of the uncapped ones we saw.


Sunday: A cluster of capped queen cells:


Capped queen cell with mix of capped brood, larvae, pollen, nectar.


Three more capped queen cells:


Yet another queen cell:


And apparently, we got the bee version of the finger for bothering them:





A quick update: During last Saturday’s inspection we found that the bees were busy tearing down the queen cells, so the assumption is that one has emerged. We’ll have to wait and see if she gets herself properly mated and back to the hive. I thought I saw one bee that could have been her, but didn’t get a great photo. One thing that I did see in the photo was a bee with shriveled wings, a classic case of deformed wing disease. I’d hoped we’d not have a mite problem as it is a new package with fresh comb and the old queen did not lay very many drone eggs, nor during my close review of highly magnified photos have I found any mites on the backs of bees. But still, there it was. If we do have a mite problem so quickly at least the break in the brood cycle caused by the supercession will cause a break in the mite lifecycle!