Queen Bee Info

I have just had a look at my Warre hive and noticed in the end comb of the topbox that the bees are building a number of new queen cells.  I didn’t count them all as I was looking through the observation window, but it looked as if there were at least 6 different peanut-shaped capped cells of different sizes.

I’m sure this is a massive subject but can someone let me know why bees would be raising new queens, and also in so many cells? I wondered if the old queen was getting on a bit, running low on sperm to fertilise new eggs or some other reason.  I heard that conventional beeks try to remove these when they see them.  Is this to control swarming?

I know I’m not going to find out why these particular bees are doing this, but it would help me to understand bees more fully if someone could help me get a sense of what makes bees raise new queens.

Graham, Reading Berkshire

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2 Responses to Queen Bee Info

  1. simplebees says:

    If I recall correctly, this was a swarm that was installed several weeks ago. Swarming is undoubtedly a taxing experience for the queen and I suspect that it is not uncommon for a swarm to replace its queen once it has settled in its new location. I have seen it happen in very short order on occasion. The great thing about observation windows is that they allow us to see things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

    As to the number of queen cells, if you had said there were 10, I’d say the bees were going to swarm again, but anywhere between 2 and half a dozen is not excessive for supersedure. So, although one can never rule out a second round of swarming, the likelihood is that the bees are merely superseding the old queen that came with the swarm.

    Finally, in passing, the conventional practice of removing queen cells is not only highly intrusive, it often fails as a means of controlling swarming. Sooner or later a queen cell gets missed – hence the practice has developed (if that is the right word) into shaking all of the bees from each comb on a weekly basis so that the beekeeper can see any queen cells that are hidden in nooks or crannies. Far better to understand what the bees are doing and allow them the space and freedom to do it. If one wants to go down the route of managing a colony’s reproduction, there are far gentler ways of doing it. Although nothing comes close to natural swarming.

    Gareth, West Oxfordshire

  2. johnmkubwa says:

    Graham,
    Colonies raise a number of queen-cells so they can select the best. Winston (page 52) states that the queen brood survival is about 53% from egg to adult. I surmise the bees are weeding out poor brood. Those new queens that are eventually allowed to hatch will compete to ensure the fittest gets the top job.

    Squashing or cutting out queen-cells is distasteful and disruptive; it damages other cells and kills neighbouring brood. I have also known inexperience beeks to cull all queen-cells in their haste to prevent swarming only to leave the colony queen-less. The resultant trauma and stress to bees and beek could have been avoided by allowing nature to take its course.

    Swarming is a fascinating topic and I don’t believe its complexity can be covered in a few posts. I recommend that anyone, who wants to understand the organism for which they are caring, should read ‘The Biology of the Honeybee’ by ML Winston. The Buzz about Bees by Tautz is another superb book on the biology of a superorganism. Referring to relevant chapters will help the inexperienced beek to pose informed questions and better understand responses. Winston covers reproduction, queens, drones and mating in two chapters.

    John, Stockbridge, Hants

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