Worker & Drone Bees
Worker & Drone Bees

If you recall, Hive #10, which previously had the issue of being queenless, is now with-Queen. What happened, you ask?

I had ordered a new Russian queens from the same outfit in Kentucky we had previously ordered both queens and packages of bees from, but, unlike my region of Minnesota, which was experiencing nighttime temperatures in the middle 30s F (single digits C), Kentucky was experiencing daytime temperatures of 90+ degrees F (low to middle 30s C). The company would not ship the queens because of the heat. I was just forced to wait it out.

In the mean time, I transferred two full frames of capped brood from two Russian hives located at the other bee yard. The frames were nearly full out to the edges and even contained two or three capped queen cells (why the workers in those two hives felt it necessary to make new queens is not really known – since removing the frames from those hives, the workers have not repeated this action).

With a post-new-frames-inspection, it appeared that, in addition to the two or three queen cells that were present, the workers had started to transform at least two other cells into queen cells, but abandoned the construction mid-way to completion.

Queen cell in an Hygienic Italian Hive
Queen cell in an Hygienic Italian Hive
The steps involved in queen production (natural supersedure) are relatively straightforward…</p>
  • An egg-laying queen is present and laying eggs in the hive (you may think this brings up a bee version of chicken & egg, but you need to factor in several million years of evolution).
  • For some reason (old age, sickness, or something else) random workers decide to transform one or more random eggs (that was was already laid by the queen) into new queen cells</li>

  • They begin to build the egg’s existing cell into a drooping, elongated cell around, by this time, the larva has formed.
  • The larva is fed a strict diet of royal jelly. This will cause genetic traits that would normally not develop or be expressed – to be expressed.
  • Once the larva is fully developed, the workers cap the cell and the larva will spin a cocoon and transform into a pupa.
  • Once the pupa develops into an adult queen bee, the newly minted queen will emerge a day or two earlier than normal workers. She is cleaned and groomed by several worker bees.
  • Over the course of days one, two and three, the queen gets the lay of the hive – where to lay eggs.
  • After that, the queen takes flight and hopes to mate with as many drone bees as possible. This is the gruesome part for the male bees; they mate, and their sex organs are snapped off and stay in the queen. A single queen can mate with upwards of 20 separate drones. The drones fall to the ground to die and become ant and bird food.
  • If the queen is not eaten by birds or dragonflies, she returns to the hive…
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    Usually, a hive, in need of a queen, will produce multiple queens simultaneously – all will separately mate, and return to the hive. Once in the hive, it is a Thunderdome-style showdown between the queens. The queen who survives will be the hive’s egg-layer.