miscellaneous musings

Playing hide and seek with a queen . . . or two

If you recall, I split my top-bar hive on Friday by shaking the frames over an empty box. Once done, I was clueless about where the queen had ended up. I looked through the frames of shook bees but found no sign of her.

Within a few hours I noticed the top-bar hive was calm and the shook swarm was loud, agitated, and aggressive. All this made me think the shook swarm was the queenless colony.

Since I had provided the swarm with drawn comb, I decided to check for eggs in about 24 hours. I found none on Saturday and none on Sunday–further evidence of queenlessness.

By this time I was impatient because my schedule wouldn’t allow for much beekeeping in the days to come, so instead of verifying further, I decided to go ahead and give the shook swarm the last queen I had in reserve. (Note: As a beekeeper, one should never be impatient.)

I put the queen in a cage and placed it the hive. Something was odd, though. Instead of fanning the new queen like crazy—a message that says, “Here’s our new queen and this is what she smells like”—the workers just stood on the cage and looked at her. I could hear them saying, “Who the heck are you?”

I decided to close up the hive anyway, but as I did so, I just knew it wasn’t right. So I tore off the cover and went queen hunting again. On the third frame, there she was–the original top-bar queen.

I did a fast backtrack and removed the new queen and cage. She wasn’t injured. I think the workers still hasn’t decided what to do with her or when. Maybe they were waiting for a court order.

In any case, no damage was done. But it reminded me that bees know what they are doing. Humans just think they know what bees are doing. So when in doubt, wait it out.



    • No, I put the reserve queen back in her tiny nuc. I figured she had enough trauma for one day. At this point, I think I will let the top-bar hive raise its own queen and keep the reserve queen on hand for some other bee emergency.

  • Did the quiet and calm split have a queen also or did the new queen go there? It is unusual for the queen-less part of the split to be the calm part. One of the things I share at many club meetings is to expect bees to do something unexpected.


    • Jim,

      I put the reserve queen back in her nuc. I don’t know if the top-bar hive also has a queen or not, but since it was loaded with eggs and larvae before the split, I figure it can raise one by itself.

      To tell the truth, I’m not a fan of top-bar hives. Having had one for a number of years helps me to answer questions about them, but I feel like a beekeeper has so many more management options with Langstroths. I probably would have gotten rid of it by now had it not attracted a swarm last year.

      I have never gotten honey out of it, but it is a good source of bees. It’s always filled to capacity. If I could ever find and catch the queen, I might try using it as a cell starter. Just a thought.

  • Impressive Rusty – you obviously have great powers of observation and understanding of bee behaviour which helped you realise that something wasn’t right when you put the new queen in.

    • Emily,

      Thanks for the compliment but the bees do the teaching. If you pay attention to them, they tell you all kinds of things.

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