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The queen is dead, workers unite!

12 May 2011 3 Comments
The queen is dead, workers unite!

The bees at Cilcain lost their queen a couple of weeks ago, no panic though as they quickly set about creating a new one, two in fact!

The queen could have died for a number of reasons – old age, injury etc – once the colony senses the queen has gone they set about creating a replacement.  This is done by choosing a recent hatched larva and the nurse bees start to feed it with royal jelly. Queens are bigger than worker bees and so the cells they occupy are much longer – you can see some here.

However the time lost while waiting for a new queen meant that our colony might not build up enough stores for the winter (let alone produce any honey for us!) so having just caught a swarm last week I decided the best course of action was to unite the two colonies and create a much bigger one.

Uniting colonies involves removing one of the queens, in this case the two queen cells, and placing the other colony on top of the other one. A piece of newspaper is placed between the two brood boxes so that the 2 colonies don’t immediately meet each other (and a fight breaks out!) and instead spend time getting used to each other by eating through the newspaper. By the time they meet (bit like the Berlin wall coming down!) they’ve got used to each other and unite to get on with their new colony duties.

If you’re at the Cilcain site this month see if you can spot bees carrying pollen and let me know what colour it is, we can then work out what flowers and trees they’ve found to forage on.


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  • Nkki said:

    What a great post!

    How did you know the queen was dead?

  • Mark (author) said:

    When I opened the hive and checked the frames I saw the queen cells – there are 3 types -ones produced when the colony is thinking of swarming which can be found on the edge/bottom of frames and hang vertically, ones that are found in the middle of the frame, called supersedure cells, which means the queen knows she’s on her last legs and lays her replacement and the third kind, which are called emergency queen cells and these are the kind I found, ‘L’ shaped in nature and developed from larva originally intended to be a worker and then turned into a queen in an emergency – ‘L’ shaped because the queen is longer in length, so nurse bees have to make the cell bigger. Should’ve taken a pic to show you – think I need an official photographer! ; )

  • Marcus20VT said:

    Blimey – they’re a fiesty lot those bees!!

    Interesting stuff, thanks Mark.

    By the way, “The Queen is Dead” is also the name of a fantastic Smiths album!!
    Off topic I know, but worth mentioning :)