Honey Bee Queen Management Techniques

It’s common procedure for beekeepers to improve their colonies by requeening colonies that aren’t performing well. One of the common desirable features a beekeeper looks for in the queen’s offspring are –  gentleness, good collectors of honey or pollen, illness and pest resistance, lowered swarming, minimal propolis use, effective pollination, or a desired body color.

Marking Queens

International Queen Marking Color Code  

Color –      For Year Ending In –

White (or gray)    1 or 6

Yellow    2 or 7

Red    3 or 8

Green    4 or 9

Blue    5 or 0

Because the queen is the source of all worker honey bees in the honey bee colony, it is important that the beekeeper make sure that the queen is the one originally placed in the honey bee colony. It is nearly impossible to determine that a specific queen has been lost if the queen has not been given a unique identifying mark.   

It is common practice to mark the queen with a small spot of paint on her back (thorax). A color code exists within the beekeeping industry to indicate the year the queen was introduced (see table to right).   

Model car paint may  be used to mark the queen.  The identifying mark ought to be small, so that it doesn’t cover any other part of the queen. A 1/16″ stick, lightly dipped in paint, is a good applicator.    

Usually, queens are marked before being introduced, but they can; however, be marked at any time. Paint ought to be given ample time to dry before the queen is released into the honey bee colony. In truth, queens might  be purchased already marked by the queen producer.   

Some beekeepers also identify queens by clipping the tip of the tip of one forewing. When queens are replaced every two years, the beekeeper clips the left wing(s) on queens introduced in odd years, and the right on queens introduced in even years.    

The clipping practice may also supplement the paint spot technique as a back-up should the queen lose her paint mark. When clipped correctly, the queen won’t be able to fly. However, when clipped too closely, the queen may appear damaged and be superseded.    

Introducing Queen Bees   

If specific requirements are not met, the resident honey bees within a honey bee colony may reject, even kill, a newly introduced queen. Through the years, many procedures for introducing queens have been published. Unfortunately, no specific procedure has been accepted universally as the best for all occasions. Most of the common procedures require an introductory period of about three days.    

During that time, the queen is confined in a cage and is fed by colony honey bees though the wire gauze covering the cage.  The caged queen could  be released by worker honey bees eating a candy entrance plug. This procedure authorizes the queen to emerge into a hive without beekeeper intrusion. However, the beekeeper can release the queen manually when desired.   

Generally, younger house honey bees are more receptive to a new queen than are older, more established foragers. Younger honey bees could  be separated from the older honey bees by turning the honey bee colony entrance to face in the opposite direction. Then a different hive with at least one frame of honey, but without honey bees, is placed facing the original direction.    

As the foragers leave the redirected parent hive, they’ll return to the new hive. After a day, most of the honey bees remaining in the repositioned original hive will be younger honey bees, while the temporary hive will accumulate most of the older ones.  The queen can then be safely introduced into the hive of young honey bees. Afterward, the two colonies are united, and the queen is established.

A good technique for deciding when the cage has been in the hive long enough is to observe when the outside honey bees are clinging tenaciously to the cage, or whether they are able to be brushed off easily. If they adhere to the cage, don’t release the queen. If they are able to be brushed aside with ease, the queen can probably be safely released.

Suggestions for Introducing New Queens

1. Be absolutely certain the honey bee colony is queenless and that any developing queen cells have been destroyed.

2. Allow the honey bee colony to stay queenless for a day or so.

3. If possible, allow the queen to be caged within the honey bee colony for about two days.

4.  To release the queen, place the cage between the frames with the screen side down and with the candy plug exposed near the vicinity of young honey bees and brood. Allow the honey bees approximately two days to release the queen. Remove the cage as soon as possible to prevent burr comb from being produced in the space around the queen’s cage.

5. If the queen is to be manually released, watch the surrounding honey bees to determine if they’re clinging tightly to the cage in which the queen is confined. If they’re showing assertive behavior, do not release the queen until the surrounding workers act passively toward the caged queen.

6. After releasing the new queen manually, watch the surrounding workers to see when they react hostilely to the new queen as she explores the comb on which she was released.

7. If possible, do not open the hive again until the queen has had time to develop a brood nest of her own (about days).

Introducing queens into hives is never foolproof; but, usually, a good technique and cautious handling will be successful. Environmental conditions, changing seasons, food availability, and beekeeper competence can affect the queen introduction’s outcome.

Laying Workers

When a colony is without a queen and her pheromones for awhile, some of the workers create the capability of laying unfertilized eggs. Because laying worker colonies are challenging to requeen, and most of the honey bees are old, beekeepers frequently decide to combine the honey bee colony with another queenright colony.

Nonetheless, if requeening of laying worker colonies is attempted, one should follow normal requeening techniques. Adding a frame of uncapped brood along with a caged mated queen increases the chances of acceptance by the honey bee colony.

Laying workers are indistinguishable from normal workers. Laying workers fly and forage freely unlike a normal queen that spends most of her life confined to the honey bee colony. Commonly, there are several laying workers within the hive, but on occasion, a laying working may briefly overtake all her worker rivals and carry herself in a queenly manner. Such workers are called “false queens” but are still incapable of producing fertile (worker) eggs.

About John Payton

Bee control expert and founder of a bee control company http://www.beeremovalspecialist.com http://employee-wellness-programs.com
This entry was posted in Bee Control, Bee Removal and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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