queen bees

Requeening a hive may not be the best answer

In my opinion, requeening has become a mania. What used to be a management strategy for replacing older queens has now become the answer for every problem a colony might have. Want to boost summer populations? Requeen. Your bees won’t move into the honey supers? Requeen. Too many mites? Requeen. Too much swarming? Requeen. Nosema? Chalkbrood? Deformed wings? Requeen.

To me, gratuitous queen replacement is not good beekeeping and it will not produce better colonies. In fact, it relieves you from having to learn the intricacies of honey bee biology. If the answer is always a new queen, perhaps you are not asking the right questions.

What is requeening?

First, let’s define the word. “Requeening” literally means to queen again. When you requeen you replace one queen with another. In other words, you take the extant queen out of the hive where she is living and put another in her place. If there is no queen to start with, you are not requeening. Instead you are simply supplying a queen to a queenless collection of bees.

Some good reasons for requeening a hive

A healthy queen can live a number of years, perhaps five or so. But as a queen ages, her productivity drops and she will lay fewer eggs than a young queen. For this reason, beekeepers often replace a queen every one or two years in order to maintain strong populations.

Along with egg-laying, pheromone production also decreases. It seems that high levels of queen pheromone play a role in preventing swarms, so some beekeepers like to keep fairly young queens in colonies that might swarm.

Another common reason for requeening is worker disposition. If a queen produces temperamental offspring that are aggressive, territorial, and sting-happy, requeening from different stock can solve the problem.

In some cases, a different line of bees may be more resistant to certain diseases and parasites. Chalkbrood is a disease that can sometimes be reduced with different genetics. And certainly mite resistance varies with genetic makeup.

Each of these are valid reasons, but they all come with caveats.

Requeening is a management tool

In modern parlance, requeening is a tool. But just as a mechanic doesn’t use a wrench for every job, a beekeeper shouldn’t be requeening each and every time he perceives a problem. A mechanic who uses a wrench as a hammer is an idiot, or else just plain lazy. The same could be said for excessive requeening. Each time you feel the urge to requeen, you need to ask yourself if it’s the best tool for the job.

Lately I’ve heard of requeening a hive to boost summer populations, to get bees to move into empty supers, to prevent backfilling, to stop bees going to swimming pools, to reduce the number of drones, to encourage comb building, to change foraging patterns, to keep the bees closer to home, and to get the bees to fly north instead of south. In some of these cases, a new queen might have an effect or might not, but requeening is a lot of disruption for a mere possibility.

First, a confession

I realize that my beekeeping techniques often fly in the face of convention, and my opinions on requeening a hive are no exception. I cannot remember the last time I requeened a colony, but I think it was about ten years ago. In spite of that, I have an excellent track record of bee health and overwintering success. How can that be?

I think the answer lies in management style. Although I never remove and replace a queen, I do other things to encourage healthy colonies and queen updates. One of my primary concerns is bee genetics. Since my bees seem to be well-adapted to their local environment, I don’t want to bring in outside queens. Instead, I want my bees to make their own choices.

To me, excessive queen replacement is similar to excessive inspection. Bees are much better at being bees than we give them credit for. It’s arrogant to think we always know best.

Requeening because of poor brood pattern

A substandard brood pattern is probably the most compelling reason for queen replacement because a colony without a strong queen is liable to fail. Still, when I find a weak brood pattern I often just add a frame or two of open brood from another colony. This seems to stimulate supersedure, and within days the problem is solved.

When we requeen, we usually make the assumption that the new queen will be better than the old one. But if you listen to all the stories, you know this isn’t true. The expensive new queen may be no better, may have different problems, or may not get accepted at all. It’s always risky.

Requeening because of temperament

Because I get so much mail, I hear many of the same things over and over, and this one amazes me. Someone will write and say their colony was gentle, sweet-tempered, and productive until one day last week when it suddenly turned nasty. So they requeened right away.

Huh? A colony that’s been gentle as a lamb and suddenly turns mean one day was upset by something in the environment. Since all the workers cannot change their genetic makeup overnight, the upset had nothing to do with the queen. It may have been caused by loud noise, a bad smell, an impending storm, high humidity, a hive inspection, or a predator skritching at the entrance. Usually, the bees will get over it in a few days.

When a new queen is introduced, the number of bees in the colony that are her offspring changes slowly. There will be none for the first three weeks, then there will be a few, and then gradually more and more. Eventually, the workers will be almost exclusively her offspring, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

Some say it’s not only worker genetics but the pheromones emitted by the queen that dictates temperament. But even if that’s a factor, the suddenness of the change must be considered. I had one just last week. A previously gentle colony began chasing, head-butting, and stinging right after I removed honey on a humid day. I let them alone, and after three days they were back to normal. It would have been a shame to replace that productive and gentle queen with an unknown.

However, if a colony gets progressively more agitated as time goes on, requeening is in order. Analyze what is happening before you decide, and remember that logic is the most under-utilized tool in the beekeeper’s kit.

Requeening to control disease

Oftentimes we blame the queen for our own poor management. It’s true a disease like chalkbrood can sometimes be contained by requeening, if you’re lucky. But a better answer is good management. Chalkbrood is often the result of chilled brood or damp hives.

If your queen is a poor layer, and a shortage of workers results in chilled brood, then go ahead and replace her. But at the same time, do whatever you must to reduce moisture in the hive, remove excess space, and make the hive easier for the bees to manage. If you fail to fix problems within the hive itself, chalkbrood is likely to return regardless of the queen’s genetics.

Requeening to control swarming

Sometimes a new queen will prevent a swarm, sometimes not. Remember that swarming is a sign of a strong and healthy colony. If you have a robust colony it may swarm in spite of a new queen.

If you can allow your colony to swarm, or if you can create a split or artificial swarm, you will get a new queen in the parent colony, and most often the bees will replace the old queen in the split. When you split a colony or allow it to swarm, you seldom have “old queen” problems. Swarming is nature’s way of keeping colonies young and vibrant.

If you live where you can’t allow swarming, split them. You can always recombine later to reduce the number of colonies before winter.

Requeening for ridiculous reasons

If you’re requeening to prevent backfilling, to keep bees from drinking at swimming pools, to reduce the number of drones, to encourage comb building, to change foraging patterns, to make them stay closer to home, or to get them to fly north instead of south, you’re reading the wrong books. They are bees. They do bee things. Get over it.

Bees respond to changing conditions in their environment, they go to pools to get water, they raise drones to perpetuate the species, they forage where they find the best food. You simply can’t change the basic nature of bees by requeening.

Trying to requeen a dying colony, one no bigger than a handful of bees, won’t work either. The queen can’t do it by herself. Many bees are necessary to raise, feed, warm, and protect brood. Without a solid workforce, nothing the queen can do will make any difference.

Decide if requeening is the answer

Am I saying you should never requeen? Of course not. But I am saying you should evaluate the problem to see if requeening is the best answer. Maybe it is, but maybe it’s not. A good beekeeper works with the bees, not against them. Although requeening has its place, I believe it’s the most over-rated management technique in modern beekeeping.

Honey Bee Suite

Is requeening a hive really necessary?
Ask yourself if requeening a hive is really necessary. Is it the right solution for the problem you are having? Pixabay photo.

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  • I envy your distance from the Africanization we have in southern California. My local mentor (full-time beekeeper) says that 60% of local swarms are Africanized, and probably about the same for bee removals. That means that I cannot allow an unknown hybrid supersedure, as I am in a very urban location. I have dealt with Africanized bees, and they are not fun. They are probably even less fun for my neighbors.

    Even more important, is that the more Africanized (there are degrees of Africanization, believe it or not) you allow them to become, the less likely you are to be successful with requeening, according to my mentor who does this all the time. So while I agree that gratuitous requeening is never justified, when you are in area of Africanization, and your known marked queen may have been superseded, you may need to consider requeening earlier than other regions.

    • Dawn,

      As I clearly state in the post, “You should evaluate the problem to see if requeening is the best answer.” Obviously, supersedure in an AHB (Africanized honey bee) area is a situation where requeening is desirable. If you read the post, you will see that I am asking beekeepers to think about what they are doing, not necessarily to change what they are doing.

      • No argument from me, Rusty, your article just didn’t come across with quite the perspective we have gained this year. Visualize us as beekeepers in full gear being chased a hundred feet from the hive while now wearing a “black veil” of bees. It was hard to get far enough away without impacting our neighbors.

        We beat ourselves up about concept of destroying a queen for over a week before we decided to requeen. We should not have hesitated, but we wanted to give the bees the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we had picked a bad time? However, it was mid March, and a hive scale on a different hive showed a strong nectar flow. Sometimes our emotions get in the way of doing the right thing, and in our case, we waited too long.

        When you are very experienced in you region, everything is clear. We have 30 years of beekeeping in the UK. It was all obvious there, mostly. However, Californian beekeeping is quite different. So if you are dealing with a situation new to you, you may need an outside opinion to help you evaluate the problem, and see whether requeening is the right answer. Obvious, I know, but it didn’t seem obvious to us at the time. 🙂

  • I will second requeening for temperament. They absolutely will chill out much faster than 21 days; usually about a week. I have done and observed it many times myself. I won’t venture to say whether it is the queen, or the pheromone profile of the brood she produces, but the change is noticeable and quite dramatic. Will they be nasty at night or in the rain? I am pretty sure they will, but unless I am feeding in the spring, I got no business being in the hives at those times anyway.

  • I think a lot of the modern hype behind re-queening is driven by clever marketing by the good folk involved with massed queen breeding and selling. By honey producers, not bee keepers. By those with not a lot of experience, but access to the internet so they can spread their form of the “gospel”.

    “You’re reading from the wrong books”. I loved that quote, although perhaps not from books but from the internet. If beginners went back to reading books that were written early last century, some of the more basic inspection and management mistakes may not be made as often.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have spent this season experimenting with making what you would call “cut down” splits in order to produce more hives, make new queens, create brood breaks and get a honey crop! It has worked beautifully and much of it I owe to you and the information in your website, so thank you!

    I (well I guess I mean the bees) have been able to turn six nucs into twelve productive Langstroth hives and a single overwintered TBH into three without purchasing a single queen. It’s amazing what they can do if you just make sure they have what they need.

    If I ever buy a queen again it will only be because I want to add to the gene pool.

    I have also found this publication very helpful….. Simple-methods-of-making-Increase-Final-reduced1.pdf

    Vashon Island, WA

    • Thanks, Annie. I will check out the publication, too. By the way, I’m having a good year as well. Lots of comb honey!

      • Does it make any sense to split my hives and ‘get rid’ of the old queens so that all new hives raise new queens and brood break at the same time? For management purposes, does anyone do that? I have about 40 hives. thank you

        • Emil,

          Although brood breaks can be effective varroa control, they have their downsides. Colonies lose about three weeks’ worth of new bees, which can make a big impact on bee populations as well as mite populations. And a loss of bee populations will lessen the amount of nectar coming into the hive. The important thing is timing. If you can make the brood breaks align with nectar dearth, the impact of honey loss will be minimized.

  • Rusty,

    Your posts are always so timely for me. I have a hive that I started from a nuc which came from an almond pollination operation. I have no idea what age the queen is and so I have been thinking about re-queening. My fear is that my queen could fail come spring and there won’t be queens available. I’m thinking this might be the best time to do it. I would appreciate your thoughts on my rationale.

    • Paul,

      I would look at her brood pattern before I did anything. I read recently that something like 20% of new queen introductions fail. I don’t know if that is accurate, but it is something to consider.

  • Earlier this spring one of my hives came out of winter so aggressive I was wondering if A H B had reached Washington state. I wasn’t in too much of a hurry tho because this was the best performing hive I’ve had in a long time. Thinking about requeening but they solved it by swarming. Maybe just chill and let them solve there own problems. Now they are fine and still very productive.

  • Good points you make. And I also am jealous of your ability to let the hive raise a new queen. In our africanized zone I have to spend many hundreds of dollars buying queens every year just to keep things under control. The angry hives here cover you with bees and they manage to sting through leather gloves and double layers of fabric. Takes the fun out of beekeeping, honestly. When I open a calm hive where the bees are just milling around ignoring you, it is wonderful like a bite of chocolate pie.

    • Steve,

      Love the chocolate pie analogy. Some things might cause me give it up, and AHB is one. And maybe small hive beetles. Varroa mites alone feel like a full-time job.

  • I have not introduced a new queen into my hives since I started beekeeping five years ago hoping that by doing so I’ll have bees that are more adapted to my region. However this doesn’t hold true if my neighbour requeens with queens from New Zealand or California every year or so and my queens mate with their drones. Everyone needs to produce their own queens if this is going to work.

  • This adept of republics still hasn’t come round the idea of executing queens.

  • Hi Rusty, “Love your show, Babe”, if you haven’t “re-queened” in ten years, you’ve either got a lot of geriatric queens or you have an effective technique for inducing supersedure. Could you discuss that.

    I plan to become a beekeeper next spring. I took a local club course, in March/April and while I wait for next season to get started, I read your every post. They make such good sense. Thanks, John

    • You really shoudn’t need any convoluted strategy to induce supercedure. The bees figured that out eons ago.

      You should be able to just step back and let the bees be bees. I’m thinking that any attempt to try to induce this would be detrimental, in most cases.

  • Africanized bees are better adapted to the environment they have colonized in the south! As such a stronger effort should be placed in exploring what will happen if more and more beekeepers opt to weed out undesirable traits rather than look for the “best ones”. Looking to “manufacture” that elusive bee with the best traits will most likely result in failure. Local selection of bees in tune with a ecosystem by getting rid of undesirable traits while maintaining as high a genetic variability as possible will in all likelihood “bee” more productive and sustainable be it honey production or pollination

  • I got a package of bees from California this spring. Carniolans, very gentle. At first. Now with the new hatchings the hive is more and more agressive. When we opened the hive yesterday they attacked immediatly on exposed flesh and through clothing. My helper got five to seven stings. I got none. As he fled I closed the hive and all became quiet again. There is a somewhat of a derth going on here. They have not attacked when feeding them. My inclination is to wait a while to see if they are more tractable when there is bloom. I am new at this and have had very little mentoring. Ideas any one? Araymond@wyoming.com

    • Sounds like they are being defensive no aggressive, protecting what they have from what they perceive as an aggressor. When there is no new food coming in, they tend to get fairly possessive of what they have already gathered.

      Different forage types can cause a similar mood change. Over here it is Kamahi tree nectar and Black Currant nectar that seems to swing their mood from one day happy and placid, to nasty little critters the next!

  • I recently commented to the previous post regarding frequency of inspections stating that my girls have always had good temperment. I attribute it to minimizing inspections to only times when I sense something wrong by a change in activity at the hive entrance. I also minimize the use of smoke.

    Wouldn’t you know that, through my own mistake I altered their temperament. For almost two days my wife and I and our greyhounds were unwelcome from exiting our back door. We would immediately be met by two or three girls that were hell-bent on buzzing us and getting in our faces. One was successful in “touching” my wife just below her nose causing some swelling and giving her a bit of a birds beak.

    My mistake was not using any smoke while checking each of our two hives two supers and then jostling them to place escape screens under them. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I rarely use smoke because my inspections are usually limited to looking under the outer covers and observing the girls visible through the screened inner cover. The girls are back to their gentle ways and have remained so after using the smoker during the process of removing the supers yesterday for harvesting. I must say it was scary for those 36 hours and it took me a while to realize the mistake I made. I can’t imagine an AHB situation but would certainly try requeening to solve it if I was sure the aggressive behavior was not due to something I had done to initiate it.

  • I wonder if some of the advise to solve problems by requeening comes from beekeepers who are fanatics for one particular race of bees. Often you see the requeening suggestion followed by a pitch for bees from the author’s preferred stock.

    It sounds like you live in an area where there is a feral bee population that is well suited for your purposes. I’m in the same situation. We are very lucky that we can just go with the flow and let our colonies raise their own queens and let the mate openly with the feral colonies. There are probably some hobbyists and a lot of commercial beeks who don’t have that luxury.

  • Thank you very much for the well-written article. After experiencing a very strange spring and summer in Quebec, I have left 2 of my 5 hives to re-queen themselves. One after a swarm and one after a re-queening failed with the queen dying in the cage. I have purchased 6 new queens with horrible results. I am learning and taking notes for next season. I am most grateful to have found your site. I was also given a bee book dated 1905 and will read it this winter. NO more re-queen for me..I have learned my lesson. thanks again…

  • Hi Rusty,

    Here, here. Love your column.

    Ages ago I saw a clip about some workers that had come across a 10 year old bee hive. The hive was very strong, tons of bees, and honey bursting at the seams. According to the clip, no one had done anything to it. It was abandoned by human life form.

    The hive after all those years was desperately in need of repair. They hired a few beekeepers to replace some of the deeps, that was it. When I became a beekeeper, I had already decided to let the bees tell me how they worked, and what they needed. After all, they’re just like humans. They do not want their home broke into. They want to go where they please. They want to be healthy, and they’re going to have their bad days, and good days.

    Why people want to take that away from them is just crazy. Yes, I feed them when need be. I check for mites, and diseases.
    However, I leave their honey in all winter, and process the following spring.

    I do leave them alone most the time. The bees are happy, I’m happy.

    I’ve never requeened. Why would anyone take their job away from them is beyond me.

    The only thing I do on a weekly basis is I stand 20 feet away and watch them come and go. If the bees are not doing that, then I would have to take a peek. Never had any problems.

    I would never change what I do. I love it.

    Take care

  • I think sometimes that the “requeen every year” mentality, especially in the commercial bee breeders, is partially to blame for the poor queen problem many are having. How many times have we heard that queens used to live 5+ years, and now they are lucky to live 6 months. I think we have inadvertently bred away from long-lived queens. In nature, the oldest queen would have produced the strongest genetic presence that then mated with other “old” genes. We have removed that variable, and by not selecting our breeding stock from longevity, we’ve selected against it.

    • Tyrel,

      Excellent point. I’ve wondered about that too. As you say, we are, in essence, breeding against longevity, so it’s not surprise that it is disappearing.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Very interesting your blurb on re-queening, I now have two hives going and next spring I intend to split the older hive (which has two deeps and a medium for brood). My intention is to take half the frames and replace with new frames and start a new hive with the frames I have removed. By my reckoning one will be queenless and the other will have the original queen, I have been thinking about just allowing Mother Nature to take her course and allowing the queenless hive to supersede. Have you any thoughts on what I should be doing to ensure supersedure? I’m a big fan of Dadant’s writings but can’t really find anything specific to this topic.

    Thanks Ken

    • Ken,

      Your plan to split is logical. It is basically the way I do it. However I don’t understand what you mean when you say, “ensure supersedure.” The old queen may get superseded at some point, or maybe not, depending on how strong she is. The queenless portion cannot supersede since there is no queen in there to start with. All you need to do is make sure the queenless portion has eggs and very young larvae. With those, the workers can begin to raise a new queen.

      • My bad, still learning the beeks lingo, can’t supersede if there’s nothing there, maybe if I had put my brain in gear before writing.

        Ken A

        • Ken,

          I wouldn’t worry over it since we all do it. I just like to straighten out the confusion for others who might be reading the question/answer and not understanding.

  • I had one odd occurrence this year where the old queen (a very good queen with productive offspring) resisted what seemed to be her children’s attempt to replace her. During an inspection of this colony, I found a single capped queen cell- it had a hole in the side. Inspecting further, I found the old (her second year), marked queen going about business as usual, beautiful laying pattern. Haven’t the faintest idea what was going on there as usually if the girls want to swarm they make many, many queen cells, but whatever it was obviously Queenie was having none of it.

  • I have had a sense that so many talks, so many articles, and now so many conversations between beekeepers, profess the holy grail of queen genetics that beekeepers have been given a quest for an ultimate queen. So many times they may have a perfectly good queen but as you rightly pointed out they do not employ sound management practices. Well written and timely message. Thanks for the sage guidance as always.

  • So I decided to take a more hands-off approach to maintaining my hives and did (what I decided at the time) what would be my final spring inspection as the nectar flow was coming on and I figured the bees knew what to do from that point forward. I noted eggs, larvae and capped brood and a good amount of honey, so I figured they were good to go, put the super and excluder and and walked away. About two weeks ago, I noticed a decrease in the amount of pollen being brought back, but didn’t think much of it as there wasn’t a lot of stuff blooming and the blackberries were going to be coming on any day now, so I figured they would be fine. Now the blackberries are on strong and still not a lot of activity at the hive entrance. I opened things up and did a thorough inspection to find a good amount of honey but no brood in the top chamber. The cells were all cleaned out and ready and waiting for eggs. The lower chamber had a little bit of capped brood, a lot of honey, but no eggs or larvae. Otherwise, everything was cleaned out. There were a couple of queen cells at the bottom. I didn’t make a mental note if there were any queen cells that had hatched as I was having to remove a fair amount of comb to get everything apart. The hive was pretty calm during the inspection. I didn’t have to use any smoke. The population of bees was pretty high. I don’t think they swarmed.

    Obviously, the hive is queenless. There’s still brood, but not much, so it probably happened within the last 3 weeks. Given how calm the hive was and how cleaned out the brood cells are should I assume that there is a virgin queen in there and they’re going to requeen themselves (which I’m not opposed to) or do you think I should go back in and take out the other queen cells and put in a new queen? If they had been more agitated and restless, I would just go ahead and requeen them myself as I would assume that they genuinely without an apparent heir to the throne (so to speak).

    • David,

      Hmm. Depends on how much of a risk-taker you are. I would have come to same conclusion: since the bees are calm and not acting queenless, they may very well have a virgin in process. I usually leave them to it because I prefer home-grown queens to others. On the other hand, if things don’t go well, you could end up with laying workers.

      Since you’re nearing the end of capped brood, you’re correct about being three weeks into it. From egg to hatch for a queen is about 16 days, and then you can add another 14-21 days from hatch to lay, which gives you 30-37 days. So, it’s possible you have a virgin . . . but no guarantee.

  • Rusty,
    Thanks for the feedback. This is only my second year beekeeping and was looking forward to letting the girls put some honey in supers. Bummer, but oh well! I have another hive that I just started month ago, so I’m hesitant to take a frame of brood away from them. Good to know that I’m not going crazy, at least. I checked on them last night and they seemed to be coming and going. Gave the hive a tap and they made normal noises. I’ll do an inspection next week (have to go out of town this weekend, so don’t want to stir the pot and leave) to see where they’re at and decide if I should put a queen in. That’ll put me at close to 30 days… maybe I’ll see some eggs. Maybe not… Thanks for making all of this information available to us!

  • Last week my neighbors had a swarm of bees on their roof. They called a beekeeper to come and transport them away safely and he mentioned something about “requeening.” I wasn’t sure what the meant, but now I know that it is replacing the queen bee with another queen.

  • This article was a great help to me as I am grappling with the decision as to whether I should requeen a feral swarm that I collected with my students in a bait hive in May. I have read conflicting advice—isn’t that a big suprise for beekeeping! I am sympathetic to those who live in AHB areas who have had bad experiences with agressive feral hives, and opt for requeening any. However, if you make a decision on whether to requeen based in temperment, why would you requeen a feral colony that showed calm temperament and good brood pattern just because you live in an AHB area? Wouldn’t you potentially be eliminating good genetics or even good hybrid genetics by doing so? The recent research from Puerto Rico, where AHB genetics have been incorporated into the honey be genetics indicates that we may have some success in dealing with AHB genetics if we select against agressive queens. That my be more effective in places like Puerto Rico, which is an island, but I thinks we could see similar outcomes in other areas. I live in central Florida and we have AHB here, but I have been lucky to collects wild swarms that have been gentle and seem to have good productive characteristics. Why would I requeen such colonies? Even breeders in this area are likely to be producing queens that may have some AHB genetics in them—after all, most breeders cannot control who their queens are mating with. Anyway, I am going to EVALUATE any queen that I collected from the wild and I will replace her only if she exhibits negative qualities. In AHB areas this means being vigilant about eliminating queens from colonies that appear overly agressive—but that holds for European queens as well. I appreciate everyone sharing their perspectives. As with many other issues, I end up finding that among all the conflicting advice out there, Rusty often come through with great insights that have aided in my decisions as a relatively new beekeeper. Keep up the good work!

  • Queen cells in September — I wasn’t expecting to see this during the early September inspection you suggested and wondering what might be triggering their development and how I should proceed. In one of my hives which has a 2017 queen, two summers of good honey production and what seems a substantial amount of capped brood, stores, and bees (but to my eye not overcrowded going into winter), I discovered a few active queen cells with one well on its way to hatching. I know this because unfortunately in a less that agile motion I accidentally damaged the still developing queen in what appeared the best of the few cells I discovered.

    Other background on this colony: the ubiquitous mite populations (I treat with OA but of course this is the higher population period and I haven’t yet done a late summer treatment); and during the summer especially early summer this colony had a persistent high number of bees showing symptoms of what seemed like CBPVirus (particularly shaking, K-wing, unable to fly). Still the bee population remained strong and as I mentioned it was a good producing hive. The yellow dot ’17 queen is present.

    This leads me to several questions (in addition to needing to work more adroitly):

    What is the reason for the hive developing queen cells? Should I take over and actively requeen? Given that I damaged the leading queen cell should I wait for a new cycle of queens if by chance the few others progress poorly. There are cells with larvae present. Thank you. Bill

    • Bill,

      For better answers, always leave your location along with your name.

      The production of queen cells varies with genetics, but usually it’s because the workers sense a need to replace the queen. However, sometimes supersedure queens are destroyed and the original queen prevails. Like I said, genetics has a lot to do with it.

      But if you want to be safe, you can replace the existing queen. It’s a judgement call, though, since you seem to have a queen that is doing fine. Queen cells are built in multiples for a reason, and damaging one isn’t usually a problem. The size and symmetry of the cell has little to do with the vitality of the queen inside. Remember, the workers built the cell, not the queen herself.

      Since I don’t know where you are I have to make a generalization here, but it seems to me that left to their own devices the colony will not be able to requeen itself because there are probably no drones left in your area. No drones means no fertile queens, no matter how perfect she is on emergence.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I am a new beekeeper located in a remote area on the island of Tobago in the Caribbean and from what I am told there are no other beekeepers within many many miles of my location. This therefore means that when a new queen is produced either by supersedure or as a result of a swarm, there will be no ‘foreign’ drones out there as possible mates. I do sometimes see drone cells in my hives (I only have two for the moment) and was wondering if a new queen will mate with drones from the same hive or the sister hive. Do the workers always build drone cells in preparation for a supersedure or swarm? I guess what I really would like to know is, if my colony swarms or a supersedure queen is produced would I have to re-queen with a mated queen or will the new queen and house drones just get on with it and do their thing?

    I enjoy reading all your articles. Have learnt a lot, thank you!


    • Rikhi,

      The question is not how many beekeepers are in your area, but rather how many wild colonies. Surely, honey bees must live in your area.

      Honey bees have many safeguards against inbreeding, including the fact that they mate away from the hive, they mate in drone congregation areas, and they mate with multiple partners. If there were absolutely no other bees around, a queen might mate with her drone siblings, but that often results in high numbers of diploid drones that perish before adulthood. If you don’t want to re-queen, take a good look at the new queen’s laying pattern. It should be mostly solid without a lot of empty holes. Too many empty cells may signal inbreeding.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I must admit I never gave much thought to the possibility of wild colonies. It’s a heavily forested area where I am and I really don’t have a clue of what is out there….yet! Since my first posting one of my hives is not doing too good. The rainy season was coming to an end (July to Dec) and the forest trees were in bloom signaling a high flow period so I stopped feeding and added a honey super to take advantage of it. But, the colony has downsized (not sure if it swarmed or not); I see lots of nectar, pollen and some honey but no sealed brood nor young larvae. I found only a couple of eggs and four supersedure cells on the same side of one frame. Each cell had a good size larva. My feeling is to leave well alone and see what pans out. Will know soon enough if there are wild drones out there I guess!


  • Greetings Rusty, from Tobago,

    Okay, here’s what has been going on since the 28th Jan;

    06Feb: Only one sealed supersedure cell of four remaining. A very small number of cells with eggs, larvae and sealed brood. Can’t tell much as yet about the laying pattern. Lots of pollen, nectar and capped honey.

    13Feb: Lots of pollen, nectar and honey. A few eggs and larvae. The only sealed brood are drone cells. Replaced an empty frame with a frame from my strong hive containing sealed brood, larvae and eggs.

    27Feb: Lots of pollen, nectar and honey. A few cells with eggs and larvae. Eggs are one to a cell. Suspect that the larvae are drones. Some sealed brood still present from introduced frame. Several drone cells. Saw the remnants of a supersedure cell so it looks like there is a queen around.

    06Mar: Lots of honey, pollen, and nectar. Several sealed drone cells in the middle of frames. Quite a bit of larvae, some cells with eggs, with a couple of cells having two eggs. Note: the eggs were at the bottom of the cells and not on the sides. Young queen perhaps or two laying queens? Not 100% sure the hive has laying workers.

    14Mar: Lots of honey, pollen, and nectar. Small group of sealed drone cells on one frame from the bottom to about the middle of the frame. One frame has open brood (looks like drone cells), some cells with eggs (not many) at the bottom centre of the cells; saw one cell with two eggs at the bottom of the cell. Found one queen cell on the edge of the frame with a good-sized larva and royal jelly. Found a capped supersedure cell on an adjacent frame. Looked for a queen but couldn’t find her.

    I’m not really sure what is going here on but I’m taking notes! Your thoughts would be apppreciated.

    In the meantime my second hive is very strong and going guns on the honey production. The bottom super is almost full and work has started on the upper super.


    • Rikhi,

      On 27 Feb you say, “Saw the remnants of a supersedure cell so it looks like there is a queen around.” Always check to see how the cell was opened, on the side (not good) or a round opening at the tip (good).

      Since you don’t see any sealed worker brood, I suspect you still don’t have a queen. My guess is the laying workers are winning the battle, but I can’t say for sure. Laying workers are extremely hard to deal with.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Regarding the “remnants”, what was left were only traces of wax that showed the shape of the supersedure cell (where it had lain) and some wax from the tail end so that’s really no help.

    What I don’t fully understand is why do I have two queen cells (14Mar), how did they come about? Laying workers wouldn’t attempt to raise a new queen, would they?

    It takes a mated queen to produce fertilized eggs that can be raised as queens. But that would mean she was there and laying (not much of that happening!). Perhaps one of the queens originates from a fertilized egg on the frame that I introduced, however, I only introduced one frame that had eggs, and now I have two queen cells on two different frames. I also seem to remember that the frame I introduced was in the center (not 100% certain though) whereas the queen cells are on frames 7 and 8.

    Will keep on with my ‘Look and Learn’ sessions but my guess is the final result of this one will not be a good one.


  • Hi Rusty,

    I was reading your article because I have a hot hive and I’m debating if I need to requeen. I wouldn’t say that they “suddenly” became aggressive, but they made it through the winter, and now this spring, I notice a change in the temperament compared to last fall. I did a hive inspection on a day with good weather that was nice and warm and I used my smoker. They still flew up to may veil right away, and after the inspection followed me for over 30 minutes and I walked away from the hive. The next day, I couldn’t go into my backyard without a bee aggressively approaching me. My dogs were not safe outside the next day either. I haven’t experienced this before. This hive was a split from a swarm last season early spring, the original hive was a moderately aggressive. The original hive did not make it through the winter. Perhaps some of those bees drifted into this hive and they are the aggressive ones. Anyway, bottom line, I’m an urban beekeeper and have an allergy myself (I always keep an epipen with me). Can this hive actually have become more aggressive over one season, or could it be just the current conditions impacting their temperament?

    As always thanks for your advise!

    • Rebecca,

      It’s hard to say. I find that spring bees are usually not aggressive in the least, so it’s possible your hive is queenless.

  • I found the queen during my recent inspection, so that’s not the issue. Maybe they are agitated for another reason though. I will give it another week or so before requeening (I can’t get a queen this early in the early in the season anyway) and see how they are. I’m concerned that maybe in their first year (last season) they were docile as the queen and hive was new, and that now that they have grown in capacity, they are showing their true nature, but I don’t even know if that’s even a real possibility. I’d like to think they’ll go back to being gentle soon.

  • My bees swarmed on me. There’s still a healthy population and tons of capped brood. There are 4-5 capped swarm cells. My guess is they swarmed on me at least 7 days ago since I only saw chunky larvae.
    In order to maximize honey production is it worthwhile to just buy a mated queen so I don’t lose any time building the population?

    If not, how long before an emerged queen will start laying eggs?

  • About 28 days passed from when they approximately swarmed and I saw the first larvae from the new queen. Paying $35 for a new queen right away would have gained me about 20 days of new bees. I think that would have been well worth it given the time of year, the fact that I lost half my bees in the swarm and flow that was occurring. Next time i won’t wait. I’ll buy one if they are available.

    • John,

      That is a logical decision. Several times in the past few years, I almost bought a queen but, for me, it is more important to have locally-adapted queens that my bees raise their own. I lose honey production, but I find overwintering and varroa control to be easier. There is really no right answer; it just depends on what is important to you.

  • The queen I’d be getting is from the same source where my bees came from :).

  • Rusty,

    My question up front: Is it too late at the end of August to requeen and/or let the bees work on supersedure?

    Backstory is that a “local stock” queen supplier here in New Mexico this year sold packages, nucs, and queens with poorly mated queens. Everyone I know who bought these queens either had to requeen or took a chance and their hives went down. I just found this out after I surveyed the people I knew, as my queen was doing okay until she ran out of sperm and took to laying unfertilized eggs, thus drones in worker cells, which I didn’t pick up on until three weeks ago. I killed the queen on the assurance that I could have a laying queen from a friend who was going to combine, but she changed her mind at the last minute. Now the girls are making cells right and left, but at the end of August, really? Question too if there would be fertile eggs/larvae to work with. I could buy some time by buying a queen and letting her try, or give up and hope for the best, though I don’t have much hope.

    • Kathy,

      Wow, that’s a tough decision. You can still buy queens at this time of year and a lot of people requeen all their hives in fall. But I don’t know if your bees would be able to raise their own queen in time to save the colony. As you point out, if the queen was laying drones, there will be nothing for the bees to work with, regardless of the circumstances. I would probably try buying a queen and seeing what happens. I think you have enough time if that goes well, assuming you don’t as yet have any laying workers. If you begin getting laying workers before you can get a new queen introduced, it may all go downhill from there.

  • Kathy, maybe your friend who changed her mind at the last minute could spare you a couple frames of brood. Seems like the least she could do for you. With or without buying a queen, or while you are searching for one, a little brood can help keep your workers occupied and not laying. Or it gives them fresher prospects to try raising a queen on their own.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I run half Warre hives and half Langstogh hives. It going on 7 years I have not requeened. Here in South Texas Africanized bees are prevalent. However, trying to requeen a Warre hive is crazy difficult. But bees love it. Not much on honey production. Let’s see how long it goes.

  • It is mid-November in Maine and I am not sure if I have a queen. I have two deep frames and the hive is about 90#s. Is it too cold to open the lower deep and check for a queen or wait till spring? If I do not find queen is it too late and cold to requeen?

    • Larry,

      First, read this post: When is it too cold to open a hive?

      Second, do you have a spare queen? Or a nuc? It is next to impossible to find a queen at this time of year unless you or a friend can provide a nuc or colony you can combine the queenless colony with.

      As I explain in the linked post, it is never too cold to open a hive if that gives you a chance to save it. But if you don’t have a queen or a colony to combine it with, there isn’t much point in opening it all up.

    • What Rusty said. But:

      Third, why do you think you might be queenless? What clue(s) are you relying on? The only one you report is that the hive is “90#s” – what does that mean? Roughly 90 degrees (F)? Then I bet you still have brood being nursed, which would mean you still had a queen up to a few days or weeks ago. She also stops laying in the winter, so it’s way too soon to worry about her being missing.

      I have temp sensors in my hives, and they were routinely 90 degrees (F) for months, day and night. About November 1, the day/night temps started fluctuating and the average started dropping. They are now peaking at 60 degrees (F) with a 10-20 degree (F) drop at night. That’s what the temps looked like last January when I first put the sensor in.

      I haven’t laid eyes on this queen since I first hived her nuc 2 years ago. I’m sure not going to pull out all the frames looking for her now.

        • Oh, duh, weight makes more sense. Sorry, I’m still in that phase where I’m dying to share my opinion. . .
          But I’m still curious what clues he’s relying on to say he might be queen-less.

  • I am looking for resources on NOT having to requeen each year and to let the bees do it naturally Everything I’m seeing is about the opposite (constant requeening), so your post from a few years ago is a breath of fresh air!

  • Love this article! Thanks for the perspective!

    I have a question.

    My hive (Apimaye) has door options for worker, drone, or queen. I generally set the brood box to block the queen. But if I move to natural requeening, I assume I would have to open that door to allow queen passage for mating flights. Assuming that’s so, can’t she then enter a super in spite of a queen excluder between the brood and super boxes?