honey bee management queen bees

When to unite the queen and a package of bees

When you receive a package of bees, the queen is in her own small cage attached to the inside of the package. Some beekeepers release her as soon as they install the package, and some wait for as much as a week before releasing her. What are the reasons for the difference?

The packaging process is disruptive to the bees, being much like an industrial assembly line. Bees are sold by weight. Machines are taken out into the apiary and used to blow the right number of bees into each package. The queens come from a queen-rearing apiary and are completely unrelated to the bees in the box. Her little cage protects her from these bees as well as from being damaged in shipping and handling.

Whenever a group of bees is exposed to a new queen, they need time to accept her as their own. This can be a few days or a week, depending on a number of variables. Whether your bees have adjusted to this new queen probably depends on how long they’ve been together. If they were packaged yesterday, it would be risky to release her today. Usually, however, they’ve been together a number of days before you receive them, during which time they have probably accepted her.

Remember, though, that they’ve been vacuumed into a box, given an unknown queen, and trucked across the country. These are all stressful events. On top of that, you’re now giving them a new home in unfamiliar surroundings. The bees may decide it’s all the queen’s fault and kill her. So why be in a hurry?

There is another reason for waiting. Once in a while a package and their queen may decide they don’t like their new home, and the whole colony may up and leave. This is called absconding. It is more apt to happen if the hive is brand new without any existing comb. I actually had this happen one year, but I was lucky enough to find the cluster hanging in a bush not too far from the hive. However, the bees won’t leave the hive without their queen, so if you keep her caged until they start building some comb, they are less likely to go. A good supply of sugar syrup will speed up the comb-building process.

Some queen cages have a plug of hard candy in one end. The bees will eat through this and have her out in two or three days. Or, if your cage has a cork in one end, you can take out the cork and replace it with a piece of marshmallow. Both these methods provide some time for the bees to adjust to their new queen before she’s free. By the time she’s released, her scent is familiar to all the colony members.

Be sure to check after a few days. If the queen isn’t released by the time you think she should be, just pull off the screen and release her yourself.


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    • Morris,

      I’ve seen them remove it overnight. I’ve also had to remove it myself after four days. On average, though, I’d say about 24-36 hours. I think it depends on how hard you compress it when you stuff it in the hole.

  • Hi, I just found this wonderful website today. My husband and I installed our first package of bees last Tuesday. My husband accidentally pulled the wrong cork out and released the queen into the hive. These bees were packaged that morning, Tuesday, so they hadn’t had time to get acclimated yet. I’ve been on pins and needles all week debating what to do.

    One experienced beekeeper in my area said to order a new queen immediately, another said to wait and see. We did a mini hive inspection today but it was cool and wet so didn’t want to spend too much time with the hive open in case it they got chilled. The bees were very docile, barely noticed us, and hanging out on 2-3 frames on one end. It looked like they were drawing comb.

    We’ve been feeding with sugar syrup and they’ve been taking it. When the sun broke and it warmed up, they seemed to be going to and fro like they ought to. I also observed them flying in and out on Thursday when I went to refill the feeder. This hive is out at our community garden so we don’t get to observe them daily.

    I guess I am just wondering what your input would be; when will I know “for sure” if I have a queen or not? I want to be sure to keep an eye on them and watch for eggs if I can’t find a queen, but I don’t want to bother them too much. Let me know if you have any thoughts! Oh, and I am in Birmingham, AL just so you know I am in a warmer climate. Thanks!

    • Lisa,

      I agree with those who say “wait and see.” There is a good chance the queen will be fine, so why go to the expense of buying another unless you are sure? You should see eggs within a day or two of seeing comb. So look in the comb that was first built and you should definitely see eggs and larvae.

      • Hey Rusty – Good news! After a nervous check on the hive last Tuesday, two weeks after installation, and then another check yesterday, we have determined that we must have a queen as we have tons of capped brood, eggs, and larvae! I’m amazed that our queen survived her accidental early release and that nature can occasionally be forgiving of well-intentioned mis-management. Hopefully this means we have a very strong queen! Thanks for the reassurance!

  • Hi Rusty,

    I was flummoxed with picking up about a dozen packages of bees for our club, getting them to the right folks and installing two at the Nature Center in addition to two here at home. Checked four days later, one queen wasn’t out. OH SHOOT YOU DUMB*** YOU LEFT THE CORK IN (candy end). Fixed that but spent several sleepless nights, wondering if the bees were mad at her for not coming out sooner.

    A week later, she had not begun laying. The supplier said give her another couple days, and the delayed release might have been the reason. Sure enough, the very next day, she had a nice pattern (semi-circle) of brand new eggs, in the middle of new stores.

    Given all the other perils and pitfalls for tiny live creatures, bees can be pretty idiot-proof sometimes!

    Resident Idiot
    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

  • How on earth are you supposed to put a marshmallow in the end of the cage to replace the cork? The queen cage was coated with bees and I could not get them off for more than a second.

    I ended up direct releasing the queen because I had comb from a deadout (starved) hive in the brood box. The bees had also been together for a minimum of 36 hours.

    It worked out fine and she’s laying great. But I am worried I might NEED to do the marshmallow trick for my next package. How do you get the bees out of the way?

    • Margali,

      Just brush them off and walk away from the hive with the cage. Put it in your pocket or something and get away from the rest of the bees if you are having trouble. It’s really not that hard.

  • Rusty:

    Does the queen require water or anything during her imprisonment? Package arrived well and we sprayed the bees before releasing them. they still had syrup in their can feeder in package. It’s in the 30s n 40s warming a bit in the day. Queen is in the hive boxed and bees in box on old comb, feeder with syrup is in place, do the bees feed her or?

    • Mike,

      The bees will keep her fed and watered and groomed and cleaned up right through the cage. No worries.

      • I have always wonder about this. Lets say it takes 2 or 3 days before they accept the new queen. Will they feed and water her even though they have not accepted her yet? Don’t the just try and chew at her or sting her instead?


        • Dave,

          Apparently, some bees will take care of her even before she’s accepted. At least, that’s what I’ve read.

  • Thanks: awesome website and blogs. I’ve been perusing since I found it Saturday and intend to read every page.

  • Rusty thank you for all of your advice. I had a similar situation as Lisa where one of my queens got instantly released into the hive (when I took the cork out exposing candy, the candy broke in half and she came right out). I had some other hives to set up and others to inspect and thought I would check after finishing. When I rechecked the hive 2-3 hours later the queen was fine, a lot of the bees looked to be smelling her but nothing out of the ordinary. My question is if the colony is going to kill a invading queen does it happen quickly? I just couldn’t imagine that after 3 hours they will change their mind and attack but was looking for experienced advice.

    • Alex,

      Yes, you can usually tell right away if the queen is in trouble or not. I’ve released queens that where immediately attacked and was able to save them, so it’s a good thing to just watch, if you can.

  • Hello,

    I’m new to beekeeping, and initially the installation of the package seemed to go flawlessly. After a little over 24 hours I took the container the bees came in and was about to toss it as it was empty when I noticed that the information stated there was cork on the side of the queen case that has the candy plug. I immediately went out to the hive with the intent of removing the cork. While trying to do that the cork on the other side fell in to the cage and the queen flew out! I was no more than 2 feet from the open hive, but I have no idea if she flew in or away. Now she flew in the general direction of the hive as much as I could tell. I looked for a time for her and eventually I closed the hive up as they were getting agitated. I’m looking for advice. I was planning to let them settle for a few more days and then go looking for active egg laying. They seem to be doing OK this morning, another 12+ hours later. I was wondering how long I can delay before ordering a replacement queen. Thoughts?

    Thank you!

    • Tim,

      I’ve had queens fly a couple of times and they always managed to come back. Just leave them undisturbed for a few days and then check for eggs. If you don’t see eggs or queen after a week or so, then order a new queen. Let me know, but my guess is she will return.

  • Hello. About packaged bees. Will setting the package in the hive instead of shaking them into the hive work.

  • Awaiting moderation? I am waiting for my packaged bees to arrive in April. Instead of shaking them into the hive can I set the box into the hive (after putting the queen cage taped to the hive) and wait until they find the queen. Thank you

    • Carol,

      Right. That’s what is says and that’s what it means. I do not work 24 hours a day.

  • Good afternoon,

    I installed my bee package in a top bar hive yesterday. I realized I forgot to uncork the candy end. Should I uncork it today? (24 hrs later) Or should I just wait two more days and release her directly to the hive? I suppose if I uncork the candy end it may take 2 days to release her anyway. It is a new hive so I want to prevent absconding.

    • Josh,

      You can do it either way. Sometimes the bees release the queen within hours, sometimes days. If you are concerned about absconding, which can definitely happen in a brand new hive, I think I would wait a couple days and then release her by hand. By then the package may have started comb building, which might convince them to stick around.

  • I was installing a package of bees and the sugar water can had fallen into the cage. I removed the queen cage, placed it between a couple of frames and set the package container on its side on top the frames and then put a medium super on top and closed up the hive. The day was sunny, about 84 degrees and 15 mph wind. Early the next morning I re-entered the hive and there were about 2000 dead bees in the package and some alive that had not self released. I cut the package open, released the bees that were alive, and observed there were numerous bees around the queen cage between the frames. I put a pollen patty, sugar cake and sugar water as feed for the girls. What’s their chance for success?

    • Dallas,

      I can’t say because I don’t know how many bees you have left. If you keep them supplied with syrup, they may pull through.

  • Hi Rusty:

    I don’t know if you are still answering posts but thought I would try. Just installed three hives 3 days ago. One was full of bees and very active and the others average. I did a soft install with an empty full box in which I put the package on its side and two jars with syrup. I went in yesterday to take the package boxes out and noticed alot of sugar ants so I sprinkled some cinnamon on the inner cover. The bussy hive already went through the two jars and the others at least one. I went in today to try to get a look at the queen cages since it has been 3 days. I probably shouldn’t have done it this way but when I installed the queens I was able to get the queen cages between the middle frames with the wide side front and back because I didn’t want to smother her. It has been raining alot and is a chilly day today but no rain. I just went in to check one of the quieter hives and it looks as though they have started to build comb around the queen cage already. I was unable to easily get it out with a hooked hive tool and didn’t want to meddle too much since most of the bees were in the hive. At this point I am not sure when I can get in to remove a side frame and I am not sure of the consequences of leaving it in much longer in addition to having burr comb between the middle frames. I am sure the other two hives are in the same condition. Do yu have any suggestions?


  • I released my queen by mistake when I received my package. Think I caught her and put her in the hive. Is there hope? I ordered a queen just in case. Please help