What to Do With Queen Cells In The Beehive?
Finding queen cells in the beehive is exciting for any beekeeper. If you are new to beekeeping, you may wonder what the heck is this? It’s true, the site of large peanut shaped cells can be perplexing the first time you see them. However, once you realize what queen cells are, they become easily recognizable.
More than just recognizing them, we need to know what they mean. It is important to note how many queen cells you see and where they are located. Queen cells occur for a couple of different reasons.
Marked Queens Can Be A Great Thing
Many beekeepers choose to keep their queens marked. A non-toxic marker is used to place a dot of paint on the queen’s thorax.
If you use the International Color System when marking your queens, you will be able to tell at a glance how old she is.
When I see queen cells, the first thing I do is look for my queen. Is she still in the hive? Does she look damaged etc.
Are Queen Cells In The Beehive A Good Sign?
Seeing Queen cells can be good. Sometimes a beekeeper is delighted to find queen cells. Other times, the last thing we want to see are queen cells in the hive.
If you have a colony and you want to raise a new queen bee, seeing the queen cells is a good thing. Perhaps you have purposely given the colony plenty of worker bees, plenty of honey and fresh eggs (or a queen cell). In a couple of weeks, you can have a young, laying queen.
However if you see a lot of queen cells in a crowded colony, you have a hive that is planning to swarm. That may not be such a good thing as approximately half your colony will leave. If you fail to catch the swarm, you have lost valuable bees. A colony that is planning to swarm will have numerous queen cells that will usually be near the bottom of the frames.
Preparing for Swarms
Upon seeing a large amount of queen cells in your hive, this may be the signal that swarm season is upon you.
You usually want to avoid swarming colonies and do your own hive splits to reduce congestion. However, it is a great idea to have a couple of swarm traps out several weeks before swarm season.
I like to use swarm lure in my bait hives/swarm traps. A trap with lure with NOT cause a colony to swarm. However, if they do swarm in spite of your efforts to stop it- maybe you will catch them.
Every Honey Bee Colony Needs A Queen
Everyone understands that the queen bee plays a very important role in the bee colony. And most colonies only have 1 queen bee.
Have you ever wondered where a queen bee comes from ? Ultimately we may get into the “which came first- the chicken or the egg issue” but I will save that argument for another day !
Honey bees can “make” a new queen. Yes, indeed they can ! If they loose their queen due to age or disease, they can make a new queen from very young larva (from fertilized eggs).
When wanting to swarm, they make a new queen to leave behind and take the old queen with them. Seeing queen cells in the beehive is evidence of queen bee production.
Making A New Queen Honey Bee In A Queen Cell
If the bee colony is in need of a new queen, they will select a very young larva. This is true whether the colony is preparing to swarm or replacing a bad queen.
This larva came from a fertilized egg – it will be a female bee. The best queens will be produced from very tiny larva – almost too small to see! (This is why a colony must have fresh eggs/larva to make a good queen.)
Nurse bees feed the chosen larva rich concentrations of food (royal jelly and brood food) in large quantities. This will cause the larva to grow and develop into a sexually mature queen bee.
What Do Queen Cells Look Like?
Because the queen bee is larger than workers, she needs a larger cell for development. When the colony wants to produce a queen, worker bees build a larger honeycomb cell that looks much like a peanut !
In the beginning, the cell looks like a small acorn. We call it a “queen cup”. When the queen lays an egg in the cup, the progress begins. This is now a true queen cell.
Workers bees will elongate the cell to accommodate the growing queen. At the proper time, they will cap the end of the cell to allow the queen larva to pupate into an adult.
After 16 days, the queen bee will emerge and after maturing for a few days inside the hive – she will fly outside the hive to mate with drone (male) bees. Upon returning to the hive, she will soon begin to lay eggs and become the mother of the hive.
Queen Honey Bees Face Dangers
This is a wonderful system for creating new queens but it is fraught with possible peril.
The queen may perish before hatching (or a beekeeper may squish the cell), she may be eaten by a bird on her mating flight or rainy, windy weather may prevent her from being mated properly.
The honey bee colony only has a limited amount of time to requeen itself because the population begins to drop. If something happens to the young virgin queen, there may not be any young larva in the hive to begin again!
When we think of how many things can go wrong, it is a miracle that it works most of the time.
If something bad does happen to our new queen, the colony may be doomed to die unless an observant beekeeper notices the problem and supplies the colony with fresh eggs (from another hive) or a purchased queen that is already mated.
Should I Remove Queen Cells?
Numerous queen cells during swarm season can be bad. When you find queen cells in your bee colony, you are tempted to quickly cut them out. DON’T! You don’t want your colony to swarm but cutting out queen cells doesn’t stop swarming-it is just delayed.
It is hard to stop bees from swarming. If you miss even one cell, the colony can still swarm. And, if you are successful in removing them the bees will just make more. This first thing you should do upon finding queen cells in the beehive is to think.
Where Are Queen Cells Located?
Is the honey bee colony crowded? Do you see a lot of bees crowded on the frames? If so, seeing many developing queen cells at the bottom of frames means the colony is preparing to swarm. It is time to put swarm management techniques into play. Because the colony is already in swarm mode, you may need to split the colony into 2 smaller hives for a time.
Supercedure Queen Cells
Sometimes you find a smaller number of queen cells higher up on the frames, this signals a supercedure issue. The colony is unhappy with their current queen. The queen may have died or she is failing. Sensing a problem, the honey bees feel the need to produce a new queen.
Depending on the time of year, maybe you should just let them continue and check back for success in a few weeks. Instead of letting them make a new queen, you may cut out the queen cells and buy a new queen. This will result in new eggs being laid sooner.
Letting the bees rear a new queen from queen cells does introduce local genetics into the hive. However, you run the risk of an inferior queen being produced. This is especially true in a weak colony that is producing an emergency queen. A colony that is struggling may not have enough well fed nurse bees to raise a good queen.
When Do Queen Cells Hatch?
The life cycle of a queen honey bee from egg to adult is 16 days. Most colonies will cap the queen cell on day 8 (this can be earlier). Expecting an adult queen to emerge on day 16, a capped cell has about 8 days left – at most. When we see a capped cell, we don’t know when it was capped.
When I see partially constructed queen cells and none are capped, I may decide to close the hive and consider how I want to proceed. I do run the risk of missing a capped queen cell and having a queen hatch early. When you are a beekeeper, it is sometimes hard to decide what to do.
What to do With Queen Cells?
If you have the resources, you can use excess queen cells for a split or new hive. The new hive will need a queen cell (I usually put 2). It will also need worker bees, brood, honey, and pollen. It is a good idea to feed the bees to help them get off to a good start.
If you have a very large colony with numerous queen cells, you may even split it into 3 smaller hives. But don’t “spread your bees too thin”, or you will end up with several weak colonies. Be aware if you take too many resources from your main colonies, you may miss the honey flow for the season.
Finding queen cells in the beehive is certainly a reason for excitement. However, it is important to take the time to consider what they mean before you take action. If the colony feels a need to replace the queen, maybe you should let them. Does it look like a swarm is on the way? Put out your swarm traps, then you can try to keep the cell cut out or better yet – split the colony before it splits itself.
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