Queens, Princesses, Assassinations, Coronation, Abdication and Other Royal Chaos

On Monday we checked our hives. Hive 1 is fine. The other 2 are a worry.

The requeening of Hive 3, done 16 days prior, seems to have taken. 2 bits of evidence supporting this are:

  1. The 2 emergency cells (example photos below) we spotted 4 days after we installed the cage were gone. The bees probably figured out their queen was dead and wanted to quickly replace her, then realised they actually had a new queen so gave up on that endeavor.
  2. We spotted the queen so we know they didn’t kill her (and she didn’t die).

We didn’t see a lot of eggs/larvae/capped brood, which isn’t great news, but it hasn’t been that long since we stuck her cage in the hive so we’ll check back after 2 more weeks and see how she’s doing. The bees have eaten up most of the honey stores we provided so we’re feeding them again in the hopes the queen will lay and they’ll grow strong enough to become a viable hive.

That’s Hive 3. Hive 2, the hive that we believed swarmed (producing Hive 3) is a different problem.

Four weeks ago, on April 15th, the brood chamber was full of nectar and held no (or little) brood. At that time we spotted (and accidentally damaged) a swarm/supersedure queen cell. We moved a brood frame from Hive 1 into Hive 2’s brood box (God Bless Hive 1 and all its vitality). On Monday it had been 3 weeks so we opened the brood box to see what was going on. The swarm cell was nowhere to be found. Which means either we killed the egg when we damaged the cell or a queen hatched from it and the bees had already cleaned away the cell. But we also found heaps of emergency cells. These were all empty, at least one looked like it had hatched, most were well on their way to being totally removed.

Here are some photos of the emergency cells.

Emergency queen bee cell - it looks like a queen has hatched from this

Emergency queen bee cell – it looks like a queen has hatched from this

Several empty (destroyed or hatched) emergency queen cells

Several empty (destroyed or hatched?) emergency queen bee cells

Empty Emergency Cell

Empty emergency queen bee cell

Here’s the story-line that fits with the state of Hive 2 as at 6 May 2013 (though it could be wrong).

  1. Swarmed 31 January 2013
  2. New queen mated and reproduced (evidence of new brood as recently as 29 March) but wasn’t up to scratch. The hive grew weaker (a significant decrease in numbers of bees in hive and foraging).
  3. The bees decided they didn’t like their queen and set about superseding. They do this by producing a swarm cell at the bottom of one of the brood frames. This cell is peanut shaped and sized. The old queen lays an egg there and the nurse bees feed up the egg with lots of royal jelly and produce a new queen. The theory is that when this queen hatches, the colony will kill the old queen since she’s not up to their standard (ruthless little creatures).
  4. Something went wrong with the supersedure – either we destroyed the new queen in her cell on accident (on 15 April) or the old queen killed her or the new queen hatched but failed to mate or died on her mating flight or… (nature just works this way). The old queen either had something wrong with her so stopped laying, had died of “natural” causes or had been killed by the colony in anticipation of a new queen. Whatever it was, the hive found itself queenless sometime around 15 April.
  5. The nurse bees took some cells that had young eggs in them (that their queen laid or that we provided with the brood frame from Hive 1) and built the cell up and fed the egg to create a new queen. When bees make these emergency cells they generally make several of them. The resulting queen is often small for 2 reasons; emergency cells aren’t as large as swarm cells and the bees find themselves feeding multiple potential queens so none of them get as much food as they should.
  6. The first queen to emerge from her emergency cell went about killing the other contenders and the bees cleaned up the dead queens and are in the process of destroying the cells.
  7. The queen will have her mating flight 6-10 days after emerging. Which may or may not have happened already. I doubt it though since it was only 21 days since we found the swarm cell. Assuming the egg that they selected for their queen was brand new and knowing that it takes about 16 days for the queen to emerge means she was about 5 days old on the 6th of May. You can expect a new queen to start laying as early as 23 days after she herself was an egg, but it’s likely closer 25 days.

Now we have a colony that may have a viable virgin queen – or may not. We’ll check again in 2 weeks to find out if she’s laying. We may end up merging Hive 2 (medium strength hive, no queen or maybe an emergency queen) and Hive 3 (new queen, small colony) to try to get one strong colony that would do better over winter.

Yes, I’m the one that didn’t want to do anything with my bees besides harvest honey. I’m starting to think the only way that would work is to never watch them or worry about changes in behaviour. I do wonder if it’s “smarter” never to check the brood box and just let the bees take care of things. I have no idea if Hive 2 and 3 would survive without our intervention (food, new queens, brood frames) but, then again, I have no idea if they will survive in spite of our interference either!


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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14 Responses to Queens, Princesses, Assassinations, Coronation, Abdication and Other Royal Chaos

  1. Emily Heath says:

    Nerve-wracking! I like the way you’ve thought all the possibilities through. Beekeeping often seems to involve a lot of detective work, trying to put yourself in the minds of the bees. Hope eggs start appearing soon.

    • It’s human nature to want to understand things and it’s nature’s nature to be un-understandable! Or that’s the way it seems when you spend much time around bees. I love reading articles where experienced beekeepers emphasise that you never really know what a colony is doing or will do because they have a mind of their own. I try to keep that in mind as I walk around in a state of perpetual bafflement 🙂

  2. This confirms that the necessary knowledge to be successful at bee keeping is not to be underestimated. Following your exploits is very helpful as preparation for me to try to do this next year. Thank you for sharing.

    • I just wish that my exploits were better understood by me (my bees understand all too well, they just aren’t telling me) so maybe you could gain some real knowledge. But beekeeping is as much art as it is science and so all we can do is try to learn from each others exploits.

  3. Simon says:

    Hopefully, your queen will be laying eggs, and your hive will be in good shape. I keep having to remind myself you are about to enter winter. =]

  4. vuchickens says:

    It’s like a Bee “Game of Thrones” down there!!! (Not that I’ve watched it… ;-))

  5. I love your story! Beekeeping is never boring and you will have always something new or a new experience to write about.
    Beekeeping is easier when you have more hives because it’s easier to compensate losses or simply have materil to add (for example prividing eggs and brood from other hieves).
    Here my newest experience. I was lucky i had my camera on hand! :http://artandkitchen.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/homesick-bees-swarm-went-back-home/
    Good luck with your new queen and have fun with your bees!

  6. Pingback: They’re fine and now ready for winter | Laura Rittenhouse's Gardening Journal

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