Several weeks ago a reader asked why he kept finding queen bees in his honey supers. He mentioned that each of his queens had crossed a honey barrier to get into the supers, and they seemed to be lounging or inspecting the warehouse. He asked if I had an opinion.
I’ve always wondered what queen bees do in the fall and winter. Think of this: In the autumn, the queen goes from laying over 2000 eggs/day, which is more than one per minute, 24/7, to laying less than a few hundred a day. Since the queen’s sole job is to lay eggs, everything else is done for her. She doesn’t groom, feed herself, clean up her mess, or defend the hive. Neither does she have a subscription to Netflix nor an Android on which to play Angry Birds.
She also don’t camp, fish, shop, or prepare back-to-school clothes for the kids. And she hates football. So what does she do? Seriously, I think she gets bored. So bored, in fact, that she strolls around. I think she will walk into the honey supers because she can. I think she is likely to be found just about anywhere inside the hive during late summer and early fall when it is too late to lay a lot of eggs but too early to cluster for winter.
Queens go awandering
I recently went looking for a queen in one of my newest hives. I looked through every box and every frame, but could not find her, although there was plenty of open brood that included eggs. When I finally gave up and reassembled the hive, there she was in the lid I had tossed into the grass, just sauntering around, stopping here and there as if examining an item at a yard sale.
This morning, another beekeeper wrote to say he found his queen on top of a baggie feeder. She wasn’t eating, just tip-toeing across the plastic, stopping now and again to admire her reflection in the pool beneath her feet . . . or maybe she liked the feel of walking on a giant water bed. Who knows?
The take home message is this: be careful during fall inspections. Do not assume your queen is where she ought to be. Do not fling your lid in the grass without looking, and do not make assumptions about where she is not. Females have always reserved the right to change their minds willy-nilly, and a queen bee is certainly no exception—she will be wherever she wants to be regardless of what the book says.
This is also the time of year when poor quality queens fail. I tried a new queen breeder this year and the quality of the queens was HORRIBLE!! Highly underdeveloped and 2 are being superseded right now in September…
I too have noticed that if a queen is going to fail, she usually does it in the fall. Any idea why?
I think that when a queen is marginal to begin with and she naturally, as a queen will do, puts everything of herself into her job – that it catches up with her in the later part of the season but she goes into that mother sacrifice mode and continues till she can go no further. What will happen to her, on a personal level doesn’t enter into her equations. She is the Divine Mother of the Hive and she will extend her fiery wings of Love till her very last gasp.
Mother Bee is an extension of the Love that all mother’s have for their children. Mothers all over the world have sacrificed their lives for their children……why should bees do any less?
I learned this lesson today. I removed several top feeders 2 days ago and stored them in the garage for cleaning. Today while cleaning the feeders my husband heard loud buzzing coming from a feeder. He was shocked to see a queen in the bottom of the feeder. We caught her, fed her a drop of honey and put her in a queen cage. Fortunately it was the only 10 frame feeder removed that day, the others were 8 frame, which narrowed down the hive which she came from. I re-installed her in her hive in the cage and the bees seemed happy to see her. Hopefully everything will work out OK.
That’s a great story. I once carried a queen home in the back of my truck along with empty supers I was bringing home. Very similar!
Yes I have found queens walking around underneath the hive, and still further out, just moseying along. Has taught me to be vigilant and especially gentle when making inspections!