queen rearing

Queen rearing vs queen breeding

A tweet from the Sheffield Honey Company reminded me that I should clarify the difference between queen rearing and queen breeding–and they are absolutely right.

Most of us who rear queens do it to provide serviceable queens for ourselves or others. We need queens to replace those that are failing or those that have died. We need queens to increase the number of colonies or to re-queen defensive hives. We are usually happy with a queen who produces a good brood pattern and gives rise to gentle workers. Sometimes–especially when they are scarce–nearly any queen will do.

But breeding queens is much more complex than simply rearing them. Breeders select stock based on genetic traits they want to enhance. Breeders usually have a specific goal in mind. They may want to increase honey production, decrease propolis collection, improve overwintering, or increase disease resistance. Recently, many queen breeders are looking for breeding stock that is resistant to the ravages of the Varroa mite.

In addition to selecting good queens, breeders must also select drones from colonies with specific traits. A “sperm donor” with desirable traits is just as important as the queen herself. Controlled crosses between selected queens and drones is beyond the capabilities of most beekeepers, so we rely on the breeders to do the laborious work of producing better bees.

The work breeders perform should not be underestimated. Breeders must select and maintain breeding stock, keep meticulous records, and record statistics about the offspring of the crosses. In addition, they must guard against inbreeding and always be on the lookout for negative as well as positive outcomes.

Most breeders use instrumental insemination to assure that the desired crosses occur. Instrumental insemination requires special equipment and training in addition to adequate time and financial resources. It is not easy.

So while most of us can raise a few queens as we need them, we must keep in mind that the unique lines with desirable characteristics that appear every so often are the result of dedicated breeders with special knowledge and resources, and most importantly, the wherewithal to succeed.


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  • I lost my queen 2 days ago. It is getting late in the summer, will the colony requeened itself or should I consider combining with another hive? If requeening, when should I start looking?

    Thank you

    • Evelyn,

      I don’t know where you live, but the thing to assess is the number of drones in your area. If drones are gone, you can requeen with a purchased queen or combine the queenless colony with another. I don’t understand your last question.

      • I still have drones. I have very young larvae… when should I start looking to see if the bees are requeening themselves? Finding a queen is difficult now. I live in northern Illinois.

        • Evelyn,

          The bees will know within about 15 minutes of losing a queen that they are queenless. You should see the beginners of supersedure cells by now.

  • Thank you Rusty because someone tell me I have to use only breeder’s queens to make more queens.