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Monday, April 01, 2013

The Impending Death of a Queen

This morning it's finally both warm and I'm in town AND I am off on Monday mornings, so Hive Inspection time.  I was very anxious to get into the drone layer hive and see what's going on.

I got out to the backyard to find that the bees in the Drone Layer hive were carrying out the bodies of drones, ripped out of their cells:

So now I'm thinking something is going on and the drones are either ill or perhaps they have a new hygienic queen.

I wanted to open the hive, but when I took the top off, I found a ton of hive beetles.  Those of you who have heard/seen my hive inspection talk/slideshow (on right sidebar under Pages), know that my cure for the small hive beetle is SMASH THEM WITH YOUR HIVE TOOL.  So that's what I did.  The first photo shows the shiny little !!#$!@#$ and the second shows the smashed dead bodies.

But then I opened the hive.  I started in the bottom box where there was pollen stored but no brood.  The last time I was in the hive, I saw (or thought I saw) eggs in the bottom box.  I worked my way up.

In the second box, I found the old queen.  She had a yellow dot on her thorax which means she is the original queen from the hive that was purchased as a nuc last year.  The yellow dot means she is a 2012 queen (yellow is the color for years ending in a "2") - the drone cells mean that she was indeed "short bred" and did not get mated well enough to justify selling her with the nuc that I bought.

The bees do not like her and are setting her up for her impending death.  I'm putting up several photos of her so you can see that they have chewed her wings.  I think they are about to push her out of the hive and with her wings destroyed, she will die.  I don't think they would do this or pull out the drone brood if they didn't have a new queen.

I know it's a lot of photos, but I thought this was fascinating....the impending murder of the queen....and it's by slow torture.  First they chew the wings, then they will cast her out to die in the elements - and she has been taken care of all her life.  What thanks does she get???

There was no brood in the hive.  But I found an opened queen cell, probably made from the frame that I put in the hive from Morningside.  So I think they have a new queen who is either out getting mated or is back from getting mated and isn't quite ready to start laying.

Since there was no worker brood, just for safety's sake, about 30 minutes after I closed up the hive the first time, I opened it up again and I added another frame of eggs into the hive from Morningside .

I think this hive feels hopeful as a group.  There hasn't been a good queen for quite a while but there were still a ton of workers in the hive as well as drones.


  1. Anonymous8:56 AM

    What a marvelous and fascinating post, thanks Linda!

  2. Really interesting post. Thanks for explaining this.

  3. This morning all the pulled out drone bodies had been eaten or at least were gone - there are birds often around the hive eating whatever is cast out. When I went home at 2, there were more drone bodies everywhere. Relieved me, because every time you go into the hive, there's a risk - what if I had damaged the new queen unknowingly? But she must be fine since they are continuing to clean out the unwanted drone brood.

  4. Really fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Penny9:54 PM

    Thanks for the great pictures, Linda.
    I've never seen a queen with such tattered wings-- she looked like an old, worn-out forager. I've read that the bees will ball a rejected queen, but didn't know they might eject her. Let us know what happens if you can determine it. I've only found a dead queen once in many, many years, and never been able to find one even in a cluster of a dead-out. I always wonder what happened to them.

    In your hive inspection, were all the SHBs corralled onto the inner cover? It looked liked the bees were herding them & keeping control. Also, does the drone brood have noticeable varroa? Since many beekeepers pull drone brood to break the varroa cycle, maybe the bees have already done it for you. Was that a hygienic queen?

    Very interesting post! Thanks.

  6. The SHBs were corralled onto the inner cover and just under it. The bees had them in fine control. I did find another collection of them in the bottom box on one frame. There it also looked as if they had been contained there until I pulled the frame out. I looked at lots of the drone brood (picked them up and carefully examined them). I did not see one varroa mite on any of that brood. Today as the day went on, they pulled out more drone brood. I have been gone from home since 2:30 PM and it's now 10 PM. There are no drone bodies on the ground - probably the constant wrens have eaten them. I imagine if the queen is ejected, the wren will be the death of her and I will never see her...but I will keep my eye out.

  7. So on Beemaster someone posited that the queen looks battle scarred and maybe a new queen did emerge from the cell, battled with the old queen and lost - thus the torn wings. He suggested I pinch the old queen and requeen immediately.

    1. This is the situation that calls for your great quote from Richard Taylor: let the bees handle it! You gave them a frame with eggs they can use to recover if they need to, and they seem to be working hard to improve their colony. If there's already a new queen, then no harm done. If something befell her, they can try again. Besides, it is so depressing for the beekeeper to misread a colony and doom a new queen to death by trying to introduce her. I have read that you can judge whether there's an active queen present by seeing how hostile the bees are on the queen introduction cage-- can you imagine how stressful that is for the new queen and how agitated the colony gets? I hope this colony succeeds!

  8. Anonymous12:03 PM

    Rather than immediate pinching and requeening (since it's still early in the season and plenty of time for them to make a queen, unless you prefer purchasing queens) how about pinching the drone layer and giving them a frame of eggs, that will tell you if they have a queen in there.
    They always keep us on our toes...

  9. Michael Bush suggested on Beemaster that I just give them another frame of brood and eggs and see what they do. Another poster said that if the queen had been aware of the queen cell, she would have killed the new queen in her cell rather than allow her to emerge. I prefer Penny (and Michael's) more conservative approach and want to see what happens. I still think my theory is right - that they are going to eject her as soon as the new queen is up and laying. In 10 days I'll check again and if there is still no brood, I may get rid of the drone layer queen and see what they then do with just a frame of brood and eggs. Luckily I have enough resources to do that. Meanwhile we'll all wait and see.....

    I much prefer to let my hives raise their own queens. I've only in my eight years of beekeeping introduced a purchased queen one time that took and that hive was then washed down the creek in an Atlanta flood a few weeks later. I've wasted lots of money on purchased queens that didn't work out. And now the natural folks are saying that local queens are the best.

  10. Anonymous1:52 PM

    I completely agree, I'm not into forcing my ways on them. We often have speakers at our bee club who say you should requeen every 2 years with a new queen and even...EVERY YEAR! No thanks, not my approach.


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