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Vita Bee Health Global Honeybee Health Experts

Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

Another Queen is born in the observation hive

Even virgins attract an entourage - for a while.

Even virgins attract an entourage – for a while.

It hasn’t been all plain-sailing in the observation hive this summer. The first queen swarmed, the second queen seemed to disappear on her mating flight, but we now have a third having given the colony a frame of eggs and larvae to work with.

They say that small colonies won’t produce good queens and I don’t doubt this as a general rule, but this one is looking just fine though she hasn’t mated yet.

She became easily visible two days ago, but over the past 24 hours she has become very hard to find. last year, the struggles of a virgin queen around the colony were obvious. And now the new queen in the hive has exchanged an entourage for a barrage of bees. It seems that the bees may now becoming impatient for her to go on her mating flight/s and are making life uncomfortable in the hive until she does.

But here’s a curious thing: even though she hasn’t yet mated, she is going through the motions of egg-laying. I noticed this with the first queen that swarmed too. The egg laying motion would seem to be a hard-wired action from birth.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger



The queenlessness mystery becomes clearer

IMG_4994The queenless observation hive is working hard to become queenright. Here’s one queen cell being created, but I bet there are others!

Meanwhile, the mystery of the queenlessnes seems to be becoming clearer. (See the previous blogpost for the full mystery.

My neighbour has just informed me that just over one week ago he’d noticed bees clustering around the tube entrance of the hive late one evening. That is unusual. It was warm, but not that warm and the end of the tube is about 60cm from the hive itself. So it was hardly to alleviate the heat.

It would seem that that’s the day the queen left on her mating flight. I guess that the bees waited outside for her until late in the evening, but she never returned.

Cleaning windows

Cleaning windows

Meantime, the observation hive glass is being cleaned up after a messy bee left propolis all over the glass!

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

And there she was – gone!

A frame with eggs and  larvae!

A frame with eggs and larvae!

The observation hive isn’t quite working to plan this year.

Last month, I installed two super frames and one brood frame with one sealed queen cell in the glass hive. All seemed to be going smoothly and the queen seemed to emerge from the cell, but she proved exceedingly difficult to spot. Well. impossible to spot might be more accurate. Meantime two suspicious looking cells were created elsewhere on the brood frame — could they be more queen cells? Perhaps. But the bees huddled so closely to them that I could never get a clear view. Maybe that was proof enough!

In any event it took quite some time to spot any queen in the small hive. When I did find here, she was very dark and looked by her entourage and action that she might be laying. Not so!

Queen piping started and a the next day she flew the hive with a very tiny caste. But at least the piping (calls between rival queens) and the swarm seemed to prove that there was at least one more queen about to emerge.

The next queen proved even harder to spot, but after several days I did see here. I waited for her to start laying. But no eggs appeared and then the workers started to congest the centre of the brood frames — a fairly sure sign that something had happened to the queen and that they were not expecting a laying queen any time soon.

The colony was queenless and doomed! Perhaps the later queen had been lost or eaten by birds on her mating flight.

So, today, the brood frame with no eggs was replaced with one that has both eggs and larvae. That was no trivial swap since of course the hive is in the office! But it was successful and I wait to see if queen cells are about to be made. I know that in theory it is really too small a colony to produce a well-nourished and strong queen, but I have no spare laying queens or even sealed queen cells to give them. We shall see …

The failure of a queen to return mated to the hive is one of the not uncommon facts of honeybee life. I’ve just been reading in Jurgen Tautz’s The Buzz about Bees that a surprisingly high percentage of nucleii when moved to a mating apiary do not succeed in getting a mated, laying queen. The reasons for that are not at all clear, but one speculation is that small colonies might not be able to provide an effective escort on a mating flight.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Shy, retiring, but very vocal!

The elusive queen

The elusive queen

At last! It’s been a full week since the queen in the observation hive emerged from her cell. Because I couldn’t find her I had begun to think that the cell had been torn down and that they were working on some other queen cell that I couldn’t see.

Over the past week, I have looked and looked for her with no success. Then this morning  I heard her piping, then cawing a bit like a seagull, but a few octaves lower. Recognising the sound, I immediately stopped work and with one glance at the hive spied her immediately.

But it was quite some time before I was able to photograph her. She is very elusive, very dark and often has her bottom in a cell.

She has started to lay and I think today is her first day of egg production. I’m not quite sure what all the piping has been about. Maybe it was some sort of celebration. It’s been going on and off all day! It could even be from another queen still in a cell that isn’t obvious!

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Winter losses in the USA state-by-state

Here are the state-by-state honeybee 2013/14 winter colony losses in the USA :

However this blogpost by Sebastian Owen of Vita suggests that the stats this year may need careful interpretation.

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