October 11, 2016

Removing the Queen Cage from a Package of Bees and First Inspections.

Having installed a package of bees for the first time it can often be hard for new beekeepers to resist the temptation of checking what is happening inside their new hive. We are often asked when you should inspect your hive after installing your packaged bees? You must wait at least 5  days any sooner and the bees may not have had a chance to accept the queen and she may be rejected or killed.
After 5 to 7 days, you can open the hive and check to see if the queen has been released from her cage. There will likely be bees on the queen cage and quite possibly they will have started to build comb on the bottom of it. Be very gentle when examining the cage and attached comb as the queen may be on the outside of the cage or on the attached comb. If she is on it gently brush her onto a frame and then shake the remaining bees off, before discarding the queen cage and any attached comb. If the queen has not been released, then you will need to carefully release her. Do not leave the queen cage in the hive longer than is necessary as the bees will cover it with comb and make it difficult to remove without damage to the frame and foundation it is attached to.
If the queen has been released and she is not on the outside of the cage, look for her. By this time, 1 or 2 frames should be drawn and you should be able to see some eggs in the cells. If you don’t find the queen but you do see eggs in the cells, don’t panic, your queen is alive and doing her job. If, however, you cannot find the queen or any eggs in the cells or if you find that your queen is dead within her cage, then you will need to place an order for a new queen, as soon as possible. If the queen is present close the hive and wait another week before inspecting again. Ensuring once again then that the queen is present and laying.
You should continue feeding the colony sugar syrup until you are certain there is a strong nectar flow and the bees are beginning to build up their honey stores.
Note: On the third week you may be concerned to notice a significant reduction in the population of the adult bees. Don’t worry, this is natural as the average life span of a worker bee during the spring and summer months is only 3 weeks and so the newly laid brood has not had a chance to replenish the colony. But as long as your queen is laying properly and you are seeing the cells being filled with brood, you have nothing to be concerned about. You should see the population increasing again within the next 2-3 weeks as the new bees begin to emerge.

Differences in the Anatomy of a Queen Bee, Worker Bee and Drone

As far as size is concerned the queen honey bee is the longest of the three. However unlike the other two her wings only extend half way along her abdomen, which itself is pointed at the end. Her legs appear to be spider-like and her head is proportionally smaller than a worker bee or drone.

The drone on the other hand is squarely built with a stumpy squared off abdomen and is a similar weight to the queen bee. His wings are large and cover his abdomen completely. He has the longest legs but these are largely disguised by his stout body shape. The drone has a large round head and very large compound eyes which appear to meet on the top.

The worker bee is the smallest of the three and half of the weight of the queen bee or drone. Her wings although longer than the queens, do not quite cover her abdomen, which is pointed at the end and she has short legs. The head of the worker bee is proportionally large and more triangular than the others.

The workers mouth parts or mandibles are spoon-shaped which helps her mould wax and collect propolis. Her tongue is also the longest as she has to be able to forage and access nectar in flowers. Her third pair of legs are also modified with special sacs or corbiculum  to carry loads of pollen and propolis when required.

More about Honey Bee Anatomy and Physiology

More about the Honey Bee Colony

Life Cycle of The Honey Bee Queen

If the queen bee is accidentally killed, lost or removed from the hive the workers will sense her absence within minutes, by the reduction in her unique pheromones (queen substances). This substance is passed from the queen to worker bees as they feed and groom her and then passed from worker bee to worker bee throughout the hive.

They will then select one, or a few young worker bee larvae or eggs if there are no young larvae and then build large vertically hanging cells (queen cells) to house them. When an older queen begins to fail, that is, her egg production drops or her queen substance reduces, the colony will also start to raise a new queen, this is called ‘supersedure’. The same process occurs in preparation of swarming and the trigger for this is believed to be again the reduction of the queen substance throughout the hive. As the numbers in the hive increase so the concentration of the queen’s pheromones is diminished as it is passed from bee to bee over a very large number of bees.

As with emergency queen cells, supersedure queen cells typically are raised on the comb surface. In comparison, queen cells produced in preparation for swarming are found along the bottom margins of the frames or in gaps in the beeswax combs within the brood area.

The selected larvae are fed with high concentrations of royal jelly, which appears to be the trigger for turning an ordinary worker bee larva into one that will become a queen bee. Queens reared as a result of supersedure are usually stronger and more productive than emergency queens since it is believed that there is usually more time for them to receive larger quantities of food (royal jelly) during their development.

A new queen (or virgin princess) will emerge from her cell 16 days after her egg was laid. If she is strong and acceptable to the workers she will fight and kill any other would-be queens as they emerge from their cells. She will then stay in the hive for about a week while her wings strengthen and then leave the hive to mate with drones in flight.

Because she must fly some distance from her colony to mate (to avoid inbreeding), she first circles the hive to orient herself to its location. She leaves the hive unattended for only about 15 minutes, usually in the afternoon and mates with seven to fifteen drones at an altitude above 20 feet. Drones are able to find and recognize the queen by her chemical odour (pheromone). If bad weather delays the queen’s mating flight for more than 20 days, she loses her ability to mate and will only be able to lay unfertilized eggs, which result in drones.

After mating, the queen returns to the hive and begins laying eggs within about 48 hours. She only mates once in her life time and will have stored enough sperm (in her spermatheca) to be able to produce as many as a million eggs in her productive life time. She releases sperm from the spermatheca each time she lays an egg, these fertilised eggs will become female worker bees. If her egg is laid in a larger drone-sized cell, she normally does not release sperm  and the resulting unfertilised egg becomes a male or a drone. The queen is constantly attended and fed royal jelly by the colony’s worker bees.

The number of eggs the queen lays depends on the amount of food she receives and the size of the worker force capable of producing the beeswax cells for her eggs and caring for the larva that will hatch from the eggs in 3 days. She effectively becomes an egg laying machine, producing up to 2,000 eggs a day and up to 250,000 a year depending upon conditions.