The neighbor lady smells best

When I tally the comments and e-mails related to my last post, I find a variety of opinions on why multiple packages of bees might move into one hive. Many agreed with my husband that the packages could have come from the same hive and wanted to reunite. A few thought the colony that most effectively fanned their Nasanov pheromone would gain the most followers. A majority thought the amount or quality of queen pheromone was the deciding factor.

Personally, I tend to side with the queen pheromone theory, but here is my question: suppose you install two packages in side-by-side hives. Everything is essentially equal but you have a prevailing breeze that blows queen pheromone (or Nasanov pheromone) away from one hive and toward the other hive. Could the inequality of pheromone resulting from being upwind or downwind affect the outcome? Just a thought.

In any case, far from being an unusual occurrence, having your packages move in together seems to be rather common. And when I read the stories and theories, I realized that it could be a number of factors—not just one—that causes bees to behave this way.

On the plus side, those beekeepers who tried to put their bees back in the “right” place seemed to succeed. So the take-home message is this: be mindful that combining of packages may occur, and if it does, go back and separate them.

Since that post, I’ve heard many package stories. Many beekeepers have had packages combine, many newbees had packages abscond completely (new wood with no comforting bee smells is my theory here), one beekeeper reported a supersedure cell built inside the package, several found dead queens, and one had no queen. But here’s the story that got my attention:

A beekeeper in Arkansas ordered two packages and an extra queen from a well-known supplier in Texas to be delivered overnight. When the order arrived, the extra queen was tucked inside one of the packages. In other words, one package had one queen cage and the other package had two queen cages. The beekeeper had no difficulty with the normal package, but the colony that shipped with two queens wouldn’t stay put. All but a few of the bees abandoned the queen that was left for them.

So once again, I’m asking for information. Since I have never seen extra queens shipped this way, I would like to know if this is common practice or if it is crazy. Multiple virgin queens are commonly found in one hive, and sometimes mother and daughter queens are found in one hive, but how often do you have two young, strong, newly-mated queens reeking of pheromone in one place? Did the bees leave in search of the queen that was taken out, or was all that pheromone too confusing for your average bee? Just wondering what you think . . .

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

New package ready to be installed.
With luck, they’ll stick around. © Tracey Byrne.

Comments

Robert
Reply

I would guess that they became attached to one of the queens and went looking for her. But in the end, they are bees, so who knows?

Terry McFall
Reply

Hmmm. You know, packages often abscond regardless of our best efforts. Sometimes we overthink it–was the wind out of the west, what was the moon phase, etc. My best luck with packages has been installing with one frame of open brood. Same with catching and keeping swarms. That open brood is often a good anchor that’s hard to leave for greener pastures………

Rusty
Reply

Terry,

That is true, but if you are a brand new beekeeper with no resources that is hard to do.

Jim Withers
Reply

Hi, Rusty.

There have been several times that I ordered spring queens that arrived a couple of weeks before my colonies were ready to be split. In these cases I created queen banks. A queen bank is where you put many mated caged queens on a frame and place them with lots of queen-less nurse bees. The nurse bees will feed all of the queens. I have kept queens this way for up to 3 weeks when necessary. So I see no problem with two queens being shipped in one package.

One thing a beekeeper can do, in this case, to encourage the bees to stay put is to block them into their new home for a couple of days. Be sure to provide ventilation, syrup, and pollen patty for them. Indeed, you could keep them trapped in the hive until the queen has been released and laying if you wanted. This would surely allow time for the girls to imprint on their new empress.

If it’s simply a matter of preventing them absconding, use a queen excluder. You put it between the bottom board and the brood super. This allows foragers to come and go but prevents the queen for leaving. If they attempt to leave they will return because their queen can’t come with them.

Finally, regarding the suggestions explaining why the bee packages may have joined up leaving one extremely weak: yes to all. I think any one of the suggestions offered could lead to the resulting situation. Quite possibly, a combination of all of the above..

There aren’t always simple answers to some of the confounding things our girls delight us with. It’s one of the things I love so much about this occupation that chose me. One thing you can be sure of is that one of us “experts” is sure to have an answer to your query. Indeed, you will usually be offered several answers by several “experts”.

Case in point: I was out by my barn, a few days back, cleaning out some of my dead out colonies (I lost over 80 this year which is another story for another time). This fellow stopped by our home to buy some beeswax, and my wife sent him out back to talk to me. He explained tom me that he is about to start his first year of beekeeping. He has ordered a package of bees, and he’s going to be a commercial top-bar hive beekeeper. He wants to buy a few pounds of wax to rub on the bottom of his top bars so the bees will know where to start building there comb. He begins telling me all about honey bees and how to best care for them. Oblivious to the fact that I’m working in a virtual sea of bee boxes; he has no questions for me about getting started, only advice. Perhaps seeing so many dead-outs prompted him to think I could use his advice. Well, hell, maybe he’s right. More likely, however, is that his entire knowledge of bees has been gleaned from reading. He’s pretty darned sure that he’s got this thing all figured out. Good lord! He reminds me of me!

I wasn’t offended in the least that this beginning beekeeper was so eager to offer me advice; that he was, seemingly, unaware of the hundreds of bee boxes we stood in the midst of. My only hope for this fellow is that his enthusiasm grow as mine did. I hope that he keeps at it through the inevitable ups and downs to become a permanent member of the fraternity of beekeepers. For, if he does, he will come to understand that, sometimes, there are no simple answers.

Cheers,
Jim Withers

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

Thanks for a great story and thanks for setting me straight on shipping the queens. I have actually banked queens in a queenless hive before, so I guess my brain was taking a nap. Sometimes when I look at things from one direction (me putting the queens together) it looks totally different than when I look from another directions (someone else putting the queens together). So, yes, you are absolutely right.

Thanks for answering me on this; no one else did. They probably all think I’m nuts without bothering to tell me I’m nuts. Next time I will ask you first!

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