How to Buy a Queen Bee

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As beekeepers, we are responsible for managing our honey bee colonies. If the hive has a major problem, it is the responsibility of the beekeeper to assist if possible. In spite of nature’s wonderful adaptability, there will be times when a beekeeper needs to know how to buy a queen bee. Having young productive queens is a must. Colony population depends on a constant supply of new bees during the warm season.

Plastic cages with queen honey bees bought by beekeepers.

The single most important individual in the colony, the primary role of the queen is to lay eggs. Lots of eggs – both fertilized and unfertilized to produce workers and drones. Without her, life will not go along well for very long.

Do You Need to Buy a Queen

Worker bees are the non-reproductive females that do all the necessary task for the colony. Because bees do not live very long, a constant supply of new workers is necessary.

Bees die every day and without replacements – colony population drops. If this continues, pests such as wax moths or hive beetles will take over the hive.

Where to Buy a Queen Honey Bee

Purchasing a new queen bee is very easy during the warm season. From late Spring through early Fall, finding a queen for sell should not be a problem.

If you live within driving distance of a bee supply, they will often have extra queens for sale during “bee season” – especially early Spring.

And believe it or not, you can buy a queen online and have her shipped right to your front door. Now, whether she will arrive alive is another question but many queens are shipped through the mail each season.

Sometimes, local beekeepers raise a few extra queens – if the beekeeper is reputable, this is a great way to add some new genetics to your bees. Contact your local beekeeping association for more information.

Placing a Queen Order

These are the most common steps in buy a queen for your hive.

  1. research reputation of seller
  2. choose which type of honey bee queen you want (breed)
  3. place your order – you may have to pay in advance
  4. if queen is shipping in the mail – choose the quickest delivery time and review any guarantees (or lack thereof) of live delivery
Purchased queen bee and workers in introduction cage image.

How Much Does a Queen Bee Cost?

The cost of a queen honey bee can vary from one location to another. And of course, if you are buying bees from certain breeding programs you can expect to pay more.

Breeder queens are produced and artificially inseminated with chosen drone semen. These bees are often hundreds of dollars. Don’t panic, the average beekeeper does not need an expensive queen.

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Buying a mated queen bee from a reputable breeder (or supply) should only set you back $30-$50 on average. These queens are open mated. This means that they fly free and mate with drones in the area – prior to being shipped to you.

Open Mated

Bee breeders saturate the areas surrounding their mating hives with drone colonies. These drones are bees that have the desired characteristics they hope for (i.e. gentleness, hardiness etc.).

These open mated queens are used by most beekeepers and are what you should expect when you buy a package of bees.

You never truly know what you will get and keep your fingers crossed for a good queen. Even the queen suppliers can not make guarantees – there are too many variables involved.

While you can buy virgin queens, or even queen cells, most beekeepers will have better success when purchasing a mated queen bee.

Purchased Queen Bee Arrives

When you pick up a new purchased queen (or if she arrives in the mail) she will be in a small cage. This small box (queen cage) can be either wood and wire or plastic.

She may be marked or you can later mark the queen yourself. It should be easy to tell which one is the queen due to her long abdomen.

Don’t worry if she is not as plump as you might hope. Young queens bulk up in size once they get in the hive and begin laying.

She does not travel alone but will have a few worker attendants in there with her. They are known to the queen and will feed and care for her until she is released.

Don’t panic if a couple of the workers are dead. Bees die every day and these may have simply reached the end of the bee’s life cycle.

Storing queen bee in cool dark place prior to installation image.

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Care Before Installation

You can care for a caged queen for several days -if needed. Though I recommend requeening your hive with the new queen as soon as possible. The sooner she is in the hive the better for her and the colony.

Some beekeepers use special queen introduction frames when introducing a new queen – but its not a requirement.

Until you can get to the hive, keep her somewhere safe. Place the cage in a cool (not cold) dark place and try to avoid bothering them. Once a day, put a drop or two of water on the screen of the cage.

What to do if the Queen Bee Dies in the Cage

If your queen is dead upon arrival, call the supplier immediately. They will instruct you on the next steps to take.

Before ordering queens through the mail, it is a good practice to ask questions about live arrival guarantees.

Will the supplier send a replacement or will you have to file a claim with the post office to get a refund?

It’s a difficult business to ship live insects through the mail – just be sure you understand any risk on your part.

Newly purchased queen bee in a queen cage surrounded by worker bees image.

Why Would You Need to Purchase a New Queen?

Since there is some risk involved – and they don’t give queen bee away – why would you buy a queen? This is a fair question. Why would a beekeeper need to buy a queen when the bees can make one for themselves?

Well, as amazing as the replacement process is – it does not always work. Being without a queen is a tenuous time for the colony.

Many things can go wrong from poor development of the queen bee larvae to the risk of her not returning safely from her mating flight.

There are several situations where purchasing a queen honey bee is the best idea for the colony.

  • beekeepers wants to add different genetics to apiary
  • colony is unable to produce a queen – no fresh eggs
  • attempts to requeen themselves failed

New Genetics

Sometimes, the beekeeper wants to introduce new genetics into the bee yard. Some bee breeders focus on developing a line of bees with special characteristics. Better suited to cold or warm climates, calmness, honey production are only a few things hoped for.

Having healthy productive hives is a big part of what beekeeping is all about. This should always be our major goal – healthy colonies.

Varroa Resistance

Buying a queen from a bee breeder focusing on hygienic behavior (to control mite populations) may be appealing if you struggle with varroa mite control.

Colonies with hygienic behaviors tend to have fewer problems with varroa mite infestations.

Suited for Colder Climates

Also, a breeder may offer queens that he/she says will over Winter better in a cold climate. While our bees can leave almost anywhere, some genetic lines do better in regions with long cold Winters.

It is often a measure of having a large enough population balanced with storing enough honey.

Calm Temperament

Temperament is another characteristic than can be affected by inherited factors. Though there are many things that make a colony of bees more aggressive, some breed lines are worse than others.

Some beekeepers don’t mind if their colonies have a little “bee sass”. But, most of us would rather have nice manageable colonies.

Do keep in mind that these are only breed tendencies and you can have calm or jumpy colonies from any line of bees.

Bee eggs and tiny larvae contrasted to larger larva not suitable for becoming queens.

Colony Unable to Produce a Queen

The honey bee colony has a remarkable ability to replace their queen bee when needed. With the right materials in the hive and enough worker bees, a new queen can be produced.

However, without fresh fertilized eggs or very young female larva, no queen can be produced. If the problem is caught in time, the beekeeper may be able to provide a frame of fresh eggs from another colony.

However, if the colony has been queenless for a while, this presents a bigger problem. Laying workers that can not lay fertilized eggs may already be in place. The colony is doomed without intervention.

Likewise, the colony population may become too low to sustain itself. It takes time for a new queen to be raised, mated and produce new workers.

There comes a point that even introducing a new queen is too little too late. Most of these situations, can be overcome and a quality queen introduced if they are caught in time.

But, sometimes, you may need to shell out some money to buy a queen. This is just a standard cost of beekeeping that we all expect to pay at times.

Final Thoughts

There will be times that you will be unable to buy a queen bee due. It is often difficult to find queens to buy during the middle of Summer.

In this case, if the season allows and the colony has a decent population, you may let them try on their own. Give them a frame of fresh eggs from another colony (or buy a frame from another beekeeper).

Before paying money for bees of any type, shop around. Ask questions of people who have purchased from the supplier before. And then, get ready for the wonderful things that new queen you just bought is going to do for your colony.

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