Queenless problems?

What a great spring! This year we brought in 770 packages of bees and are excited to see your beekeeping successes!

In the packages, we guarantee that the queen bee will be alive and healthy when customers take them home. But there are some rare customer error problems that can happen with the queen. Hopefully knowing about these issues will prevent queen loss. We do have extra queens, in case things like this happen.

The queen doesn’t make it out of her cage and she dies in it. Beekeepers need to let the queen out of her cage. There are several methods to do this.

Our preference is to remove the cork and put some crystalized honey in the hole. To do this, carefully watch the queen pace back and forth in the cage. When she is at the far side, pop out the cork and add the honey with your hive tool. Worker bees will chew her out over time. Another option is to replace the cork with a piece of soft candy, like half of a mini marshmallow.

Other beekeepers spray the queen with a little sugar syrup in a squirt bottle, and then carefully peel back the metal of the cage so the queen can walk out. Be super careful not to drown her.

The queen flies away. Sometimes, when the cork is out and before the candy is in place, the queen will fly away. There goes $30! This can also happen if she doesn’t have enough syrup on her wings.

The queen is a dud. Occasionally, the queen is not a great queen. This is rare, but happens. After installing the package, on the first hive inspection (about 4 days after installing), start looking for eggs. It can take up to 10 days for her to start laying. Eggs can be very difficult to see, so if you can’t see eggs, look 3 days later for larvae. If she is not laying, you may want to replace the queen.

The queen is doing great, but the beekeepers can’t see the eggs. This is the most common issue we see. We love how concerned beekeepers are about their new hive stewardship. If you are truly concerned and want to know if the hive is queenless, look for eggs and larvae. They are evidence that the queen is alive and well. As eggs last for 3 days before they hatch, if we see them in the hive, one egg per cell, we know for certain that the queen has been alive and well, laying eggs, for the last 3 days.


But let’s say that you are very concerned about the queen and order a new one. Queenless and queen-right worker bees behave quite differently when a new queen is introduced. If they are queenless, they will surge over to her to accept her. If they are already queen-right, they will try to kill her.

We had a hive where the queen did not make it, and here is a video how queenless workers behave in the presence of a new queen.

The queen is in the hive, but is not laying eggs. This could happen with a newly emerged virgin queens. It takes about a week after she hatches for her to go on the mating flight. After the flight, it will take about a week for her to begin laying.

Some varieties of honeybees curtail laying eggs at certain times of year or under certain conditions. For example, Carniolans are known for reducing brooding activity when there is a pollen or nectar dearth. This could happen any time of the year.

Maybe the queen is laying eggs abundantly, but there is no nectar or pollen to feed the bees. As soon as the eggs hatch, they starve and are removed from their cells.

If bees are about to swarm, the queen’s nutrition is restricted by worker bees so she will slim down so she can be airborn and leave with half of the colony. This often happens about the time swarm cells are sealed over.

There will also be a gap in egg-laying after the swarm has left because the new queens have not emerged from their cells yet.

After hiving a swarm, there is a period of time, about 3 days, for the queen to begin laying eggs again.

In European Foulbrood, the queen may be laying eggs but they are diseased and die then are removed by worker bees.

Diploid drones happen when there are two male chromosomes in one bee. The workers sense this as a defect and remove larvae as soon as it hatches.



Posted in Bee Biology, Beekeeping, the Honey Company and tagged , , .

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