How to know a swarm cell from a supersedure cell


To distinguish between swarm cells and supersedure cells, notice their location. The location won’t give you the final answer, but it provides a big hint.

Inside: How is a swarm cell different from a supersedure cell? How can you tell if a colony is preparing to swarm or is simply replacing its queen?

Learning to recognize queen cells and queen cups helps a beekeeper predict what a colony intends to do. But distinguishing a swarm cell from a supersedure cell is a difficult skill for two reasons. First, beekeepers use confusing words to describe cell types. Second, the location of the cells is more important than their size, shape, or number.

Let’s start with some basic Q&A

Question: What is a queen cell?

Answer: A queen cell is a special waxen cell that hangs from a brood frame. It cradles a larva that will grow into a virgin queen. A finished queen cell looks like a peanut in size, shape, texture, and color. Queen cells can be either swarm cells or supersedure cells.

Question: Why do I need to distinguish between a swarm cell and a supersedure cell?

Answer: If you see swarm cells, you know your colony is soon going to swarm. If you see supersedure cells, you know your colony is having a problem with their queen and intends to replace her. As a beekeeper, this information will help you make sound management decisions.

Question: Why does a colony build swarm cells?

Answer: When a colony swarms, the old queen and about half the bees leave the parent colony to establish a new home. Before they leave, the workers raise a batch of queens so the old colony can have a new queen and a good chance of survival.

Question: Why does a colony build supersedure cells?

Answer: A colony raises supersedure cells when a queen dies, becomes ill, damaged, or loses strength. A colony cannot survive without a powerful queen, so supersedure cells are often called emergency cells.

Question: So queen cells, supersedure cells, emergency cells, and swarm cells all look alike?

Answer: Absolutely! But you can often guess their purpose by their location in the hive.

Question: When does a colony build swarm cells?

Answer: Swarm cells usually appear during swarm season. Although it depends on local conditions, swarm season begins in early spring when many flowers are blooming. It usually ends at the beginning of the summer nectar dearth. Although swarms can occur outside of swarm season, they are rare.

Question: Where does a colony put swarm cells?

Answer: The workers like to put swarm cells at the bottom and sides of brood combs, often in clusters. If you have two brood boxes, the bees place the swarm cells at the bottom of the top box, right in the middle of the brood nest.

Question: Where does the colony put supersedure cells?

Answer: Because supersedure cells are built in an emergency, the workers put them wherever they find a larva of the right age. By the time the workers decide “This is an emergency!” there may not be many young larvae left. For that reason, supersedure cells are often scattered on the face of the comb. They may be several inches apart or found on different combs. They are generally on the face of the comb instead of the edges, and they are not in groups.

Question: My bees built a bunch of cells the size of thimbles, then stopped without finishing them. Does that mean they gave up?

Answer: We call those thimble-sized cells with open ends queen cups. We believe bees build queen cups “just in case” they might need them for starting a queen cell. Some colonies build a lot of cups, some don’t. Some colonies build them and then tear them down, seemingly for no reason. Queen cups are a normal part of colony life.

The cells of drones and queens

Drone cells often appear near swarm cells, but don’t confuse them. Drone cells usually occur in clusters at the edge of the frame, and there may be hundreds of them. They are much bigger than worker cells, and some people describe them as “bullet-shaped,” although I suspect the people who use that term have never seen a bullet.

I describe the surface of drone cells as “pebbly” or like cobblestones. In any case, the surface is rounded whereas worker cells are flat on top.

Capped drone cells have a pebbly appearance.
Pebbly textured drone cells. Flickr photo by blumenbiene.

Queen cells are very different. When completed, they look like peanut shells—rough-textured, elongated, perhaps an inch or more overall, and they hang vertically off the frames. Once you see a completely finished and capped swarm cell it is usually too late to stop swarming, but you can be ready for it. You might even have time to make a swarm-control split.

Queen cells in their unfinished form are called queen cups. They provide a place for the existing queens to lay eggs that may become queens.

Peanut-shaped queen cell that is probably a swarm cell
Peanut-shaped queen cell. Flickr photo by blumenbiene.

Queen cups: natural and purchased

Now, more confusion. Beekeepers also use the term “queen cup” to describe a commercially manufactured product used to raise queens. Their purpose is the same—a place to lay an egg that will grow into a queen. Instead of beeswax, the commercial ones come in wood, plastic, or perhaps wax.

Bees made the ones you are looking for. Some folks call them “teacup” shaped—although I think they look more like tiny bowls. After the queen lays an egg in a cup, the workers enlarge it into a complete peanut.

Queen cup, the precursor to a queen cell, along the edge of a comb.
Queen cup along the edge of a comb. Flickr photo by blumenbiene.

Now, as I mentioned above, a cell hanging off the middle (or face) of a comb is usually a supersedure or “emergency” queen cell. A cell hanging off the bottom or side of a comb is usually a swarm cell. Remember, though, that usually does not mean always. In truth, since they don’t have building codes, they can build either type of cell anywhere they want.

Supersedure vs swarming

Supersedure cells are often begun after the eggs are laid. The bees, knowing they need to replace the queen, begin feeding royal jelly to a young larva they have selected. They build a supersedure cell around this larva (or several larvae) and it hangs down from the face of the comb.

Swarm cells, on the other hand, are built in preparation for swarming and are not intended to replace the queen, but to raise a second queen. This way, there will be a queen for the part that swarms and a queen for the part that stays.

If a colony occupies two brood boxes, the swarm cells will almost always hang from the bottom of the upper row of frames between the two boxes. When experienced beekeepers hunt for swarm cells, they frequently just tip up the upper brood box and examine the bottoms of the exposed frames.

No doubt about it, these are swarm cells. First the bees built an extra comb between two larger combs. Then they proceeded to build swarm cells along the bottom of the new comb. They look exactly like peanut shells.
No doubt about it, these are swarm cells. First, the bees built an extra comb between two larger combs. Then they proceeded to build swarm cells along the bottom of the new comb. Notice their similarity to peanut shells. © Rusty Burlew.

Honey Bee Suite

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.


  • Superb photos! This was very helpful to a new beekeeper. Also, I am writing a book on queen bees, Kenya and their bee keepers. Would I be able to utilize photos if I contact you in 2011? In any case, thanks for your work!

    • Rich,

      Let me know if you have specific photos you want to use. Please note, however, that some of the photos on this site were taken by others and you will have to seek permission from those photographers directly. If you need help locating them, I will be happy to assist you.

  • Nice site and nice pictures. There often seems to be some confusion in regards to the reason a hive builds queen cells. By the book the reasons fall into three categories 1) swarming 2) supersedure and 3) an emergency (cells produced due to the sudden loss of the queen). The position of the cells is oftentimes given as an indication of determining if a cell falls into reason 1 or 2 although this is oftentimes a simplistic response that may lead to misunderstanding.

    In reality the location of a queen cell may mean very little and lead a novice bee keeper to an improper conclusion. What is likely more useful information to the novice are the other clues that a hive is swarming (large population, crowded in whatever space they are allocated, and generally a two year old or older queen) and that some beekeeper manipulations may be the primary cause of supersedure (and have nothing to do with a queen failing). Add to this excessive supersedure typically means there is some disease at hand that needs to be dealt with promptly.

    • Thanks, you make some excellent points.

      I would also add that certain genetic lines build more supersedure cells than others, making that another consideration to bear in mind.

  • I’ve had my hive about 1 month. I bought it already queened and brood and honey started. I have added two more deep supers….. yes, now I know I should have made the top super for honey a smaller one.

    My bees still have plenty of room but my queen has started building brood in the box ABOVE the brood box. I had the president of my bee club look at my hive and he said there are a lot of bees but still plenty of room. After looking at your pictures, I think they had built the comb on the bottom of the brood rack in the upper box. I looks like your bottom picture. HOWEVER I did not see anything that looked like a queen cell; neither did the guy helping me.

    Could it be extra comb? Do I cut it off? My friend did suggest I might want to split the hive in June because there will be so many bees. What would be the easiest way to do that? If you do the “walkaway ” method can you leave the new hive in the same yard or do you have to move it the normal 2 miles?

    I’ve ordered a queen excluder to keep the queen from moving up to the final top super.

    • Lyn,

      Lots of questions! First, it is hard to know for sure without seeing the hive, but your bees may have built comb in an inconvenient place, such as hanging off the bottoms of the brood frame. You can easily cut this away. Just always be careful that the queen won’t be injured in the process. Extra comb like that is called bridge comb or burr comb and it is not unusual to have some here and there.

      If you want to split the hive, wait until you get your queen excluder and then use the method I wrote about recently called an “overnight” split. I think that may be the easiest. You can keep both hives in the same yard, just realize that all the forager bees will go back to the original hive and you will be left with only brood and nurse bees in the split. For a few days you won’t see much activity in the split until some of the brood hatches and the nurse bees become foragers. Once you split, you have to decide whether to buy a queen or let the hive raise their own. Raising their own will take a while, so you may want to buy a mated queen to get the new colony going faster.

      There’s really nothing wrong with using a deep super for honey. The major consideration is extracting. If you use an extractor it will have to be of a size that will take deep frames. If you just crush and strain, it really makes no difference.

  • Thank you so much for these photos.

    One comment that I did not quite understand “Some beekeeper manipulations may be the primary cuase of supersedure and nothing to do with a queen failing ”

    I am a new beekeeper and need to learn everything that I may be doing wrong.



    • Jane,

      The theory is that too much hive interference by the beekeeper may cause the workers to think it is the queen’s fault. In other words, the workers believe an inept queen is causing all the disruption and therefor she should be replaced. This is just theory, of course, because we don’t know what the bees are thinking. But excessive hive intrusion does seem to correlate with more frequent queen supersedure, which is why it is a good idea to limit the number of times you go into a hive and to do the work efficiently and get out quickly.

  • I am a brand new buzzer boy…This is the most clear and informative site I have found. I hived a pkg of bees May 5th. How often is too much hive inspection? I have been told to be sure and check hive once a week to forget them till honey time. Thanks

    • Jim,

      If you haven’t, please read “Is too much hive inspection a bad thing?” My personal feeling is less is better, but new beekeepers need to learn about what they are seeing, so for new beekeepers a little more is okay. Also, urban beekeepers need to keep tighter control over swarming, so I would expect an urban beekeeper to be in there more often than a rural one. I think somewhere between the two extremes you mention would be good . . . let’s say once every two weeks until you feel more confident.

  • New at beekeeping. Had my hive swarm and found many swarm cells when I checked it 10 days later. Most are opened, have not found a queen or eggs yet but planning to check again at 15 days. Should I remove all the swarm cells once I establish that there is a laying queen?

    • Rael,

      There is really no need to remove the swarm cells once you have a laying queen. The new queen will destroy any remaining queen cells by opening up a hole in the side and stinging the developing queen.

  • Have you found that swarm cells, on the bottom edge of frames, are larger/longer than supersedure cells hanging down from the face of the comb? This was mentioned at a recent meeting. I thought the length was determined by the queen spinning inside the cell. Is this true?
    Thanks for your response,

    • Donna,

      They are the same size when they are complete, but usually you just see queen “cups” on the face of the comb. The bees prepare these in case they need them. If they don’t need them, they abandon them or take them apart. So if they are just in the cup stage they look smaller. If they actually raise a queen in one, it will get as big as a swarm cell on the bottom of a comb.

  • Hi Rusty,

    First let me just say that I really appreciate your blog and the beautiful pictures that you post. It’s so helpful and informative to a new beekeeper like me.

    I have 1 hive that I started this season as a 3 lb package. I am running all 8-frame mediums. Things have been progressing beautifully. Lots of eggs, larvae, capped brood, nectar and pollen. The bees are using the first 2 supers for brood and are in the process of building up comb and filling the 3rd super with honey. The 4th super (just added last weekk) is untouched at this point.

    I checked my hive yesterday (week 6) and found queen cells on the top and bottom of a couple frames. They were in various stages of development, but several had royal jelly inside and some were capped. I did not spot the queen, but I did see eggs and larvae. I don’t know why they would want to swarm this early in their hive development. I am so afraid of them depleting their colony size and not surviving our northern winter. They have room to roam in the top super… like I said, it’s untouched.

    I scraped off the queen cells on the bottom of the frame (in hopes of stopping them from swarming), but left the queen cells on the top of the frame intact (in case something is wrong with the queen and they must replace her). I am not sure what to do. Can there be swarm and supersedure cells in the same hive? They were built top and bottom. Peanut texture, long and filled with royal jelly. Your advice is really appreciated.

    • Jess,

      It is really hard to say what you should do. Being a new beekeeper, you probably don’t have another empty hive sitting around. If I found that situation, I would take one brood box and the queen and put it on its own bottom board. In other words, I’d make a split and leave all the swarm cells in the queenless box and let them raise a new queen. If they succeed and if the old queen is okay, you just have two hives instead of one. If one of the hives loses their queen, then I would recombine them.

      One thing about bees—you can never say never. So although swarm cells are usually on the bottom of the frame and not the top, you can’t say they would never be on the top. Bees make their own rules.

      I do not believe that destroying swarm cells is a good thing. You just don’t know which of the cells are viable. Furthermore, you can’t stop the swarm impulse by destroying cells.

      Also, we often hear that bees won’t swarm the first year, but that isn’t always true either. The swarm impulse—that is the urge to reproduce—is strong and the bees are not dissuaded by cutting cells or providing more room. Some things can be done to lessen the probability of swarming, but not after capped swarm cells appear, except for splitting the hive and making them “think” they’ve already swarmed.

      If you are lucky enough to catch the swarm once it leaves, you can always just put it back in the original hive—just combine it with newspaper and make sure you have just one queen. Once the swarm impulse is satisfied, you can recombine with no problem.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Wonderful website. I have a swarm that I captured earlier this year and it is currently residing in a nuc box. The swarm has been in there a little over a month. When inspecting the today, stores seemed light, but there is pollen, nectar and brood and 3 queen cups. The nuc box has 5 partially drawn out frames. 2 frames just about fully drawn out and the other three a little over half. Could they really be ready to swarm again this late in the summear (I’m in SoCal)? Is it feasible to split a nuc?

    • Where are the queen cups? On the face of the comb or at the bottom of the frames? To me is sounds more like a supersedure–a replacement of the queen may be underway. Also, look to see if anything is in the queen cups. Some bees always keep queen cups on hand, just in case. Sometimes they build them, take them down, and rebuild them. Their presence don’t mean a swarm is about to occur.

      Splitting something that small probably would not work well. I would just hang tight and see if they actually begin to use the cups.

  • Hi there,

    What a fantastic site! I’m a Scottish beekeeper but I’m hoping that you’ll still be able to help me.
    I’m new to beekeeping. My dad did it years ago when I was about 4 and recently I decided to give it a go too. My dad is helping me but he is a little unsure of what to do at the moment!

    We caught a swarm of bees last June and fed them throughout the summer and winter as both were very wet, cold and windy. They survived through the harsh winter and seemed to be doing well until mid July. We had a brood and super for the bees to go in and in early July we added a queen excluder and another super because the bees were doing really well. After an inspection we found eggs, larvae and young bees. However, about a week later we found queen cells at the bottom of the frames and one in the middle of a frame. At least one was capped but there was no evidence of them swarming. We thought the best course of action would be to create an artificial swarm to prevent them swarming.

    The books all suggest that you need to locate the queen and transfer her to the new hive. After 2 hours of searching each frame at least twice we couldn’t find her. The bees were starting to get agitated so we decided to close the hive and seek advice. I am also aware that queen cells can be formed if the queen is weak or dead.

    The next day we decided to try splitting the colony without finding the queen. We placed the ‘old’ hive next to the new one but the bees appear to be going from one to another. Everything I’ve read suggests that you don’t disturb the hive for 3ish weeks so we haven’t opened it. However, I’m concerned that as we are new to beekeeping that we haven’t done the right thing. Do you have any suggestions or hints/tips?

    Thanks in advance
    Rosanna 🙂

    • Rosanna,

      A few things. You say you saw no evidence of swarming, but queen cells along the bottom of the frames is definitely a sign of swarming. So you did the right thing by attempting the artificial swarm.

      There are many ways of splitting a hive, and some require that you find a queen and some do not. On my home page there is a tab called “splits” with links to about ten different ways to approach a split.

      Whenever you split a hive and leave them close together, all the forager bees will go back to the original hive. That is fine; just know to expect it. The new hive will get foragers as soon as the older nurse bees develop into foragers. It will happen gradually, starting soon after the split.

      It sounds to me like you have done a good job. When you open the hives, you will have to see if you have a laying queen in each. If all goes well, you will. If not, a purchased queen may be necessary. I hope it works!

  • I hived two packages of bees in top-bar hives exactly 2 weeks ago. I have not been able to locate the queens in either and today when I checked there is a queen cell in the middle of one of the combs. There is no brood, but the bees have been busy building comb and filling with nectar and pollen. I purchased my bees with a mated queen, so I’m not sure how long I should wait before I start seeing brood and if I need to re-queen the hives? Any expertise you can share would be great!!!

    • Jessica,

      You should be seeing brood, at least eggs and larvae, at this point. If you are not used to looking for them, they can be difficult to see. Hold the comb up so the sun comes over your shoulder and lights up the inside of the cells. Eggs are very small and when they are first laid they stand up straight. Young larvae are c-shaped and milky white. If you find eggs and/or larvae, don’t worry about finding the queen; she is there.

      The cell you are seeing is probably of no consequence. Many colonies build some, just to have them on hand. I wouldn’t read anything into it unless they start raising a queen in there. Generally, the cells remain empty, especially ones on the face of the brood comb.

  • Hi. I’ve kept bees for about 5 years and have regularly had to deal with swarming. I’ve just checked one of my 3 hives after a 10-day holiday away to find plenty of capped brood including drone cells, no grubs or eggs but no evidence of the hive having swarmed as there are as many bees as there were when I last checked. At that time there were eggs and grubs as well as a few central queen cells which I destroyed.

    On one of the frames there are as many as 8 queen cells all capped lying in the centre of the frame. Am I right to assume that the hive is queenless and that the workers are raising new queens or are they about to swarm? The queen is/was 2 years old. Should I destroy all but one of the queen cells? I am an English beekeeper and thoroughly enjoy reading the messages. Great site!

    • Hi Albert,

      It is always difficult to diagnose a colony without seeing it, of course. But based on your description, it does sound like the colony is trying to requeen itself. Before a swarm, the size of the brood nest is decreased, something the bees do by backfilling part of the brood nest with honey. But brood-rearing does not cease altogether before a swarm. So without any larvae or eggs, and many cells in the center of a frame, I would say they are trying desperately to produce a new queen.

      Your second question is harder to answer. Many beekeepers believe you should destroy all but one queen cell, and do so routinely. On the other hand, some queens will be stronger than others because of the vagaries of genetics. If I destroy all but one cell, who is to say if I’m destroying the strongest, the weakest, or one in between? Who is to say if the one I select will even emerge?

      So it is my belief that you should leave several. Once a strong one emerges, she will kill the others and she will even get help from the workers. This is the way nature designed the system, and the way I like to play it.

      However, I don’t want to say the others are wrong because many beekeepers have success with killing all but one. So it comes down to a personal philosophy and a decision you will have to make yourself.

      By the way, if I’m in need of queen cells in some other hive, I may take half and leave half. I hate to waste a perfectly good queen cell.

  • Thanks Rusty. Very useful info. I made the reluctant decision to destroy all but one of the queen cells. I checked the hive today. No swarming and thankfully the “queen” has made her way out of her cell. I did not try too hard to identify her as there are far too many workers about! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that eggs will appear shortly. If not I shall transfer some brood and eggs from one of the other hives. I’m very grateful for your help. Albert

  • I discovered 1000’s of bees swarming near the ground then moving upwards in a more condensed form toward the gutter of my house. The bees became very thick, almost like a drooping mat before they entered a small opening in the roof eve. I have never noticed bees around my house before but yesterday, for the first time, I found a handful of bees in the house. Is this a new swarm? Do you think the hive has been in the attic for a while or is it a new hive? Does it indicate that the bees are trying to construct a hive inside my closed attic? Is there a queen already or does the queen come later if this is a new hive? I can see the bees in the window of the attic. I assume they are attracted to the light. I am trying to sell my house so I am desperate for information.

    • Mimi,

      It sounds like a new swarm that just moved in. Or it may be that they have been there for a while but are now hanging in beards on the outside of the house because it is hot inside. There is most probably a queen in there already. Honey bees are not normally attracted to light.

      • Thanks Rusty! My husband is very allergic to bee stings. He was stung a few days ago with a very bad reaction. We attached a shop vac hose to the bee entrance at the roof and have been vacuuming bees up everyday. Hated to do it! The bees appear gone at this time. What happens to the queen and her drones when the worker bees are gone? If it is a new swarm, would they then have to build a new hive or would they have brought a part of a hive with them from another location? If it is a new swarm (which I think it is), how long would it take the bees to build enough of a hive to cause damage to the inner wall of my inaccessible attic.

        • Mimi,

          I would imagine the drones got sucked into the bee vac along with the workers. The queen and young brood can’t survive without the workers, so they will most likely just die.

          If it was a swarm, they would build all new comb in the new location. Damage to a home is often a result of honey leaking into an interior space and then running down, but if the bees weren’t there very long, it is unlikely they did much damage, if any.

  • Rusty,

    Thank you for your awesome site! As a novice keeper I have found your site very informative. However, after searching through all the information here, I need help. I have a top-bar hive and am enjoying it. Two weeks ago through the viewing window on the side I noticed swarm cups on a few of the comb. I gave them some space by adding and empty bar right behind the last brood. And I also removed the cups. I didn’t see the queen, who thus far has been fairly easy spot. The brood was sparse, and there were very few larvae and no noticeable eggs. No drones at all; no larvae, capped or otherwise.

    This weekend, through the window I noticed more cups. I decided to go in again to try to spot the queen, and check to see if there was anything in the swarm cells. I found MULTIPLE capped supersedure cells on the face of most of the brood combs. They have a lot of honey, pollen, and nectar. Almost no capped brood and what is there is very scattered. Still no queen visible. I feel this late in the season, I’m in trouble. What can I do?

    Jono in Portland Oregon

    • Jono,

      It certainly sounds to me like the colony went queenless and is trying to raise a queen. Hives sometimes go queenless in the fall for reasons I don’t fully understand. The fact that there is little brood and no drones is not, by itself, disturbing. Drones are usually evicted in this area starting in about August, and the size of the brood nest diminishes as well. But all those supersedure cups are telling, especially since they are being used.

      By removing the cups last week, you probably slowed down the raising of a virgin by a week, but it may have been too late in the season anyway. If there are no drones in your area to mate with, the presence of a virgin wouldn’t make much difference.

      I think the only thing you can do is try to find a queen. Sometimes you can order them from the southern states as late as November, or if you belong to a club, you can see if someone has an extra they are willing to part with. You want to work fast so you don’t raise a crop of laying workers.

      • Rusty,

        I am a new beekeeper and have two hives. I harvested honey in August from one of the hives. The other hive was a young hive and is progressing nicely. After harvesting honey and treating for mites, I have seen the queen in the older hive or any cells with brood or new eggs. I am concerned I am queen less. I did not see any queen cells two weeks ago; however, saw three uncapped queen cups near the bottom of a board today when I looked for the queen and brood again. I have a bee keeper who has a mated queen and send me next week (I am in Virginia). This seems I the best option or do you recommend a different path, such as waiting and hoping the hive raises a new queen this fall or wait until spring.

        Secondly, let’s assume I really mess up and I missed the new queen and I purchase a mated queen and I end up with both of them in the hive? What will happen?

        I love your pictures and clear explanations. Thank you for taking the time to work with new beekeepers.

        • Custis,

          Your best option is the mated queen from your friend. Even if your bees manage to raise a queen, it will be hard or impossible to get her mated this late in the year.

          If you get two queens in one hive, one will kill the other and you just hope they don’t kill each other. Check for a queen one more time before introducing the new one. It sounds like she’s probably gone, but just double check.

  • What wonderfully clear advice. Could you help us please with our problem? Last week we opened one of our hives to find 14 queen cells, all sealed. We did a split and had 4 queen cells left, which we cut out of the frame. We have put them in a propagator at a temperature of 35c, but after three days none have emerged. Is there anything else we should do, or are the queens dead?

  • I am very new at this. I have burr comb. Between the two boxes. I have found larvae in this comb. Is this a queen cell? I find some eggs. This is a new nuc I bought. Can you help me on this? thanks Jack

    • Jack,

      Burr comb between bee boxes is a common occurrence. Often, once the comb is built, the queen lays eggs in it. I just scrape it away whenever I see it because I want to keep the frames easily accessible. The one thing to check is to make sure the queen isn’t in it when you scrape because you could easily kill her. I have actually scraped burr comb and then found the queen in the scrapings. Luckily for me, she was fine, but now I’m very cautious.

  • Hey Rusty,

    Will the workers build queen cups, in my case on the bottom of the frames, and then abandon them? Does it always mean they are planning on swarming?


    • Leslie,

      Queen cups are regularly built and taken down, depending the the bees’ agenda. Queen cups by themselves don’t mean much, and some genetic lines build more than others. Only if the queen lays eggs in them is there a concern.

  • I have not started beekeeping yet but I plan to start soon. If you do notice your hive preparing to swarm and you would like to have two colonies would you have to wait until they are out and resting on a nearby tree for example before you catch them or could you move the swarming frames into a new hive? Thank you. 🙂

  • Hello Rusty, I hope you’re well and getting better summer weather than us here in Ireland 🙂

    An unusual thing happened to one of my hives, during a 14 day inspection having the queen clipped and marked, I noticed many classic examples of capped supersedure cells, Ive already found it is very disruptive to the brood cycle of a hive, this old queen was laying perfectly at present she was my best queen. I didn’t have my nuc box ready to move the old queen out in order to keep her laying instead of losing her to the supersedure, the theory is if I can keep the old queen laying in a nuc I can transfer the brood back to the main hive and limit the distribution.

    The next day I went back the old queen was gone and I found a newly emerged queen (emerged on day 15) hiding in a crevice on the wax frame, I was truly blessed to spot her, so I caged her and went through the remainder of the hive to see what was going on. The other frame with 4 cells on it were still capped so I moved this to a nuc box with some stores etc. just as a back up in case this new queen failed to mate or whatever. I found the uncapped cell where this new queen came from and there was two other sealed cells beside it which I then broke down, there now was only the new virgin queen in the main hive and all other cells were removed.

    Five days later I was down at my hives just checking underneath one of them to see if there was chalkbrood still appearing on the open mesh floor and just did a quick check on the floors of the other hives, looking underneath when I spotted a swarm cluster under the hive where the newly emerged supersedure queen was, I brushed them into a nuc box and put them to a new location. I went through the hive to see if it was this supersedure queen and it was she had swarmed and left the colony queenless and without a queen cell or eggs to create a good one.

    The nuc finally got mated early this week so I united them back together with the original hive (the sheet of newspaper method), I had a look inside yesterday and she was gone only a small few eggs present mostly drones, How they got rid of her through a queen excluder, I don’t know. There was some balls of bees and when you separated them they would be fighting with one bee in the middle of the ball, I guess the uniting failed. 🙁 I sprayed them all with a thymol product here called Hive Alive in hoping it would mask the smells of the bees and stop the fighting. I looked into the nuc that swarmed and she hasn’t started laying yet but they are polishing cells so hopefully any day now, I’m just afraid they will kill her too if I united them back together, its now bordering on the laying worker time frame. As its my first year having bees I don’t have any other queens around so its my last chance, I put in a test frame of brood into the hive in hoping it will suppress the laying workers and also to see if they will draw down a queen cell.

    Would you have any advise on if it’s ok to unite the swarmed queen back to the main hive, have you any better method other than using newspaper? Maybe use a queen introduction cage this time and let the other bees in the nuc unite using the newspaper method?

    The three main things I learned from this are,

    (1) The 14 day inspection is too long especially for beginners as you have a good chance of losing your old queen, I already lost one during supersedure when the supersedure cells weren’t even capped yet. Do a weekly inspection if possible to be on top of things like getting a nuc prepared etc

    (2 ) Supersedure cells can swarm

    (3) Don’t destroy queen cells from your good productive hives, used them in Apideas and try and get some mated queens into them as early as possible in the season, I wish I had a few mated queens lying around now, I destroyed many good queen cells throughout the season……

    Sorry for my long winded message hope it makes some sense 🙂

    Slán go fóill……

    • Hey Jasper,

      This is long and complicated and I don’t know if I understand the entire thing. As far as inspection, I still believe in erring on the side of fewer inspections, not more, but I understand the necessity of new beekeepers to learn. Still, all that disruption and moving of queens and cells and frames might have added to the confusion in the hive. It certainly confused me. And if you make a mistake like overlooking one of the virgins, you can easily end up with no queen at all.

      I don’t understand your comment, “Supersedure cells can swarm.” Your knot of bees under the hive sounds more like an absconding bunch, rather than a swarm. And again, a lot of disruption may cause them to abscond. I could be wrong and it may have been a swarm, but it doesn’t sound like it to me.

      As for not destroying queen cells, I totally agree. I think destroying queen cells is one of the most questionable practices in all of beekeeping, especially if it is done before you have all the queens you need. Not all queens hatch, not all are healthy, not all manage to mate, and some are killed after they mate. Why take the chance?

  • We are new beekeepers and have a very robust hive. Two days ago, we went into the hive and found 3-4 queen cups. I believe they were uncapped. It was taking us a long time to go through the hive and we weren’t able to go through the bottom box because the bees became annoyed (hubby got 3 stings!). We asked our mentor to come out and go through the hive with us and he went through the whole thing. These were the only cells he found and he also found brood, plenty of honey, larvae and eggs. He said the hive looked great and still had plenty of laying room. He wasn’t concerned about the cells and crushed them with his fingers. He advised against making a nuc due to it being later in the season (we’re in New England). This didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. We had planned on making a nuc but went with his advice. Any thoughts? Thanks a lot!

    • Marie,

      You say you found queen cups and later you refer to them as cells. It’s important to understand the difference. A queen cup is just the beginning of a queen cell. It’s about 20-25% as long and is usually empty. Honey bees often build these cups in case they are needed later. The number of cups is very dependent on the genetics of the colony: some build a lot, some build just a few. In fact, some colonies build them and then dismantle them. Think of it as buying a crib before you decide whether to have a child.

      The term “queen cell” usually refers to an expanded cup where the queen has placed an egg and the workers are busy feeding it and nurturing a virgin queen. Queen cells have potential queens inside. The cells may be capped or not, depending on how far along the process is.

      My guess is that your mentor destroyed empty queen cups, which is nothing to worry about. They can build more overnight.

      The only way I would start a nuc at this late date is if I had a mated queen on hand, and even then it would be difficult. Raising a queen from a cell would take too long. It takes several weeks to raise a queen, get her mated, and get her laying. And once laying begins, it will be three weeks before any brood hatches out. When mature, that brood can start putting away what little nectar they may find, but not much will be available.

      The other problem is mating. Drones are usually expelled beginning in August, depending on where you live. That means that even if you have a queen ready to mate, there might not be anyone to mate with. Always remember, colonies expand January through June and contract July through December. That’s simplistic, of course, but it’s a good reminder that you can’t do in August what you can do in May.

      • Thanks so much for explaining the difference between cups and cells. We have been worried about them swarming and thought the only solution was to create a nuc. I am hoping they were just cups and we’ll be ok.

  • Hi,

    Thanks for the great website. I’m a beginner beekeeper.

    Last Friday I saw 3 swarm cells in the hive. 2 of them were empty and one had a tiny larvae in it. It was fed by a worker bee as I was watching it.

    The population was high so I decided to use the opportunity to make a split and hope to prevent swarm.

    Today is Tuesday. I opened the hive and found no queen cells in it. No queen cells on the frame where I found them last Friday.

    Had a look at the queen and she seemed to me a bit bigger then the one I saw on Friday.

    Could it be that they swarmed and destroyed the queen cells after the new queen had emerged?

    I spent some time just watching the ‘new’ queen today. She is crawling around sticking her head into cells but she wasn’t laying.

    On Friday most of the frames had capped brood cells so I reckon they hatched out and Tuesday population seems to be the same as on Friday. Could it be that the rest swarmed and I don’t see less bees because of the newly hatched ones?

    There are no more swarm cells in the hive at the moment. So I hope they are not planning on swarming.

    But I really love to know is it a new queen in the hive or is it the old one and I simply misunderstood something.

    If you have time, could you please let me know your point of view.

    Thank you so much.


  • I have a problem … I think. Sorry so long…

    I bought an overwintered established hive in one deep box. I also bought 7 other hives each in a medium box. I told the beekeeper I bought from that one hive was very angry and aggressive. Over the course of a couple days, their attitudes were the same. I didn’t see the queen and since it was my first few days keeping bees, I didn’t even know what an egg looked like so I didn’t know if this hive had a queen or not. The beekeeper gave me a mated queen and I am supposed to introduce her. Well, upon further inspection, I found the queen! Now I had a mated queen in a cage. I split the deep box took 4 frames and put them into a deep box and filled the rest with foundation frames. The box only came with 9 frames total … I think he pulled one over on me.

    The queen was accepted and now I have two boxes each with a queen. The split hive showed no activity. I could watch the entrance for twenty minutes and see maybe two bees enter/exit if I were lucky. The old queen box was doing great. I decided to take one more frame of brood from the old box and add to the new. I also switched locations in the middle of the day.

    The next day … Viola! The new/weaker hive was buzzing. I saw eggs, she finally started laying. I believe I didn’t provide enough comb for her to lay in and also enough of the right aged bees to nurse the brood.

    Here’s my issue… while adding that last brood frame to the split, I noticed there were three queen cells on it. They were smaller than I expected but all hanging off the bottom of the frame and definitely queen cells. I went ahead and added that frame to the split box anyway. I figured the old queen (actually, the new queen I got in the cage) would kill any new queen or nature would figure it out. So now, I have a new queen that just started laying and the possibility of another queen emerging from these three cells. The next day, all three queen cells were open and by some miracle, I saw a virgin queen close by. She HAD to be a queen. The black circle on her back was much larger than all other workers. I know she was a queen. I also saw the old queen a few frames over. WOW!!! it was a very exciting day for me.

    Today, I inspected the hive and …no new eggs. I saw no old or new queen.
    My question …what happened? The virgin queen killed my fresh new finally laying queen? Vice versa and I missed them both? I assume the virgin queen killed the other two queen cells but what of my laying queen? There are at least 7 queen cells now in that hive. I’m clear on the difference between drone and queen cells. These are for sure 7 queen cells and two queen cups. One of the cups and one of the cells are towards the top of frame. Everything is on the same frame.

    • Laura,

      You say, “The split hive showed no activity. I could watch the entrance for twenty minutes and see maybe two bees enter/exit if I were lucky. The old queen box was doing great.” That’s the way it is with splits. When you move the frames into a new box, all the forager bees go back to the original hive so all you have left in the split is nurse bees. It takes a few days for them to transition into foragers, and during that time it appears you are low on bees. Patience is important here. The extra frame you added was most likely unnecessary.

      The queen cells were best left where the old queen was. She will most likely be replaced and it would be better to replace her than the newly introduced queen you just purchased.

      I don’t know what happened, but if a virgin killed your queen, it can be 2 to 3 weeks before the she gets mated and ready to lay. Once again, patience.

  • I know I messed up. 🙁 My queen was just looking frantic and I guess I panicked and added that other frame. Luckily I didn’t buy her …she was just given.
    Would a virgin kill a mated queen normally? Or would the queen kill the virgin? Or would they coexist until the virgin is mated then one of them is killed?

    • Laura,

      The battle between queen and virgin can go either way. The best fighter wins. Oddly, the killing happens before mating. It seems backwards to me, but they know more about it than I do.

  • Hi Rusty,

    What an informative website, love all of your suggestions and other people’s comments and concerns.

    I too have some concerns and yep it has to do with swarm cells located at the bottom of my brood box.

    New to beekeeping I purchased my 1st nuc (queen and bees) in May, they went crazy busy and when I checked them after a month they were 95% full of brood & honey. I added another deep super on top thinking that they were becoming too congested. After about 2 weeks it was again 90% full of the same. This time I placed a queen extractor on top and 2 shallow supers hoping to get some sample honey for the family. I just checked after 2 weeks and there is nothing happening in the two upper supers. I removed the queen extruder and my intent Is to check again in a week and see if this has made a difference. If there is activity then I was going to add the queen extractor making sure that the queen is not up there laying and let them continue making honey. Is this ok to do?

    Also while checking the empty supers we checked the whole hive including the bottom brood hive. I noticed about 4 uncapped swarm cells (about 1 inch in length) on the bottom of a frame. There are also some supercedure cells in the 2nd brood box. What to do???? I’m freaking thinking that they’ll swarm.

    It’s August in Southwestern Ontario and I’m afraid if I split them there won’t be enough to endure our crazy winters.

    Help….I feel like a new mother all over again.


    • Jackie,

      It is sometimes easier to get the bees to build in a new box by leaving out the queen excluder until they get started. So yes, that is perfectly fine.

      The presence of queen cups by itself doesn’t mean the bees will swarm. Still, they could swarm and you want to prevent that, if possible. I recommend removing a couple of honey frames from the upper deep brood box and replacing them with empty frames. You can store these frames for use later (freeze overnight first to kill moths). Having some empty frames in the brood box will make the bees feel less congested. If they are bent on swarming at this late date, you may have to split the hive and then recombine it later.

      • First of all it is a queen excluder not a queen extractor. It is used to exclude the queen from laying where you don’t want her to.
        Have you tried checkerboarding the brood box? That would give her more laying space and we find it puts off swarming. If they do swarm, have a nucleus ready for them or another hive. You will increase your hives and colonies for free!

        • Joan,

          Jackie writes “extractor” sometimes and “extruder” sometimes, so I just chalk it up to typing errors.

          But speaking of terminology, the process you have in mind is called “opening the brood nest” or “expanding the brood nest.” Checkerboarding is an entirely different thing and is performed above the brood nest in the honey supers.

          In his writings Walt Wright, who came up with the concept and named it, is adamant that checkerboarding has nothing whatsoever to do with the brood nest. I encourage you to read his writings, which are all available online.

          My own take on Walt’s work is found here: Checkerboarding: the X-files of beekeeping.

  • Thanks for the great website!
    I was doing my last inspections of the year over the weekend, and I’m concerned that one of my hives may be queenless going into the winter. The hive had no eggs or brood of any kind, but when I pulled off the top box I accidentally severed a capped queen cell that was hanging down from the bottom of one of the frames. There was a large white larva inside. One of the other odd things about this hive is that it still had drones. The other hives all had brood but no drones left. Does this hive sound queenless to you? Maybe they swarmed on the fall goldenrod flow? I admit I haven’t opened that hive in a couple of weeks, as we’ve already had our first frost and our weather has been up and down. The hive has about 80 pounds of honey and looks to be in good shape aside from the lack of brood. I can combine it with another hive in the next few days before the weather turns cold again, but I was told that lack of brood isn’t necessarily a sign of queenlessness in the fall. Does that sound right to you?

    • Andy,

      In the Northern hemisphere, honey bee colonies go through a one- to three-month broodless period in October, November, and/or December. Since this is October, broodlessness is to be expected. I would not assume anything was wrong except for that queen cell. Did you see any others? Usually with a supersedure, they build more than one.

      I doubt they swarmed late in the fall, which would be tantamount to suicide. I think more likely the colony was trying to replace the queen.

      You need to figure out if you still have a queen. Don’t worry about opening the hives; the cold is immaterial. (Remember, if you have no brood, you can’t possibly chill it.) What is more important is to figure out if you have a viable queen. If not, combine the colonies (and don’t worry about the cold) or buy a queen from the south.

  • Thanks Rusty! I only saw the one capped queen cell. I will do a thorough check tomorrow, and hopefully I can find a queen. It’s a pity they don’t like her, as I just requeened that hive in August. The broodlessness stood out because the other three hives I inspected that day all had at least a couple of frames that still had some brood. I guess I’ll be inclined to call that hive queenless if I’m not able to find her after a thorough inspection, and get to work on combining hives.

  • Dear Rusty,
    Since the queen cells and cups are such a good indicator of what is “going” on in a hive, should we get rid of them at the end of the season so that we are not confused by them the following season? We have always left them, but it seems it might be more telling to let the bees make them again.

    We have enjoyed your website over the last 5 years. Thanks so much!

  • Hi Rusty ….

    I have a weird thing happening in a package I installed on April 18th. I checked the hive on the 24th, queen was out and laying. The bee inspector came out on May 3rd, and inspected the package bees, and here, on a frame that was new, not drawn out, right in the middle of the frame, was a completed, sealed queen cell. The frame next to this cell was full of brood, both sides. (I had some drawn out frames in the hive too) From the appearance of the hive and the brood, the queen seems sufficient, but this queen cell right in the middle of a new frame confuses me. What are you thoughts on this? I was wondering how the bees could even keep this queen cell covered and warm with the brood frames they have already filled out. Bees are so amazing aren’t they ! I haven’t been able to go back into the hive because of the rains and cold. The bee inspector said to just leave it there and let them make a new queen. But … I’m wondering if they would even have sufficient numbers to wait on a new queen for thirty days before dwindling too much to cover so many frames. A new queen would set the package bees back about 30 days. What say you? Should I wait, put in a new queen, or combine with another hive? What are my best choices for success?

    • Debbie,

      I agree that is weird. I have never seen a queen cell all by itself on an undrawn frame. But I tend to agree with the inspector. Since you don’t know what’s going on, I would leave it. Perhaps your queen is failing in a way that the bees understand and we don’t. If you ruin the cell, you will ruin their plans. Usually with a supersedure, though, there is more than one cell built, so the whole thing is strange. You should take a photo of it.

      I’m not sure where you get the 30-day number. A new queen can begin laying in 8 days, if all goes well, although 2 to 3 weeks is more likely. But 30 days? I suppose it’s possible to go that long if you have lots of rain. For the math on this, see “How long before a newly-emerged queen begins to lay.”

  • She is to emerge Saturday, or sooner, so I don’t want to disturb the hive. I will try to get a picture of the cell as soon as I can. Our weather has been cold, freezing and raining. We finally have sun today where the bees can get out. On the thirty day thing, I don’t remember what I was actually thinking. You are correct. Thanks so much.

  • Hi,

    Beginner queen cell question:

    I brought an overwintered nuc in late March.

    – Transferred to National hive
    – Expanded really well good pattern of brood 5 full frames.
    – Lots of bees in hive.
    – They have drawn out 3 more frames and queen has just started laying in 2 of them.
    – The have made and pulled down play cups on the last 2 inspections (no eggs found in them till today).
    – One cup on bottom of frame had and egg in.
    – One cup in middle of drawn comb had a larva floating on royal jelly.
    – Last inspection was 5 days ago and the larva looks small.
    – I still haven’t seen my queen but have seen eggs on every inspection.

    I’m not sure if the QC with larva is a supersedure cell and to leave it or are they getting ready to swarm and I should split them tomorrow. Or pull that QC down and see what they do with the other cups and maybe add a super?

    Any help would be great.

    • Matt,

      It’s hard to tell from here. Before I split I would look for other signs of swarming such as backfilling the brood nest and cessation of egg laying. Or you can just split proactively and not worry about it. It depends on whether you want another colony, and if you have the equipment.

  • I don’t know whether to requeen or not. Installed package bees in brand new hive (no drawn out comb) on April 20. Did an inspection today. I found sealed brood and a single supercedure cell. I have no idea what happened to the queen. I worry the new queen will hatch and get eaten by a bird on her mating flight or somehow there won’t be enough bees to keep going by the time she is laying. I looked for eggs but I couldn’t tell the difference between an egg and reflections in newly drawn and previously occupied brood comb. I’m also afraid to go back in the hive- 2 days in a row for fear my interference will is causing them to hate their queen. (I had a mishap last week with feeding sugar syrup which resulted in a sticky mess on the inner cover.)

    • Heather,

      Are you seeing a completed queen cell? Not just a queen cup? You looked for the queen and didn’t find her? I wouldn’t requeen unless I was sure something was wrong.

      In any case, don’t worry too much—honey bees are quite resourceful when it comes to living around humans, even when we bumble.

  • It is definitely a completed, capped supersedure cell. in the middle of the frame. No doubt about that. Could not find a queen, but I am terrible at queen id-ing too. I think I would feel more secure if there were several of them? Increase the odds of success.

    • Heather,

      You can re-queen if you are more comfortable with that. Usually the first queen to emerge kills the rest. On the other hand, it sounds like the bees didn’t have a lot of brood to choose from if they only built one cell, so it may not be a great queen. Looks like requeening may be your best option.

  • Seems like this scenario is the ‘norm’ in certain areas. In a lot of the package bees, the queens are coming up missing, or drone layers. Some of the queen breeders also got wiped out and they felt the queens did not make it back from the mating flights. I, too, had a package hived the same day as Heather and ended up with one lonely queen cell, queen cell is gone now, no brood, etc., and I could find no queen or evidence of any queen, so I had to requeen last week. I also have several nucs that were made up May 3rd, and so far, no luck with finding them queens or any evidence of her being there. I am giving them until June 3rd and then will requeen since it will be a month. Just seems like a bad queen year in certain areas and the package bees just weren’t mated correctly or had insufficient queens for some other reasons unknown by us. Any ideas Rusty?

    • Debbie,

      I agree with you but I don’t know the reason. There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about poor queen quality, and I definitely see a difference. Unless I raise my own, they don’t seem to last but a few weeks or months.

  • Rusty, I had an amazing thing happen to me yesterday when I opened a hive for inspection, I pulled a frame and saw the queen walking around with her court … all the sudden the bees started balling the queen to kill her .. this was a package and was hived on April 20. The queen is producing brood and all seems well in the hive, but I was stunned to see this when I was holding the frame. I took the queen and put her up in the honey super away from the other bees as this was not my hive and the person told me to leave her there and let the bees do ‘what they do’. I worried about her all night so I went back today to check on her, and she’s ok, and the hive is ‘back to normal’. What do you think about this? My thoughts are this is a very weird queen year ! This year has been exceptional in providing me with experiences I just have not seen in my short bee keeping career.

  • The possibility is there ….. wish I knew for sure, it was just something I never saw before. Usually I don’t see the queens, but this week, every hive I tended I saw the queen …. I was pleased to see them ….. I love seeing Her Royal Highness and her court and how beautiful the queens are ! They are the image of perfection in a beehive ! We beekeepers need to have eyeglass cameras so that when something happens while we are working the hive we can hit a button and switch on, or the camera just stays on while we tend the hive … that would be too cool ! Love tending to the bees .. they give me such joy ! But they sure do some weird things that I try to figure out. Especially this year.

  • Thanks for being so diligent with replies! Newbie here, Carniolans are 1 month old. Saw 3 queen cells on middle frame in upper 1/3 of frame, just one side. Did not see the queen today, but it was hot etc, so didn’t spend too much time trying to find her. Lots of brood in all stages, lots of bee bread, honey, nectar and about 10% drone cells. Did not see any eggs, forgot reading glasses. Tempted to let nature take its course here. I don’t think I have enough frames to do a split, I do not yet have a mentor or belong to a bee club. Ugh. Live out in the country about an hour away from any large city and with the MS, I don’t get out too much.

    I do have a 5-frame cardboard nuc box I could use. Just looking for info here; got my 3# package from CA. I did do an OA treatment last week due to mite load. Not sure how to send a picture, but I do have a good one (of the queen cells). There is a larva with royal jelly, maybe about 5-6 days old in the middle queen cell. They did make one queen cell one week after install and tore it down. Not sure if I should get into the hive and make a split or just wait and see what happens. My only goal for this year is to learn (and keep bees alive ! ) Also have an Italian hive and it is thriving, not sure if you can combine brood frames from 2 different hives. I will find a mentor in the next 7 day– somehow. : )

    • Janet,

      I see nothing here that indicates a need to split. It sounds like your bees built some supersedure cells and may be on the road to replacing their queen.

  • Hi, I’m hoping you may be able to help me with a problem I have not encountered before. In May, I found queen cells in one of my hives and carried out an artificial swarm/split. I checked both hives yesterday (after the proper time left alone) and was surprised to find a number of queen cells in the hive containing the newly mated queen. I initially thought that the new queen must be damaged and the bees are superseding her, but on inspection there are no signs of damage on the queen and she already has several frames filled with brood (newly laid eggs up to capped brood) and seems to be doing really well. I’m considering taking the new queen out and putting her in a nuc box with a few frames of bees, but would much prefer if I could leave her where she is. Is removing the queen cells at this stage and checking in a few days to see if they build more qc’s a viable option in your opinion? Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Peter,

      Are the cells distributed around the hive like supersedure cells or are they lined up on the bottom like swarm cells? I know that’s not definitive, but it might tell you something. Maybe there is something wrong with the queen. For example, maybe she is emitting low levels of pheromone. Lots of things can go wrong that we can’t see by looking. I think the colony could be either superseding or swarming, so whatever you do, monitor the queen’s activity. If you remove queen cells, you are assuming you know what’s best for the colony. That’s fine. But for me, I always feel they know the situation better than I do and they must have a reason for building the cells.

  • Thanks Rusty! I think you’re confirming what I’ve been thinking. I think it’s supersedure, as some of the cells are capped and the new queen is still there and also they’re in varios locations throughout the hive…centre frame and lower frame. It’s just odd that it’s the new queen that is being superseded…I would have understood if it was the old queen. I’m very tempted to pop the new queen into a nuc box with a few frames of brood + bees, but I’m also very curious to see how this will play out, i.e., will the bees hang on to this queen until the new new queen (if you know what I mean!) is hatched, mated and laying? Decisions, decisions…!! I’ll let you know what happen!!

  • In a bit of a quandary. I got a swarm several weeks ago in an old 2 brood box hive. Inspecting the hive I found lots of pollen and honey but only 1 frame of new brood/eggs, the problem is at the bottom of this frame there is a queen cell about to be capped. I haven’t been able to find the queen but that doesn’t mean she’s not there. Any suggestions?

    • Paul,

      Queens are very often superseded soon after a swarm settles. Normally, a swarm leaves with the old queen. The swarm hangs onto her long enough to get established and get some eggs laid. Then for all her hard work and dedication, they replace her. To me it sounds like a normal event, but I would like to see more than one queen cell in case that one doesn’t develop for some reason.

  • We are new beekeepers and have a hive from a nuc purchased May 11. We inspected the hive June 17th, and saw the queen, eggs, larvae and brood. The two brood boxes were full and we added supers. We inspected the hive yesterday evening and found about a dozen or more capped queen cells, no eggs or larvae, and only one frame of brood. Many queen cells are in the center of frames. The hive is still full of bees. I’m guessing that in spite of being careful, we rolled the queen. My questions are: 1) Why would we not see brood around the queen cells? 2. Is it too late for the queen to mate in southern Indiana? 3. Is there time for colony to be ready for winter if the queen does mate?

    Thanks for all the work you do here.

    • Janet,

      If a queen is started from a newly-hatched egg, the larval period is about 5 days and the capped period is about 8 days. So that’s 13 days total. The time between your two inspections was 12 days (June 17–June 29). So yes, it is possible you damaged the queen on last inspection. It could also be unrelated, but there is no way to know.

      1. I don’t know why there is no brood near the queen cells. The bees will pick the larvae they think are best, so that determines the location of queen cells. Maybe they removed larvae that were in the way? Or perhaps the area contained both new and old brood and the old brood already emerged? I really don’t know.

      2. No, I assume it is not too late for a queen to mate in southern Indiana.

      3. It depends on many factors such as how much honey they have stored, whether you get a fall nectar flow, how bad the summer dearth is, and how robust the new queen is. There is certainly enough time, but the outcome is impossible to predict. You may end up having to feed.

  • Hi Rusty,
    My husband and I were a little late getting a 3rd super on one of our hives and we had a swarm last Sunday. We captured it though and put it in a new hive with 5 frames. We were told you scrape any swarm cells on the bottom of frames on the abandoned hive after inspection, so we did this but I’m reading that maybe we should not have scraped those off? Also, how long til we know if our old queen survived the recapture?
    Jamie in NH

    • Jamie,

      Wow, August is really late for a swarm, especially in New Hampshire. The old queen in the swarm should begin laying eggs as soon as her workers build (or clean) some comb. You should see eggs within a couple days of capture.

      The parent hive is more problematic. The swarm usually leaves just after the queen cells are capped but before they hatch. So if you deleted all of them, you may end up queenless. However, there is a chance that a virgin managed to emerge before you scraped, which would be good. But in August, it may be difficult to get her well mated, even if she survived. If you have a lot of drones left in your area, she may do okay. Here in Washington, most of the drones are already gone for the year. You will just have to wait and see.

      I don’t know why someone would tell you to scrape away all your potential queens, but it doesn’t surprise me. Wonders never cease.

      Let me know what happens.

      • Rusty,
        Still a lot of drones and drone cells so I am hopeful on the abandoned hive. How soon should we check and could we move a frame of brood from another hive if no queen when we do check?

        • Jamie,

          From newly-emerged queen till egg laying can be as soon as about 8 days to about three weeks. See “When will a newly-emerged queen begin to lay?” It will take even longer if they have to build a queen from scratch. In round number, say three weeks, and then add three more weeks for the first brood to hatch, and that puts you into late September. You may have to combine that colony with the swarm or another colony, but you can wait a while and see what happens.

  • I don’t know about N. Hampshire, but the bees around here are swarming like crazy. We had a swarmy spring, now a swarmy August. I went out at 6 a.m. to feed and one of mine was taking off, went 150 feet in the tree and about an hour later swarmed off into the sunrise. I guess they didn’t want the bait box or an old hive. The swarm was about two feet long and seven inches wide, so it was a huge swarm to lose. Hopefully it went into the woods into a nice tree somewhere .. hate to give up so many bees ! lol. I wasn’t so happy as I had just done the hive two weeks prior, so I must have missed their cue that they were leaving. I, too, was having the debate of should I merge or should I wait on a queen, considering how late in the season it is. Once I get into the swarmed hive, I guess I will know what to do. From what I see, I have two more ready to fly, so they need attn. pronto …… this has been a weird bee year ! Hopefully today the weather will help out and let me see the hives …. whatta year !

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thank you for your extremely informative blog!

    I already wrote you once. Anyway, I live in Australia and the spring has started with clouds and rain. I have 16 hives and, thanks to your blog, I had the courage to do some new nucs starting from one day eggs! On 10 trial nucs, 8 fully worked! Only two are still very small.

    That helped me to slow down the swarming need but they started again swarming this week so I am checking the brood boxes again.

    Anyway, today I feel like an idiot and the more I read, the more I get confused and frustrated. I caught a swarm the 2nd September (early spring here) and put it in a 8 frames box as it was pretty big. I gave them a super at the end of September as the bees were building even under the lid!

    Yesterday, I checked the brood box and there was capped brood on 7 frames. I thought, well, let’s split it but within these frames, I only found 2 half-frames of late stage larvae and one frame of 3-4 days larvae but I could not find the queen or a frame or two with clearly visible one-day eggs. I thought in fact about splitting the family to prevent them from swarming (because I feel pretty confident now) but I didn’t do it, as the one day eggs were not enough (in terms of quantity).

    The last frame is the reason of my concern: I found 4 capped queen cells! I believe they might be supersedure as they were all in the middle of the combs. I also found another queen cell on another more central frame but, in that case, it was at the bottom corner.

    I must be honest, and I wish I could read more before making mistakes. I did panic and I cut off the 4 queen cells leaving the one that looked to me a swarming one.

    Today is windy, very windy, and I am home thinking about this disaster. I’d like to go to the apiary, check again frame by frame and look for eggs and split the family or give them a bigger 10 frames box.

    I am desperate. I should be more confident having so many hives but I am not. I am still learning! I know, you don’t suggest AT ALL to get rid of the queen cells. What do you suggest I should do now?

    Thank you in advance. I wait for your answer before proceeding!

    • Carolina,

      That is excellent that you got so many nucs to thrive. Good job.

      But yes, I never get rid of queen cells. In your case, since you couldn’t find eggs or young larvae, you could have just split the hive in half. One half would get the four queen cells in a bunch, and the other half would get the queen cell on the other frame. Job done. You would have new queens in both halves in no time.

      But since you now have only one queen cell, and no eggs, you will just have to wait to see if she gets mated. Alternatively, you can combine this hive with one of your nucs.

      The thing you weren’t considering perhaps is that soon after a swarm gets established, it usually replaces the queen. The queen in a swarm is the old queen from the previous colony. I would expect to see her superseded within a couple of months of the swarm, which is what I’m assuming happened here. My guess is you won’t find any eggs or young larvae because there aren’t any, or there are only a few.

      • Thank you Rusty!

        You are (of course!) absolutely right. I didn’t consider at all the fact that the queen in this hive is the old one…

        Yesterday, in a lucky moment of calm from the wind, I opened again the box and I confirmed that there were few eggs, but I found them looking carefully on a portion of 2 frames. Plus, I found (we all miss one at least) another couple of queen cells (supersedure I guess) and I decided to split the family into 2 and while I was doing that I saw a big queen cell almost ready to hatch and I heard the piping sound. What I did is dividing in 2 boxes both with one-day eggs, larvae, capped brood, honey and queen cells. I will keep an eye on both to see how that proceeds and in case of failure, I will unite them again. What do you think about it? Thank you for your time and help!

  • Hi Rusty. Help.

    It’s full bloom citrus orchard spring in Southern California.

    Good luck following this confusing story. I had one colony. About ten days ago it swarmed to an orange tree above the hive. We boxed it and it is doing well.

    The original hive swarmed again about four days ago. That swarm was too high in an oak to retrieve.

    Yesterday the original hive swarmed again (swarm three) into the orange tree. I’m thinking now the oak tree swarm might have returned. Their disappearance from the oak coincided with the second swarm into the orange tree and bearding on the super. I didn’t have a swarm box or another super so I left them in the orange tree. This morning they swarmed back to the hive!

    Just now they swarmed back out of the hive and back to the same spot in the orange.

    I couldn’t make this up. I’m at a loss.

    My guesses include it’s a queenless or virgin queen swarm since the first swarm took the queen?

    I haven’t wanted to go into the original hive and disturb them while they were making a new queen, but maybe I should?

    Thanks for any guidance…signed, confused.

    • Hi Melissa,

      The primary swarm, the one with the old queen, is the one you caught and is doing fine. That sounds normal. Secondary and tertiary swarms are not uncommon, but they are usually smaller and they most often have virgin queens, as you suspected. If for any reason the virgin queen didn’t come along, or didn’t make the entire journey, the swarm will be queenless. Oftentimes these will return to the original hive. Without some kind of queen, mated or virgin, the swarm cannot possibly survive, and they seem to “know” that.

      When I’ve seen swarms return to the hive, it was very soon after they swarmed. Sometimes minutes later, and sometimes hours later. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one return after a night spent in the trees, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I just don’t know what timeline is possible.

      I would just go into the original hive and make sure they are on their way to producing a new queen. If nothing is in the works, you can give them a frame of eggs from the primary swarm that you managed to hive.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thank you for the input! As hard as it is for is to believe, this hive has now swarmed into the orange tree in front of the hive and back into the hive at least twice more now. I have video of each time except this morning’s swarm. Quite frankly I’m getting immune to the thrill and forgot to grab my phone!

    I’ve been hesitant to go into the hive in fear of disturbing a new queen, or deterring the swarm from returning, assuming they know what they’re doing more than I do, but I guess that almost seems ridiculous at this point? I found a queen dying on the patio near the swarm two days ago. They swarm went back into the hive later that day. They’ve gone in and out twice more since then. They’re out tonight. Crazy, right?

    A local beekeeping supply suggested I open the hive and strip out all queen cells. I really hate to do that, but maybe it’s time? I’d love to hear your opinion about that.

    The hive has an observation window. When the swarm goes back in it has a normal-ish population and when they’re out it’s a pretty low population. Good idea about sharing brood from the primary swarm. There was a good sized orientation flight from that hive this afternoon.

    Signed, dazed and confused.

    • Melissa,

      The trouble with deleted all the queen cells is it may leave the colony without a queen. I would make sure I saw a laying queen (not just a virgin) before I did anything that drastic.

      • Thanks, Rusty. That’s my gut instinct as well…I’ll give them some time. I heard piping in the hive this morning with my stethoscope so we’re hoping they’ll settle down with a new queen. We also took the crazy swarm to live with our nephew and his wife. Thanks again!

  • I just read a bunch of this thread.

    I have two brood boxes. When I pulled out the top frame I saw large larvae in open cells between the top frame and bottom frame. In the thread it mentions that swarm cells are typically at the bottom of the top brood frames. When I was in the hive, I thought they were drone cells. I still think so, but this thread has left some doubt.

    Is there a certain distance the frames should be apart from the top brood box to the bottom to prevent this possibility? These frames came from the nuc I bought and are slightly taller.

    • John,

      Bee space is about 3/8 inch, so that’s how much room should be between the layers of frames. But queen cells are built somewhere near the bottom or sides of the comb. If there is not enough space between frames, they just move them up a little higher on the side of the comb.

      You can’t prevent swarm cells from being built by changing the space. If you are trying to prevent a swarm and the bees are already building cells, I would split the colony.

      • My goal is to not kill any queen cells. I plan on splitting this hive soon. So, I don’t want them built in a way that inspecting the hive opens the cell up like it did for the drone cells today.

  • If they are drone cells, they are ‘squished’ between the frames (upper and lower) and when you lift the top frame over the bottom frame, it will ‘uncap’ the cells or they will be lined up along the bottom of the frame. If a queen cell, it will be ‘hanging’ down and look like a ‘peanut’ shell. Big difference there. Also, when the cells open, look at the eyes. if the eyes are huge, then it’s a drone. You might want to check out some pictures to help you decide which kind of cell it is. Rusty has some good articles on drones and queens with pics you can check out. Do a search on her site.

  • I am pretty confused about what to do with my hive. 1) had a swarm on the front of my hive and simultaneously a huge swarm in a tree this past weekend. Too high in a tree couldn’t get them. Opened the hive later that day to a packed hive, so if mine swarmed it was very little. First true inspection all the way thru to do some housekeeping/cleaning. I found capped brood, eggs have multiple supersedure cells (7) on various frames. I could not find the queen who is unmarked and very hard to find. As I was looking at the final frame, a queen emerged from one of the supersedure cells and ran into the hive. I did not pinch any cells.

    I have two deeps and two supers on so they have room.

    Went out today and they were all over the front of the hive and ground. I investigated looking for a queen under the piles of bees and no queen. I opened their entrance up and started coaxing them back inside and they all went back in. Checked them about an hour ago and everyone is calm. They are pretty aggressive which is new.

    I am pretty unsure as to what to do at this point and looking for advice.

  • Sounds like they are interested in swarming, but the queen is not going with them, or the queen is gone and they are waiting on the newly emerged queens. It’s hard to find a newly emerged queen, especially in the grass. When they are making new queens, they will be more defensive until she gets established. It’s best to leave them alone until they are finished and have their house in order. This is a very weird bee year for us here in Ohio, I don’t know where you are located, but I had a hive ‘try’ to swarm three times, they would leave the hive, go to the tree, then in an hour or so, go back into the hive; they did this three times, then decided to stay in the hive for a while. About a week later, they were ready to swarm in earnest. It’s early for them to bee swarming already, but this year is a weird one. We are having pretty serious queen issues, and I believe the weather has a ton to do with it. Just keep watch on the bees and they will figure it out for themselves. Give the newly emerged queens time to get established and mated. Good luck! Always something with bees.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I had a thorough question written up but now it’s lost in cyber space… probably better that I stay brief anyways.

    Long story short, I bought an over-wintered nuc that had three natural queen cups on the bottom of one frame. The last couple of months the three queen cups remained empty with no activity. When I inspected the hive yesterday, one of the cups had a semi mature larva in it and looked like it would be a full fledged capped queen cell shortly. The other two cups were empty — not even an egg in either one. I also didn’t observe any queen cells anywhere else in the hive. I’ve located the queen every time (I’ve done inspections every week or two) and she always looked healthy.

    It’s noteworthy for me to say they have never been over crowded. They are currently in two deeps with seven of eight frames drawn in the lower deep and five of eight drawn in the top deep.

    I don’t care if they swarm, I just don’t want to lose half the bees seeing that I have spare nuc equipment around. I also don’t want to interfere if they plan on superseding her; they know better than me what they need to do. I’m puzzled.

    Thanks so much,


    • Jason,

      I think the entire relationship between overcrowding and swarming is overplayed. Sometimes bees that are crowded don’t swarm. Sometimes bees not crowded at all do swarm. There’s is not a one-to-one correspondence. Your one queen cell, and only one, doesn’t sound too serious, and like you say, if they need to supersede the queen, they need to be allowed to do that. If it were me, I would just leave them alone. It all sounds pretty normal to me.

  • As always, thanks for your insight; either directly or what I read in response to other people’s questions.

    I have a queen arriving tomorrow that I ordered earlier in the year, in hindsight I would just let them raise their own. This hive is the one I need to create the split from and add the queen to. I’m thinking of leaving the old queen and queen cell in there and take brood frames to create a new nuc with the arriving queen. What do you think?

  • Hello. Our bees have been in our hives for about 3 weeks now. Upon inspecting yesterday we noticed what I believe are queen cups, like in the third photo here. Should we be concerned?? I’m not sure why our busy bees are building these… As they still have lots of room in their brood box. Any info to help understand this would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!! 🙂

    • April,

      Building and dismantling queen cups is something honey bees just do. Don’t read too much into it.

  • Hi rusty!

    I’ll try to be super simple with this. I’m very novice, am trying to learn as much as possible.

    I did my biweekly hive inspection today. I was a bit confused by what I found. A month ago, I purchased and successfully installed a new queen bee. Today I opened my hive and did a brood box inspection. I found eggs, larva, capped brood, pollen, and honey. On one frame I found two queen cells on the face of the come towards the top of the frame. Both still were uncapped, but one had a larva in it. On another frame I found five or six swarm cells hanging from the bottom of a single frame. Still all uncapped, but 2 had larva in it and were being tended by bees.

    My hive consists of a deep box for brood, on top of that are 2 deep supers. So I should have plenty of room even though my bee numbers are quite high. My bees are doing a great job of bringing in lots of pollen and storing honey, so I was hoping for a decent harvest this year, and now I’m worried they will swarm and I will get nothing or that I did something wrong.

    I will add, I do not have the time or finances to tend another hive, so a split is not an option right now.

    Please any advice, or analysis?

    • Alison,

      Since it sounds like swarm prep is already in motion, there is nothing much you can do other than split the hive or let them swarm. You didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, a colony that wants to swarm is a healthy colony. In spite of all the scuttlebutt, having extra room above the brood nest does very little to thwart swarming.

      • Every beekeeper I’ve spoken to says to split the hive. Is it okay that I don’t want to? I inherited a hive from someone that’s on my property. I never intended to have many hives.

        One more question. If my hive swarms every year, I’ll never get a harvest, right?

        Thanks so much for your candor!

        • Alison,

          There is absolutely nothing wrong with just letting the bees go. If you don’t want to split, that’s your business, not theirs. Swarming is nature’s way of colony-wide reproduction. Each of my hives swarms every year. Some I catch, some get away. In any case, I get honey from each hive every year. My problem is what to do with it all. People tell me to sell it, but I don’t want to sell it. That is my business. As far as what most beekeepers tell you, you can believe about 5% of it.

  • I have a hive that swarmed and we caught them, queen included, and put them in a new box 8 days ago with a frame of brood & larva and honey as well as 5 empty frames that were sprayed with sugar syrup.

    I checked today and there was no queen but still plenty of bees (& space) and there were capped queen cells on the bottom of the frames in the typical swarm spot vs supersedure location. There was one queen cup more towards the centre of a frame also. Would they be prepping to swarm again or I’m thinking the queen may have been injured and now died as the branch she was cut from fell about 30 feet to the ground when we caught the swarm?

    Any experience/thoughts would be appreciated!

    • Okay, Kristin, since you said any thoughts would be appreciated, I will begin by saying a hive can’t swarm. Swarming is done by bees. Hives are man-made bee homes and they tend to stay in one place. (I bet that wasn’t appreciated.)

      Don’t get too wrapped up in the position of queen cells. Just because swarm cells are usually found at the comb perimeter and supersedure cells are often on the comb face doesn’t mean they always are.

      If the queen was injured in the move, the workers would have to replace her. You said you gave them a frame of brood, including larvae, which is good. But if no queen is producing eggs, the workers would have to find the best young larvae to use for raising new queens. If those happen to be at the perimeter, that is where they will build the cells. In other words, with no laying queen, they have to use the resources available, no matter where they are.

      That is my guess about what is happening. I suspect they will not swarm again right away.

      • Thanks very much for your input (and the facetious correction of my word choice;) I’m new to beekeeping this year so appreciate the experienced opinions.

        • Kristin,

          I like to catch folks when they are new before those unfortunate concepts become ingrained. Unfortunately, we hear the erroneous stuff so often, it’s hard to get it right.

  • Ha Ha!! I am guilty of that as well. Using the term ‘hive’ instead of bees. I think, too, it depends on how many years one has been in beekeeping. Newbees tend to use terms incorrectly and as they progress they tend to correct their grammar. As I plod along, I try to correct myself when I do use the wrong terminology. Forgetfulness is my demon now more than terminology! With all the hives that I tend too, I find I need a huge wall size chart just to keep up. How do you do it? ha ha! Hope all is well over in your neck of the woods. We have extreme heat and humidity, the bees are having a hard time this year w/all the spring rains and now this humidity and heat. The nectar flow is phenomenal, the pollen, not so good.

  • New to beekeeping. I think my hive swarmed. I had put on a super to give bees some room since 10 frames deep super was about full. Still a lot of bees. I caught two swarms a couple of days ago and found queen cells in that hive do I remove them?

    • Paul,

      If your old queen left with a swarm, your new queen is in one of those queen cells. If you remove them all you may be left without a queen.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Just wanted to say thanks for the insights and info, as a novice beekeeper it’s such a joy to read your answers to some of the (occasionally repetitive ; ) questions above!

    As for your line “As far as what most beekeepers tell you, you can believe about 5% of it”.
    Well, that is worthy of a t-shirt!


  • Thanks for the information regarding queen cells. I am a brand new beekeeper with 2 hives (packages installed May 1). One of my hives is growing much faster than the other. In my most recent weekly hive inspection, I noticed a queen cell hanging from the bottom of a frame in my smaller hive. There is a laying queen in the hive currently. I’m not sure what to think about this. Any help is appreciated.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thanks for your bottomless insight into beekeeping.

    I have a sticky situation today. I’m working with a swarm that I acquired in April. The last few days I noticed lots of varroa on the sticky board, so I decided to treat it with MAQS. With that intention, I opened the hive today and found no sign of a queen (no eggs, lots of capped brood, very few uncapped brood, lots of untouched new comb) and one solitary emergency cell full of jelly. Still open.
    I decided not to treat, since that might damage the queen larva.

    Did I do the right thing? Should I go in once the cup is closed and treat or wait till the queen has emerged? Or wait till I see eggs again?

    Dang! This would be a great time to treat from the point of view of few capped larva!
    What would you do? I’m in Central Oregon where the season is short.


    • Rhonda,

      After a new queen emerges from the supersedure cell and mates, then she can proceed as normal and eventually lay eggs in swarm cells.

      • So…the process of requeening doesn’t cause the old queen to swarm and take a large portion of the hive with her. I thought I read that the old queen could leave when the supersedure cell is capped. I have since been told that swarming behavior is unlikely with supercedure and that the old queen will be neglected/ejected from the hive but they will not swarm. I misunderstood and split my old queen thinking I was managing swarming behavior.

        • Rhonda,

          Supersedure is designed to replace a failing or dead queen. It is not related to swarming.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.